In my dreams the world would come alive, becoming so captivatingly majestic, free and ethereal, that afterwards it would be oppressive to breathe the dust of this painted life.
―Vladimir Nabokov, Invitation to a Beheading
The evening the man was murdered three steps in front of the Marquis, the Floating Market could be found in the London Zoo, the vendors set up along the winding paths, animals watching the residents of London Below with uncanny attention.
If there was one thing the Marquis knew about London – to be more specific, and specificity was something he struggled with at the best of times, about London Below – it was that the city reeked. It bloody well stank at the best of times, and when the Floating Market was hosted above ground, he was astounded by how clear the air smelled. Once one ascended above the miasma that clung to London’s streets (Above and Below) and stood in the moonlight, the air became crystalline.
Tonight was an exception: the animals smelled worse than usual, and the Marquis had taken to turning up the collar of his coat and taking a whiff of its leathery musk every few breaths to rid himself of the smell of rot and decay that one could nearly taste. No one else seemed similarly affected.
He would never forget the night when the Market had been held in the London Eye on opening night. He had spent the rather memorable evening with the Queen of Queensway, she of braided hair and purple eyes; the earthy scent of her skin still came to him every once in a while. The vendors had set up their stalls in the small carriages, squeezed between throngs of Londoners from Above who pressed themselves against the reinforced windows, rising up into the sky and back down in a loop, again and again. It had been wildly impractical – terrible for business, the Marquis imagined – and delightful all the same.
The Marquis passed the African animals and was nibbling on his thinly sliced mushrooms (well cooked, he’d been assured, and assured himself by keeping a keen eye on the cook) when he noticed someone familiar ducking through the crowd toward him. He stopped and nearly detoured, for chance encounters were rarely good ones, but then decided against it. He could handle Richard Mayhew.
“Here.” He handed his ‘shrooms to a small girl with wild green hair, who looked delighted at the sudden bounty and ran off a little too fluidly.
“Marquis!” Richard was nearly upon him so the Marquis fixed a small smile to his face and turned to face the battered man, looking entirely worse for the wear than the Marquis had left him, and much happier.
“Hello, Richard. To what do I owe this honor?”
Richard pulled up and balanced on his toes. It was as if he wanted to offer his hand or clasp the Marquis close.
The Marquis waited until the moment had passed. “How have you been?” He stepped past the other man, forcing Richard to follow.
“Oh, I’ve been fine. You know, Door and I were just…”
The Marquis tuned Richard out, slipping his hands into the outermost pockets of his coat, the easiest ones to find. He glanced around at the denizens of London Below and a frown made its way onto his face. The vendors were quieter than usual, as if the miasma that clung to them had sucked away some of their usual obnoxiousness. The Sewer Folk didn’t even call out when Richard and the Marquis passed their debris-strewn tarps and baskets. He had his coat back, but nothing felt right – nothing at all.
“…and when I saw you I just had to… Are you even listening to me?”
Richard had gained something from experience, if the edge in his tone was any indication. The Marquis stopped and turned to him; something in his gaze made Richard hesitate. He still had that, at least.
“I am very much listening, Richard. Now, what is it you wanted to give me?”
Richard’s brow furrowed. There was a certain eagerness that clung to him which the Marquis knew too well. He had something valuable, and he wanted to trade. Only Richard knew the Marquis too well to try and strike a bargain.
After a certain hesitation, Richard dug into the pockets of his worn denim trousers (goddess only knew where he’d found them) and pulled out something small and gold. He held it out; it was small enough to fit in the palm of his hand. Through the gleam around it, the Marquis saw that it appeared to be an egg, though lumpy and misshapen as if it had been dropped several times. Something within it sparked in the light. The Marquis’ eyes widened involuntarily.
“Where did you—” He reached out and his hand hovered over the thing.
“Talked to a few people. Don’t worry, I don’t owe any favours. I was speaking to Old Bailey and he said something about an egg, so I thought that since you’ve done so much for me. And Door. Both of us, really. Thought I should give you a gift.”
The Marquis watched the egg carefully as Richard stumbled through his speech. He’d seen one other once in his travels and heard tales of others, but never touched one himself. Knowing what the egg was, and what it contained, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to.
“Well?” Richard paused, sounding unsure. “It is okay?”
He made his decision. The Marquis picked the egg up gingerly, balancing it on his palm for a moment before tucking it away. It was said that these eggs could offer either great luck or misfortune, depending on who held them. Knowing himself, he would get a little of both. The smile he offered Richard this time was true, if small.
“It’s just fine, Richard. Thank you for thinking of me. Is that all?”
Richard blinked at him for a moment before his face twisted with outrage. “What! I’ll have you know I went to a lot of—“
The Marquis laid his hand on Richard’s arm, ceasing all talk. “It’s a very nice thing,” he said, meaning the compliment completely. “You have lovely taste. It’s just that the very best gifts, the truest ones, come in three parts.”
Brow furrowed, Richard shook his head. “That’s not right. I’ve never heard that. I think you must be…”
As he puzzled over the saying, the Marquis drew back and pulled his coat around him. “Three parts,” he said again. He had to go – after all, there were important places to go, more important people to see. “I’m sure we’ll meet again soon. Until then…” He turned away and began to move through the crowd. “You owe me!” he called over his shoulder.
“Hey!” Richard’s shout was partly swallowed by the noise around him, but even that seemed oddly dull and listless. He hadn’t seen a single body lying on the Sewer Folk’s tarps that evening. Hadn’t for the last few Markets, now that he thought about it.
Just as he turned the corner near the chimpanzees, he was brought up short by a shout, wild and chilling. It came from three paces ahead of him, and as the Marquis watched, a woman wearing a motorcycle jacket stuck a long knife up under the ribs of the man she’d obviously been fighting. For a long moment, all the Marquis could hear were her short, panting breaths and the man’s complete silence as his face twisted and spasmed. Her aim had been true.
When she stepped back, wrenching her blade free, the man crumpled to the ground, his fingers clawing reflexively at the stones. The woman nodded shortly and wiped her knife on the sleeve of her jacket before tucking it away. She spit at the man’s feet and then turned, walking away and disappearing into the Market crowd.
Something was wrong.
The Marquis almost couldn’t put his finger on it before it came to him, so obvious that he suspected something was at work on his thoughts – all their thoughts. The other residents of London Below stepped around the dying man as if he was nothing, unworthy of notice and nonexistent. The Marquis’ own gaze was being tugged away to look at the crowd, anything but the pool of blood soaking the earth between the stones.
The Truce was broken.
As far as the Marquis knew, Market Truce had held for centuries, keeping the Floating Market alive by providing a safe place for business and keeping London Below safe by preventing London Above from finding bodies strewn in some of their most beloved locales, marring the scenery.
Yet with a single thrust, the Truce had been broken. And no one seemed to care. Had there been other murders recently?
The Marquis found that he couldn’t recall.
Ah well, he had been growing a bit restless. All this normality had been growing a bit boring. He wrapped his fingers around the egg that Richard had given him, warm in his pocket. He couldn’t be sure whether this was good luck or bad yet.
He might as well save the Floating Market.
The Marquis knew he in dire straits when he couldn’t think of anyone else to call on for help than his brother. And since that was just about the last person the Marquis desired to ask for help, he ignored that impulse and chose someone else who owed him a favour or two. After all, anyone was better than Peregrine.
“You have to tell me what you’ve done to Richard.” Door eyed him closely over the lip of her teacup, filled to the brim with a smoking brew that had turned deep purple as the leaves steeped.
He watched his own cup doubtfully. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” He looked up and met her gaze. “I haven’t done a thing to Richard.”
She grimaced and set her cup down. “Of course you have. He came back yesterday muttering about you and… Well, he wasn’t flattering. Then he ran off and I haven’t seen him since.”
The Marquis rolled his eyes. “Richard Mayhew is an idiot. I simply told him that old saying about gifts, since he was so set on giving me one, and he must have run off.” He scowled. Richard better not get himself killed; the Marquis was not going to bring him back, and he hadn’t gone to all that trouble (very little, and all unintentional, if he was honest) to keep Richard alive just to have him die within a month of coming to London Below.
“Hm. I’m sure he’ll be fine.” She certainly didn’t sound concerned. “He has Hunter’s knife, after all. What saying was that?”
The Marquis paused to trace the conversation back. “You know, that every good gift has…” She didn’t chime in, so he finished alone, feeling a bit foolish. “…three parts. Well, I’m sure your father had his reasons for keeping that little phrase from you.”
She looked offended at his tone, which implied that she was too good to know all the ins and outs of London Below. It was a grave insult to call someone uppity down here, and though he liked Door immensely, he was in no mood to mince words. Her lips pursed. “Why are you here, Marquis?”
“I need some information on the Floating Market.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “Why should I tell you anything?”
He already knew she didn’t know thing about the Floating Market beside the fact that it existed, so he wasn’t even going to ask. “You shouldn’t. And what’s more, I won’t ask.” He slipped her a small smile and set his untouched tea down on the small table near the chair. The table tilted precariously, but held.
Door’s new rooms were certainly nothing as grand as her family’s had once been. Still, he couldn’t help but think less of her for abandoning them to the dust and rats. Just because her entire family had died there didn’t mean that they weren’t worth anything. Certainly, no looters would be able to get past the safeguards that still held – he had tried himself a few days before, after leaving the Floating Market with a murder still fresh in his sights, and had failed utterly.
Yet, for all the clutter in her new home – partly created by Richard’s presence and partly by a general lack of cleanliness – it did bear some marks of her power; certain corners seemed more shadowed than others, the door to the underground tracks that ran nearby instead opened onto a lavish bathroom. With time, it would grow, as her family’s house had years before.
“I’d like to look through some of your books. That’s all.”
“Oh, really? What makes you think I brought any with me?” She set her own tea aside, matching him. “And how much would you owe me?”
“You? Leave your father’s books, his years of study, untouched and mouldering? I doubt that very much, Lady Door.” The Marquis shrugged. “Besides, it’s a very small favor. Half an hour with your father’s tomes and I will give you…” He rummaged through his pockets, then brought out a small golden egg with a flourish. “A golden egg from the smiths at Hatton Garden. In fact, I think that even you might owe me something after this bargain. What do you think?”
He turned it so that it caught the light as she watched. Such eggs were extremely rare, cast as they were from the jewelry and other valuables that fell through the cracks of London Above and littered the muck Below. The Marquis had heard that they contained everything from the engagements rings of heiresses slipped off too-thin fingers, to notes from lovers long dead (or worse), to the cries of the cast off and abandoned, before they’d found their way Below. All rumours. Yet the Marquis knew better than to disbelieve.
He suspected that this particular egg had been gifted to Richard from the goldsmiths, overly impressed by a knife and some inflated stories. Richard certainly was using his fame to good effect. The Marquis hated the idea that he had been given a gift of something that hadn’t been fought for, had blood spilled in the gaining.
Door made him wait a moment more before agreeing. “All right.” She took the egg from him with remarkable composure, considering what it was, and cradled it between her palms. “But only a small favor.”
“Of course.” He sketched a bow in the air. “Show me to the library.”
It seemed that Door had only brought a few books from her father’s study to her new residence, and she refused to take him back home for more; they closed the last one just a few hours later. Door sighed and shoved the heavy tome away, leaning back as the Marquis rubbed at his neck.
“Well, that’s the end of that.” He stood, staggering after sitting for long and bracing himself on her chair. “Excuse me. Your assistance has been very helpful.”
“But we didn’t find anything.” She sounded disappointed, despite the fact that he’d hedged his way around telling her anything concrete. It was always best to keep secrets until they were no longer needed, he’d found.
“Nonetheless, I enjoyed our time together.” He reached out and took her hand, bowing low over it. When he glanced up there was a soft pink tinge to her cheeks. “Thank you, Lady Door.”
She sighed, hard and noisy. “Well, you know. If you ever need anything…” She yanked her hand back. “You know where to find me. Now go away and stop pretending to be gracious. We both know better.”
She settled back and drew her knees up to her chest and pulled her tea from the side table. The Marquis had expected it to be cold by then, but a wisp of steam drifted off it as she sipped.
He gave her a small nod. “Till next time,” he said and stepped through the outer door. After an instant of dislocation, he emerged on the platform of Marleybone Station, right in the middle of rush hour. The crowds parted around him as if he had always been there.
The Marquis twitched his coat closer around him, checking with a flick of his fingers for the page he’d torn from the third of Door’s father’s books and the egg he’d lifted from her pocket in the last second, and stepped out off the platform.
As for the Floating Market, its origins are unknown, perhaps having begun with the Romans who founded the settlement Londinium thousands of years ago, or perhaps earlier in the misty ancient past. We, the author, do not know, and neither do we think the origins of said gathering are of much importance. The Floating Market is a construct that has existed within London Below for as long as the city itself can be called a city. It is, and thus need not be examined further.
The Marquis cut across the city, keeping as low a profile as possible by staying in the shadows and avoiding anyone he might know – a proposition that was harder than he’d expected.
He kept his hand on the egg the entire time, feeling its warmth grow and ebb in his pocket. It seemed to respond to the events around him, and it gave the Marquis the feeling that he was on the right path. Silently, in the tiniest thought he could bear, he prayed that the egg would grant him good luck.
He had followed the Tyburn up through Westminster and nearly to the palace by the time he laid eyes upon the Roman Legion. He’d ducked behind an old barber’s shop and pried open a sewer grate, climbing down into the arch-covered river – more of a stream, really – and dug in his pocket for a light.
He held it up and gazed at the lost Legion, mouth dry.
The page he’d torn from Door’s book had been snide and cursory, as if the author hadn’t really cared about the city he’d been writing about. The Marquis had had to skim several pages devoted to the flight paths of pigeons and the meanings thereof before he’d found a single paragraph on the Floating Market, and it told him almost nothing.
He was grasping at straws by coming here, yet when wasn’t he. The Marquis had only one solid connection to the Market’s origins in Old Londinum - the Roman Legion on the Tyburn.
The Floating Market was one of the mysteries of London Below, without a true beginning or end. The Market could be found near Chiswick one night and Stratford the next, with barely a shift between the two. It connected opposing centuries with a seemingly cursory grasp on reality; the Marquis had attended markets as early as the 17th century, and some which appeared to take place in a London so far advanced that it must surely be a century or two in the future. The time didn’t matter, however. What did matter – the one thing that the author of that tedious tome had failed to consider – was the Market Truce.
Something was wrong with the Market. His memory of the murder was fading quickly – moreso than it should, but he still had it. The Truce had been broken.
The Floating Market was becoming untethered.
The Perii Legion was spread across a large plain that should not have been possible underneath London. Tents and fires dotted the land as far as the Marquis could see, clustered and connected, weaving a map of their own beneath the city.
“State, Quis illic it?” The call bounded across the water towards him.
The Marquis sighed. “I don’t speak Latin!” he shouted back. “I need to see Gaius Marius!”
The sentry closest groaned. “Ah, another one. Look, sir, you can’t just wander into our camp and pick a name to—” His accent was startlingly proper, perhaps because he’d lived practically right underneath Buckingham Palace for centuries.
The Marquis rummaged in his pockets, starting in the easiest to find. “I assure you, soldier, I have wandered nowhere. I am precisely where I wish to be. Now, if you would be so good as to let Marius know…” In a pocket that was only moderately hard to find his fingers brushed against it and he started forward, splashing through the Tyburn.
The legionnaire swung his pike around. “Now, now, sir…” His eyes were wide and pale; he was so young. It was quite obvious he thought the Marquis mad.
When the glint of silver in the Marquis’ outstretched palm caught his gaze, he stilled. “I have enough denarii to pave the way to Rome,” he said mulishly.
“In back pay, I’m sure,” the Marquis agreed. “How long has it been since you’ve held a true denarius in your hand?”
He could see the legionnaire sway with indecision, caught by the promise of money he’d long since given up on seeing when he’d held fast to his duty, which had kept him at his post for millennia. Just as the point of his pike began to lower, the Marquis drew his hand back, pulling himself up and lifting his chin imperiously.
“I’m disappointed, soldier,” he snapped. “You bring shame upon your eagle by considering that offer. I was sent to test your loyalty, and you came very close to failing.” The Marquis allowed his lips to twist in disapproval. “When I let Gauis Marius know of this, I expect you will be beaten.”
The legionnaire paled, obviously considering the cudgels that were used to correct the failure to complete one’s duty. He was a sentry, thus, he should have been implacable. His embarrassment would be a stronger goad than any bribe.
“Look, sir, I didn’t…” He jerked his pike up and then away from the Marquis, as if unsure if he should be threatening or not.
A splash near them drew the legionnaire’s attention and he whirled, eyes flashing with panic. Gaius Marius strode through the trumped-up stream called the Tyburn, gold flashing at his shoulders and stretching around his muscled girth, two centurions behind him as ceremonial guards. He spread his arms out as he approached the Marquis and smiled.
“I was making my rounds when I thought I heard a familiar voice: The Marquis de Carabas! As I live and breathe.”
The Marquis made to step slightly sideways, away from the oncoming embrace, but failed utterly. The Legate swept him close, large, meaty hands pressing into the Marquis’ back. He flinched and held himself as still as possible until he was released.
He stumbled before he found his footing in the water, carefully patting his pockets to ensure he hadn’t been robbed.
“Come, Marquis. It’s been years since you last saw the camp, hasn’t it?”
The Marquis nodded, searching for the right tone. “Many years. I’m afraid I’m not what I was.”
“No!” Marius exclaimed. “You are every bit the young man I knew.”
The Marquis offered a bland smile and followed him out of the Tyburn. “Marius, listen. I just wanted to—”
“Ah, no, Marquis. Come. Do not speak yet. Take some wine with me and we will reminisce.”
Marius led him through the camp. As they walked, the temporary city – unchanged for millennia – grew up around them, tents becoming more and more common, surrounding fires that burned brightly and lit the arched ceiling high above. The legionnaires slowly went from attentive to debauched, camp followers increasing in number the further they walked, in more and more grievous states of undress. A laughing woman with a single breast bared nearly fell under his feet, so he lifted the hem of his coat and stepped around her.
“Really,” he called forwards to Marius, as firmly as he dared. “I’m not thirsty. I was simply passing by and—“
Marius turned on his heel, meeting the Marquis’ gaze firmly. “Marquis de Carabas. It has been too many years. You will have a drink with me. Do you understand?”
The Marquis dug up one more smile and nodded. “Of course.”
By the time they reached the Legate’s tent, the Marquis was sweating under his coat, something he hadn’t experienced in years. He didn’t like the feeling.
Marius ducked inside – the tent grander was than the rest, with tassels hanging from the posts – and emerged a moment later with two bronze goblets. He gestured to one of his centurions, who brought out a wineskin a moment later. The drink that splashed into the goblets was such a deep red that it was nearly purple. Marius handed one of the cups to the Marquis and took a deep sniff of his own.
The Marquis held his close, sloshing it in circular motions, but made no move to drink.
Marius took a long swig. “Not thirsty?” His tone was low and unfriendly. He always had been able to turn from charming to menacing in an unflatteringly quick span of time. No man retained control of a Roman Legion for as long as he had without a darker side.
“No.” He knew what Gaius Marius wanted from him. He had no intention of allowing himself to be bullied this time. “I’m not.” He tipped the goblet and poured out the wine, allowing it to splash on the ground and touch the hem of his coat. Marius watched him from under lowered brows.
“You always were a little shit,” he growled. “Though not as little anymore, are you.” He dropped his own goblet on the ground, striding forward.
The Marquis took a step back and let the dirk he kept up his sleeve slip down into his palm, the thin blade glinting in the low light. He’d picked it up two Markets ago, determined to at least have some defense if he needed one – from whomever came knocking.
Marius pulled up. “Going to stab me, Marquis?” His tone was full of laughter, and the Marquis was inclined to giggle along with him. How could he hope to beat a man with thousands of years of experience, if it came to that? He didn’t have a plan, really.
As he shifted into what he felt was a more stable and fighter-ly kind of stance, Marius nodded at someone past the Marquis and he realized that the centurions had shifted just in time to see the thick rope of a noose slip down around his neck. He brought his hand up, but too slow to get more than the tips of his fingers beneath it.
The centurion pulled hard, yanking the Marquis off his feet and squeezing his throat shut. His breath was slammed out of his, and he gasped. His dirk fell to clatter on the worn stones of the floor. As the man stopped pulling, the Marquis put his hands beneath himself and pushed up to sitting. It was difficult, but he could breathe past the sharp feeling of the rope rubbing against scar tissue on his throat. He glared at the Legate.
All around, legionnaires were gathering, drifting away from their own fires to watch the spectacle.
“You once swore me loyalty,” Marius said, standing over him. “And not even a single day later you left, ran from us and stole something of mine. I’ve been looking to kill you for years.”
He hadn’t been able to resist, really. He never could. The arrow that Marius had hidden in the trunk within his tent, headless and broken yet wrapped in silk, had been impossible to leave behind, despite the fact that he’d seen far more valuable things lying around. He’d asked around afterwards and found that as a Legate, Marius shouldn’t have had possession of it at all – it was meant only for the common citizens. Whom had it originally belonged to?
The Marquis had never solved that mystery, and was sure that he’d long since traded the headless arrow for a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles that supposedly had some charm having to do with maps, and traded those for… Well, it didn’t really matter in the end. The arrow was long gone. He couldn’t simply whip it out now.
His voice having been taken from him, the Marquis simply slipped his hand into one of the harder-to-find-than-usual pockets of his coat and pulled out the golden egg that he’d given to Door and then pickpocketed back, having the feeling that he’d given it away too soon. It seemed he’d been right, if the way Marius’ eyes lit up at the sight were any indication.
The Marquis tugged at the rope until it loosened and then coughed at the swift inrush of air. “I need information,” he croaked, unable to mince words.
“Oh, and after all—”
The Marquis cut off the oncoming rant. “This egg was forged by the Hatton Garden smiths. You must have heard what it can do – who could use luck more than a Legate who’s not had the chance to prove himself in battle?” The pain that had sunk its sharp claws into his throat forced him to stop for a moment. “It more than repays any harm I ever did you.” Marius had probably reaped some benefits from that long ago incident, if he’d spread the word of his association with the Marquis among the right kind of people. There was always someone out there who would sympathize with a poor soul, cheated by the nefarious Marquis. His name was fairly tarnished, as things went. “That must be worth a little information.”
Marius tilted his head and nodded to his centurions. One bent and tugged the noose from around the Marquis’ neck none too gently.
“I’ll answer one question,” he said finally. “In return, I get the egg. And you will drink my wine.”
The Marquis’ lips pursed as he stood and bent low, sketching a bow in the air that was a mockery of itself. “Of course, Legate.”
Marius scowled and jerked his head, and the Marquis followed him into his tent.
The Marquis headed towards the Thames. As he had no desire to revisit the Blackfriars, he made his path a circuitous one, skirting Hatton Gardens, where the smiths toiled and heated the sewer air for blocks, raising a prodigious stink. He had his egg, tucked into his hardest pocket to find. He’d lost that particular one for years, once, but he had a feeling that, with the egg inside, it would make itself just a bit easier to find.
Gaius Marius had been verbose once persuaded, and had told the Marquis all about the Roman Forum he’d once visited, which had (and the Marquis was quoting here), “The most interesting people you were like to see outside Rome and the best sex slaves I’ve ever seen. Beautiful cocks, those boys.”
It had been almost too easy to palm the egg once more as he’d slipped away, the Legate drowsy with drink and reminiscence.
A cab narrowly missed him as he crossed the street and headed toward Tower Bridge.
The structure rose high above him, a few small crowds near the entrance, lit by lights reflected off the river. He dodged them, weaving back and forth through a crowd that wouldn’t care if he fell at their feet and expired, and yanked open the side door. It groaned and protested before letting him through.
Inside, he headed for a room that he’d only been in once before. It wasn’t anywhere that the tourists who visited the bridge and walked its length would ever go. The ceiling was high and the interior cluttered with enormous gears and rudimentary machinery, used to lift the bridge when ships sailed up the Thames.
The Marquis smiled at the sign that read DANGER in blue and white and walked between the machines until they surrounded him completely. There he found a man dressed in dark army fatigues, wearing a hat that slid sideways on his head, crouched over a low, worn desk overflowing with papers.
The Marquis paused for a moment, observed the man, and pulled his hands from his pockets and spread them at his sides.
“Good evening, John,” he said quietly.
The soldier whirled, coming to strict attention, wild around the eyes. It must have been a long time since he’d seen another person, for he immediately recognized the Marquis.
“Marquis de Carabas!” His straight posture faltered and then sprung back. “It’s been… a long time, yes?”
The last time they’d seen each other, the Floating Market had been hosted here and he’d struck up an impromptu and short-lived conversation with the man out of boredom. It had been just long enough for the Marquis to make note of the man’s profession.
“Very long, yes,” the Marquis agreed. “I was in the area and wondered whether I might have a look at a map or two.”
A wide smile burst across John’s face. Living in the Tower Bridge and having taken up the profession of the sole cartographer in London Below was a lonely proposition.
“Oh, I’d love to. Come, have a look.” He gestured broadly, beckoning the Marquis forward.
The Marquis paused for a moment, unused to getting what he wanted without a bargain. This kind of man was rare in London Below; he must be just as lost as the rest of them, in some way. The Marquis eyed his uniform critically as he moved forward.
“What would you like to see?” John asked. “I have maps of the whole city, of course. Maps of the Underground and the sewer system here; principalities and duchies and earldoms over there…” He shoved a few papers away, richly drawn and coloured. The man had a truly talented hand. “I have London’s Rivers – all of them, not just the Thames; and I have a map drawn by the Royal Cartographer on the night of the Great Fire; what are you looking for, Marquis? Maybe I can help you find it.”
The Marquis touched the heavy parchment and vellum delicately, disturbed to notice just how much of the colour that clung to his fingers was dirt and muck, noticeable even on top of the darkness of his skin.
“I need an old map – of Londinium.”
John looked up them, cheeks flushed with excitement. He was younger than the Marquis had first thought, his eyes and skin darker than was usual for Royal Army Officers.
“Of course!” He turned and dug through the pile on his desk, which seemed to run twenty layers deep, and dug out a small piece of paper. “I made this one myself,” he said quietly, and presented the map to the Marquis.
The paper had been torn from a modern sketchbook, by the weight and quality, and the lines had been quickly drawn as if to capture something seen in a dream. Nonetheless, all major parts of the city had been marked clearly – the rivers, the outer wall, the palace of the governor, the temples to gods and goddess unnumbered, and the Forum.
It had been such a small city, Old Londinium. Its Forum had taken up the space of only a block or two of the modern city plan, just north of the river Thames. The Marquis touched the location on the map; there was something familiar about that location, he simply couldn’t place it.
“Does that one help? I also have…” John turned and began pushing through his maps once more.
The Marquis stopped him with a word.
“Yes. It was very helpful.” He paused, feeling as if he owed the man something. “Thank you.”
John looked up and smiled, pushing his hat back into place. What could have happened that would have trapped him here, forever making and searching out maps? No one slipped Below without a reason.
“I’m glad I could do something,” he said, and his smile vanished as he looked at the Marquis.
He handed the small map back. “You have fine work here. Would you ever consider selling your maps?”
John’s face was the picture of surprise. “No! I wouldn’t dream of it. Maps are for everyone. I couldn’t charge anyone. In fact, I’d like you to keep this one.”
He passed the map of Londinium back to the Marquis, who simply took it and slipped it into his coat. He pushed it inside one of his pockets and pulled something heavy out. “Here. It’s from Londinium. You can use it for…” He waved a hand vaguely. A goblet was always useful, wasn’t it? Especially one sturdy enough to be used by the drunken Legate of a Roman Legion.
John took it with trembling hands. “Thank you.” His whisper was small and heartfelt.
Turning, the Marquis left the mapmaker behind. He wasn’t used to such displays of emotion, and they made him uncomfortable. Besides, he needed to go downriver. He knew what had struck him about the placement of the Forum now – it was placed almost exactly where the Leadenhall Market was in modern London, and the Marquis was disinclined to believe in coincidences.
He slammed through the gate marked DANGER and moved towards the service stairs. He couldn’t afford to garner suspicion now; he could feel it, he was almost there. The egg was warm in his pocket. He would use whatever door he could to get to Leadenhall before the dawn.
And the Marquis always knew the back door.
When he reached Gracechurch Street, the Floating Market was in full swing, patrons from London Above and Below crammed beneath the vaulted glass ceiling of the Leadenhall Market. Nineteenth century patrons from London Above passing their dingy relatives as if they were mere shadows.
Wrong. Something was very wrong with the Floating Market.
The Marquis had visited this Market before, when he’d been younger and less inclined to concern himself with whether or not a truce was broken or not. The Marquis still wondered whether he had been wiser then or not.
Never had he ever visited the same Floating Market twice.
The Marquis stepped quickly through, wary of catching a glimpse of himself, for though London Below allowed, and often seemed to encourage, such paradoxes, he wasn’t eager to see himself as a young man, his jacket and name freshly bought. He shuddered at the thought and slipped through the crowd, moving toward the back door. What he was looking for – and even he wasn’t completely sure yet – wouldn’t be in plain sight.
It was just when he thought himself clear of the crowd that Richard caught up with him, looking more crazed than usual. The Marquis stopped dead to watch him approach.
“I can’t do it” he exclaimed. Women bound tight into their heavy skirts and corsets swirled around him. “I can’t find a second gift!”
The Marquis frowned at him and edged backward until the door handle he’d just espied was in his hand. “It’s lovely to see you, Richard, but I must go. Appointments to keep, you know.” His voice was still hoarse from his encounter with the Legion – exactly why he hadn’t visited them for a few of their centuries.
He had no wish to become involved in Richard’s madness. He seemed to get himself into more trouble than a man his age should, and never seemed to be able to get himself out of it without help, either.
Richard’s eyes bulged with incredulity. “You told me that every good gift has three parts. Well, I hope the first one is good enough, because I can’t find anything better to give you.” His jaw firmed and he jerked his chin up, daring the Marquis to challenge him.
“I’ll have you know,” the Marquis began, then forced himself to be more moderate. “A gift you received because you showed off Hunter’s knife and told a few stories isn’t really a gift at all.”
“I— I—” Richard couldn’t say anything, though. As the Marquis had expected, that was exactly what had happened.
“Well, it’s been a pleasure. I’ll see you another time.” He turned away and yanked at the door; it seemed to be stuck.
After a moment of increasingly frustrated wrenching, the door opened and the Marquis pushed through. Richard grabbed at the edge and the Marquis paused just short of slamming his fingers in the jamb.
“Richard, go away,” he tried. “I have important business tonight that doesn’t involve you.”
“Hell it doesn’t,” Richard muttered, and pulled the door open wide enough to slip through next to the Marquis, and slammed it shut behind him. Now they were both the same – invisible in the darkness. The Marquis sighed and rummaged in his pockets for a light.
Richard got there before him and lifted his torch high, shining the bright beam erratically about.
“Fine.” The Marquis shoved his hands into his coat and pulled it close. The pocket with the egg had migrated close to his heart, and the metal of it was warm. It was full of promise, which the Marquis had avoided thinking about for some time now. He spied a set of stairs and headed for them.
They headed downwards.
“Speaking of gifts,” he said. “I do appreciate the egg.”
“Oh?” Behind him, Richard sounded skeptical. “You didn’t sound like it earlier.”
“You don’t need to thank me, Richard.” He sighed. “You repaid all your debts to me ages ago.”
“It doesn’t feel like it. You just… brought me into this new world. Without you and Door, I dunno, I guess I feel like I have to show you that you were right. I’m worth all this.”
Worth what? The muck and grime of London Below. The Marquis loved the Floating Market because there he really was de Carabas, not simply a man playing dress up. Richard would see the truth; the Marquis didn’t want to be there on that day.
“You carried my gift across half the city,” he said, coming back to his original thought. He stairs ended abruptly in a small, unkempt basement. He took a few steps before stopping to look around. This was the only room – he could see no other doors. Yet by the warmth coming from the egg, he knew this was right. Richard’s torch drew sharp lines between the light and shadow. “Did you… feel anything from it?”
“What?” Richard’s tone was sharp enough that it drew the Marquis’ attention. His lips were pressed into a thin line and he watched the Marquis with something akin to fear in his eyes. He swallowed. “Do you mean like… the Beast’s totem? Or Hunter’s knife?”
They were both items forged from expectation and belief. The egg was simply more volatile, created not by the passions of one person but from many.
“Something like that.”
A patch of shadows across the room caught his eye and he moved toward it, slipping his hand into his pocket to touch the egg.
He wasn’t an opener, so he shouldn’t have been able to do it. But as he approached the wall, its shadows too-deep and containing rich colours, Richard’s concerned call faded away and he found himself somewhere else entirely, as if Door had opened a path for him. There hadn’t even been a moment of dislocation.
He was standing in a small field, empty and brightly lit by the sun above. He squinted into the light until his eyes adjusted and he saw the stone columns and plinths that marked an arch at one end of the square, and other small walls that had been constructed to make a pattern between. The square was silent, as if the people who had built and used Londinium’s Forum had vanished as if they never were.
He swallowed and pulled the egg from his pocket. It gleamed richly, soaking up the sunlight. He had never stepped back so far in time before – it was strange, but the air tasted the same.
The Marquis could see it more clearly now. The egg didn’t bring luck upon the receiver. It was much more than that.
The egg was potential – squandered and lost, good and bad. Depending on who held it, the egg might give the best of luck or the worst. It could give life, or death; all who had held it so far had been in between the two. Richard had left his old life and gained a new one, Marius was a relic of a dead culture clinging to life, and the Marquis himself had died once, only to live again. The egg held all of that in it, as his original egg had done. Only this one was more. It would give the Marquis what he wanted; whatever he wanted.
With the egg in his hands, he could restore the Floating Market and repair the truce. It would take just a thought, he was sure. But the egg was warm in his grasp, tempting. He didn’t have to restore the Market. He could take the egg back with him. He could almost see it – with the power the egg would grant him, he could rule London Below. The Queen of Queensway would turn her purple eyes up at him from a deep curtsey, Richard would offer up Hunter’s knife, even the darkness would bow to him.
With the egg in his hand, he could make a bigger name for himself than Peregrine.
The desire shuddered through him and he clutched his fingers around the egg. He was balanced on the knife-edge; there was no way to decide which decision was the right one, there was only himself. He was alone, and he needed to make a choice.
The Marquis had always been forced into such decisions before; he’d never before been the hero, the person whose choice might change everything. He sighed and bit his lip, forcing his fingers to uncurl.
Slowly, he crouched and set the egg on the ground. It stayed still when he released it, as if fixed into place.
He reached into his coat and dug around with numb fingers, finally bringing out a slim piece of metal that split into two pieces at the top – a tuning fork. He hesitated once more, cradling it in his palms, then snarled and cursed himself for a fool.
He certainly wasn’t going to add this in when he told the story to others. After all, Richard probably hadn’t talked about his own terrifying indecision when fighting the Beast.
The Marquis raised the fork high and brought it down on the golden egg.
It would have cracked, if it were a real egg, but it wasn’t, so all that happened was a low, ringing tone began. It started small and built, growing louder and louder until the Marquis flinched back and rose to his feet. The sunlight around him wavered and flickered.
As the egg began to grow quiet, the people appeared.
They stepped out from behind the walls and columns of the Forum and milled about, bringing sudden discordance to the square. The Marquis watched them move about, wares suddenly appearing on stone slabs and vendors shouting loudly to attract the attention of the crowd.
He glanced down. The egg was still in place. He could not longer feel its warmth.
Tucking his hands into his coat, the Marquis studiedly didn’t feel disappointed and turned back to the shadow that waited for him, presumably to take him back to London Below.
He paused for a moment longer, feeling the hot sunlight on his back and listening to the clamour in Latin ring in his ears, and then stepped into the darkness.
The next time the Marquis found himself able to attend the Floating Market, it was held at the Tower of London.
As most of the Londoners from Below milled around the royal jewels, gaping and jawing, the Marquis escaped upwards, slipping through the back door and moving up to the roof with the ravens. They croaked at him, sensing a kindred spirit.
Richard joined him shortly as if he’d sensed that the Marquis was about, contemplative and willing to bear his conversation for once, carrying a heavy wineskin up the thin stairwell with him. “Marquis!” he called, panting. “You finally made it to the Market. I haven’t seen you since Leadenhall.”
The Marquis nodded. “Been cleaning up some things,” he said. “Don’t tell me you intend to drink that entire thing yourself.”
After Leadenhall, once he’d manage to slip away from Richard’s questions, the Marquis had watched the Floating Market carefully, from a distance. It appeared to be restored to usual, the stench of the gathering sickening, but not overly, and the Truce upheld once more. He’d seen to it himself that the woman in the motorcycle jacket had found her way to Shepherd’s Bush in return for her actions.
Richard laughed, obviously having had a drink already. “No! I bought it to share.” He held two beaten cups – one a chipped teacup and the other a tin mug – towards the Marquis.
The Marquis wearily took the mug and sipped at the thin, sour wine Richard poured. It was terrible.
“I was thinking,” Richard said as he leaned against the crenellation near a large raven that gave him a sour look. “Whatever happened to that gift I gave you? I remember giving you something, but not what it was. Isn’t that weird?” He’d grown used to strange things in London Below.
Not too used, the Marquis hoped. He took a sip of his wine. “I traded it,” he said, “for a favour.”
Richard scowled. “I should have known.” He turned to look out at the river and the teacup he’d been using slipped, shattering on the stones below. “Damn! I’ll have to get another. Here.”
He thrust the wineskin at the Marquis, who took it reluctantly. Richard dug through the pockets of his jeans before looking up.
“Do you have a denarius or two? I just need it for a cup. I know, I know, I’ll owe you a favour.”
“Denarius?” The Roman coin was exceedingly rare. Why Richard was asking for one as if it were a penny made little sense.
“Yeah,” Richard said. “Just two. Well, one, if you’re being stingy.”
Ah. It clicked then. When the Marquis had given new life to the Floating Market by ringing the egg in Londinium’s Forum, he had initiated a few other… changes, as well.
He reached into his pockets and located one that was heavy with denarii.
“Here,” he said graciously. “Take five.”
Richard’s lips pursed as he looked at the money the Marquis had dropped into his hand. “Fine. But don’t charge me for the favour until I give you the change.” He turned and disappeared below, leaving the Marquis with the wine and open sky.
He took a deep breath, the denarii cold in his pocket and wine sour on his tongue. He turned and looked out over the Thames, towards Tower Bridge, lit in the night like a beacon.
He raised his tin mug towards the closest Tower in a sloppy salute and quaffed the last of the wine with a shudder. It was a good thing he’d never joined the military after all – he made a terrible hero. It was so exhausting, doing the right thing. He’d saved the Floating Market and sacrificed the opportunity to gain prestige to do it; despite all that, most still thought of him at ‘the Marquis’, untrustworthy and treacherous. He’d given new life to London Below and altered the fabric of two cities, connected by name and divided by time. Not bad, for a man without parents or a name.
Perhaps it was a story worth telling.