The music poured from the gallery.
We turned and swayed to its commands, in circles or in lines – a bow, a glance, an offered hand – my partners might change while the music played, but, at the very least, I began and ended each dance with Sherlock.
The hands of the clock on the gallery rail turned with us, forwards and back.
The dances became more complex, our feet tracing patterns within patterns. I began to see them on the floor, like the trails of snails across a garden path glimmering in the candlelight. Dance followed dance and our traces grew more distinct, tinted with colours that blended where our footsteps crossed; bisecting the pale trails of others like so much paint on a tarmac.
I felt more assured, kept time with more ease, arriving where I was supposed to be when I was supposed to be there. Sherlock seemed pleased. My tension ebbed; the steps were on my skin, after all – in my blood. I started to see the lines ahead of me, beckoning. I hesitated to follow. Alert to deceit, I compared them first to the patterns I had memorised. I didn’t know what others might be able to make me see.
When the musicians rested, the designs faded away.
We would drink then from his flask and I would catch my breath while Sherlock studied the other dancers in the mirrors and smiled distantly to the greetings that were bestowed on him and after brief glances of curiosity, on me.
In a moment alone, I had asked why none were introduced.
He had lowered his eyes for a moment to mine. “Serious business, names. Not to be invoked lightly nor given away casually.” He’d gone back to watching in the glass over my head.
“So, no one but your parents knows who I am?”
“Oh, they all know who you are, John. That’s why they’d like to know your names.”
That had silenced me and made me think of my middle name. Not Hamish, although I avoid using that as much as I can anyway because I’ve never liked it, but the other one, the one my nan used to call me when she sang me to sleep or looked after me when I was sick. Come to think of it, she never said it outside, except once, when I was about to cross the lane that curved round the side and front of the house to retrieve a ball. I had stopped, almost mid-step, so surprised was I to hear her say it, just as a car crested the hill and roared past in a fog of exhaust, making my clothes flap about me. It had flattened my ball. I was furious about that and had turned to express my outrage to my nan, but she was at the door of the cottage, beckoning to me. The front garden was large, full of shrubs and flowerbeds; she would have needed to shout for me to have heard her so clearly from where she was, but she hadn’t shouted. She’d said my name quietly and firmly just by my ear. It had puzzled me, but somehow, she had got me a new ball by teatime and I had forgotten all about it. Until now.
“We must talk about her sometime,” Sherlock said softly. “Sometime when we are not being interrupted,” he continued, raising his voice slightly and looking away from me.
I turned and observed the ominous, sable-clad figure gliding towards us. I could see now that his cloak was trimmed with black feathers as well as his cap. There was not a hint of colour on him, but his mask, which was hooked onto the belt at his hip was silver as were the numerous rings on his fingers.
He stopped only a step away at a point equidistant between Sherlock and me, regarded me for several seconds, then focussed on Sherlock. They stood, eyes locked on one another for half a minute or more and judging from the slight movements of their eyebrows, gave the impression that they were having a conversation without uttering a word.
Finally, Sherlock huffed. “John,” he said, very quietly. “I have the dubious honour of presenting to you my older brother, Mycroft.”
“His wiser brother, he should, more properly, say,” the man, this Mycroft, said, and extended his hand. It was palm up, so it didn’t seem he intended a handshake.
I could see the glint of heavy silver about his wrist as he held it there. I glanced at Sherlock.
The folds of his cloak shifted and his curls moved as though a breeze were ruffling them. He’d narrowed his eyes at his brother.
I felt it strange that Sherlock should have one. He seemed too singular to have such a close relation. Even his possessing parents had been a surprise, as if I’d thought he’d been formed in a cloud by lightning and drifted to earth in an evening mist.
Mycroft tilted his head and raised an eyebrow, managing, due to his position, to direct the expression at both Sherlock and me.
Sherlock narrowed his eyes further and then turned to me and nodded.
I was surprised once more, but I extended my right hand, palm down. Mycroft held his outstretched hand beneath mine, then brought his other up and passed it over mine without touching me.
My left hand had not trembled in over a year, but I clenched it by my side in case he was checking for any sign of vulnerability. I sincerely hoped that he couldn’t do anything close to what Sherlock could with regard to my thoughts, and yet, looking at his eyes, I thought that he might be able to. The notion wasn’t pleasing.
He continued his airy handclasp for a minute more before withdrawing his hands. “You don’t seem very afraid,” he remarked.
“You don’t seem very frightening,” I replied.
Good tactic. Keep ‘em laughing.
Shut the fuck up.
I know how to bluff, but I wasn’t. He didn’t frighten me. If he was someone I had to get through to keep Sherlock, I would get through him…or die trying. It was a calming thought. I pressed my lips together and regarded this brother with an assessing look of my own. The silver sheath of the rapier visible at his side was studded with dark stones; they gleamed like so many eyes. I scanned his flowing garments – so much room for other blades. Something silver moved at his neck and I saw a serpent’s head, like my own, peep above his ruffled collar. I felt a movement at my throat and wondered how that would work in an encounter.
Whoa, Watson. A good shag’s important, but…
Shut the bloody fuck up. You are not helping here.
Why him though? Why not the parents? Shouldn’t they be the ones to make sure you’re intending the honourable thing by their offspring?
I looked to Sherlock. His eyes were working on boring a hole in the side of Mycroft’s head and his curls remained restless. As pissed off as he appeared to be, and he didn’t seem to be making any effort to hide it, he looked so fiercely beautiful that anyone might want him.
I winced at the pressure of the moon gold band.
I glanced back at Mycroft. An eyebrow went up slightly.
…he’s after your arse.
That’d be some nasty sibling rivalry.
Or a test. To see if you can be wooed away with his older-wiser brother allure thing.
That’s a thing?
It is if you’re a materialist.
“Your hand, Doctor Watson.”
I scowled and looked back at Sherlock.
My right hand moved from my side and Sherlock’s brows lowered. I raised my left hand instead and he lifted his chin.
I held my hand out to Mycroft. It did not disappoint me and remained as steady as a rock.
Mycroft’s gaze went from my hand to my face as he worked one of the rings off his left ring finger. It had a thick silver band, serrated along one edge, and curving upwards to hold a dark, iridescent stone in a claw. He had another like it on the same finger and they both resembled the stones on his scabbard.
I glanced at Sherlock again. He had a twin, or, I should say, a triplet to it that I had not marked earlier.
He spread his fingers.
I did the same.
Holding the ring between his thumb and index finger, Mycroft slipped it onto my digitus medicinalis where it fit into notches along the top of the gold ring that Sherlock had made for me and which I had chosen to put on that finger.
Whole family’s unnerving.
The hum of conversation in the room resolved into scores of distinctly audible exchanges. My eyes opened wide.
Sherlock stepped closer. “You’ll learn how to regulate that.”
He must have done something to turn down the volume for me then, because my head no longer rang with the noise.
“You learn how to direct it, also,” Mycroft said.
Could have given a little tutorial first.
I turned towards two women across the room who were looking in our direction and whispering avidly.
“I wonder if they’ve exchanged bands,” the taller of the two said with a sweeping downwards gesture of her hand.
Her friend leaned closer. “I wonder if they’re wearing them now.”
My eyes were back to saucer-size and I turned away.
“You get used to that as well,” Mycroft remarked. “People will talk.”
“They do little else,” Sherlock said, with a flickering glance below my belt.
The band there got tighter.
I think he might enjoy their knowing that it’s his.
You are not helping.
My balls were starting to ache.
Sherlock passed me his flask. “This will help.”
Mycroft rolled his eyes at Sherlock.
“Welcome to the side of the angels, Doctor Watson,” he said, delicately inclining his head towards me. “If you’ll excuse me.”
“With pleasure,” Sherlock replied, “something on the dark side of the moon must need your attention urgently.”
With one more roll of the eyes, Mycroft glided off. “Only something on the far side of the room, brother mine.”
“Thank you…I think,” I said to his back.
He raised a hand, possibly in acknowledgement, before he disappeared into the crowd.
“Are there angels here?” I asked, looking about.
“You’ll be able to judge for yourself eventually.”
“But you’re not one of them,” I checked, to be sure.
Sherlock laughed. “Decidedly not.
I took a deep breath; the elixir had worked a rapid effect. Bringing my cloak forward a little, I attempted to discreetly adjust myself.
Sherlock leaned closer. “I’ll help you with that later,” he said in his deepest register.
With a few syllables, he undid the elixir’s work.
“You aren’t helping,” I gasped.
Seems to be a trend this evening.
“Drink some more,” Sherlock suggested, not looking at all repentant.
I heard giggles from the aforementioned ladies and considered what I might do to require Sherlock to have urgent need of his little bottle. It might have shown on my face.
“Dance with me,” Sherlock said, taking the flask from me and sipping from it before tucking it away.
I won’t deny a wave of gratification.
Above us, the flute piped a note. The violin and harp tuned their strings.
We strolled to our places on the dance floor.
In the midst of one dance, I found myself across from a woman who moved like a cloud in a moonlit sky. It took me a moment to recognise Sherlock’s mother, although I’m not sure she recognised me. When her line of dancers swirled towards the windows, she glanced over her shoulder with a subtle and secretive smile. I looked about and found Sherlock’s father next to me, his raised hands turning with the rhythm and his eyes on the curves of his wife’s figure. I felt a blush spreading up from my throat. It was there for any to see: the heat from which Sherlock had been forged and the source of his grace.
The musicians played faster. Each line of dancers shifted, one several paces to the right, the other to the left and my partners changed.
The room grew stuffy. Some people had had the foresight to carry fans, and they fluttered among those resting and chatting like so many butterflies.
The silk and linen closest to my skin began to cling. The scent of evergreens warmed by the sun and autumn leaves moistened by the rain followed me round the floor and each time I was close enough to Sherlock to smell his fragrance, I would close my eyes for an instant and see roses climbing bare oak branches, full of thorns and flowers that cared not for the season. Even there, I could see the pattern to follow as lines spread over the ground, round the trees - narrow paths of violets and bluebells and strawberries. My steps felt true.
I opened my eyes to look at the clock. It was earlier than when I had looked last.
Or its tomorrow afternoon.
My legs aren’t sore enough for that and my feet don’t hurt at all.
Maybe they’re numb.
I wiggled my toes; they seemed in good order. I checked the windows. Our reflections danced against an inky background. I looked across at my partner. Her head was crowned with shiny, brown plaits woven with sprigs of acacia. Her robe matched the vibrant yellow of the flowers.
“Molly?” She looked so different out of her lab coat.
She smiled. The tempo of the music changed. The outer circle of dancers skipped clockwise.
Another dancer took her place; he jingled as he smirked. “Good evening, Doctor Watson.”
How does he know your name?
It sounded sinister on his tongue. I shook my head and missed a step.
He laughed, open-mouthed and mocking. “Are you really a dancer, Doctor Watson?”
I missed another step.
His face creased in glee.
“Do you know what you are, Doctor Watson?” he managed to ask between peals of laughter, his face contorted by the effort. The colours of his cap were separated by rows of diamonds. They sparkled as he threw his head back, the bells at the tips of his cap jingling in accompaniment.
“Do you even know?” He flung his arms back in mirth.
The music changed tempo and the outer circle rotated. Those to either side of me turned to face inward. Half a beat late, I did, too.
My hands were clasped. Before I could see who he was, my new partner swung me around so that I took his place in the innermost circle. The music sped up and he rotated counter-clockwise away from me. When Sherlock looked back, his brow was furrowed. It cleared my head. I half-smiled.
Not quite ready for dancing with your eyes closed, Watson.
It had felt so peaceful, but, yeah. Eyes open. Got to see ‘em coming.
I checked the floor for the traces of our steps. Sherlock’s had turned barbed and silvery and were wrapped around some leech-like thing that squirmed not far from my feet. Its gaping jaws were ringed with needle-sharp teeth. It gurgled and disappeared with an odd jingling sound and a puff of smoke that stunk of formaldehyde.
Seemingly oblivious to the struggle on the floor, the dancers to either side of me took my hands for a series of sliding steps clockwise. Grateful for the guidance of our linked hands, I moved with them, keeping a lookout for further annelids as I went.
The candles burned low.
Sherlock and I danced, one pair among a whirl of others. It was a relief each time music began that would allow us to dance thus, his very touch sustaining. I led us through a star pattern, reversing the steps I had trod earlier in the other role in the same dance. Eyes steadfastly open, my confidence had returned a dance or two after my encounter with the jester. Following the mirror image of a complex dance was a test of whether it was justified or not. I brought us through, but the demands of the pattern had been sufficient to preclude conversation.
Although the jester’s path had not crossed mine again, his grating laughter reached me during pauses in the music. My steps had not faltered, but I was pleased to rest when the next interval arrived, lest fatigue make them do so. This time, Sherlock was willing to stop near the tables by the wall of mirrors where silver fountains of wine and mead were interspersed with tiered plates of dainties, platters of sliced meats and cheeses and wide bowls of fruit.
While Sherlock studied the room in the mirrors, I filled a cup with the mead that was flowing from one of the small urns balanced on the shoulders of several naked bacchantes that decorated the silver fountain nearest to me on the table.
I had seen it before. The bare curves of its many figurines were being polished when Mrs Hudson had given me my first tour of the kitchens and cellars. It had reminded me of the shapes I sometimes glimpsed ranged round a tree in the centre of the fountain in the courtyard below my bedroom balcony. There was more variety of position in the wine fountain, however. Each wine bearer had at least two lovers expressing their ardour. I tilted my head to get a clearer view of exactly how three of the figures were intertwined. The sculptor had clearly had supple models.
Or a vivid imagination.
I tasted the mead and hummed in appreciation.
“My formulation,” Sherlock said, eyes still locked on the mirrors.
“Not some ancient brew?” I took a bigger sip. Parts of my mouth tingled that I didn’t think I had ever felt before.
“Quite new,” Sherlock replied. “Well, from my childhood. I did most of my early experiments in the kitchens, before the lab was set up.”
“Were they all this successful?” I emptied the cup and held it up to catch more.
Sherlock drew in his lips before answering. “No,” he finally said. “Don’t ask Mrs Hudson about them unless you have lots of time to spare. I understand her grandmother wrote letters.”
I took another sip. “It’s so good it should be illegal.”
What does that say about the legal system?
He smiled. “Some of the ingredients are several centuries past their use-by dates, so it would be. Does that enhance your enjoyment of it?”
It was my turn to smile. I drank more. “No wonder the ballroom is so full. I’d come a long way just to taste this.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
A breath of cool air reached us.
Sherlock turned and I turned with him as the windows were being opened by liveried servants I could not identify from where I stood. I knew who was directing them, however. Gesturing as though he were conducting an orchestra, Wiggins stood underneath the gallery sending subordinates here and there with silent signals. Glass doors were secured against the embrasures. Small wooden steps were drawn up to the window seats, the cushions rolled up and carried away. When the to-ing and fro-ing subsided, a view was revealed that fit nothing I had seen from pavement or roof or on any foray in the Manor’s grounds.
That it wasn’t the buildings on the south side of Melcomb Street was no surprise, but neither was it the oak and evergreen forest under whose branches I had hunted with Sherlock. Instead, a broad terrace stretched from the thresholds of the French doors to a balustrade broken by what appeared to be a staircase down to a wide river whose waters reflected the radiance of a full moon. The far bank was indistinct, neither could I discern the outline of the grand trees I had come to know well. Only the modest foliage of low shrubs and plants blooming in urns softened the geometry of the view. The scent of their pale flowers wafted in with the cool air – hyacinth and lily and lilac.
I had no idea when it was nor why it was there.
In twos and threes, other guests were turning to look, too, but the hubbub I expected to erupt did not materialise. In truth, their comments were subdued. Perhaps it was familiar to them.
Perhaps something wicked this way comes.
I glanced at Sherlock. His gaze was fixed on the centre doors with an intensity I never saw when anything good was about to happen.
I set aside my cup and sought my dagger’s hilt.
The silhouette of a figure wielding a long oar glided into view, halting when he was perfectly framed in the opening in the balustrade. Another figure rose up from what must have been a barge, but was invisible from our vantage. He mounted the stairs, bare-headed, his garments a fall of pewter about his form. With measured steps, he crossed the terrace.
I checked on Sherlock again.
“I may have to add a new dance, John,” he said, his voice audible only because he stood so close to me.
My jaw clenched. My hands as well.
Sherlock gripped my shoulder. When he spoke, his words were clipped and low or they were in my head and he didn’t speak aloud at all.
“Your part is simple, crucial, but simple. At first you kneel on one knee, a couple metres from me, clapping in time with the beat of the music. You watch me, keep your eyes on me. Can you do that, for me?”
Of course, you can do that, Watson, you do it most of the time anyway. Well, not the clapping. I imagine you could do it kneeling, possibly whilst whistling.
My alarm eased a little. I could manage what he’d described so far.
“Why?” I breathed.
“Drink,” Sherlock said, flask out and being tipped over my cup and then his own.
I reclaimed my cup, drained it as directed. Enhanced mead consumed, I rephrased my question. “Can you tell me why?”
He had turned away from the room, but he shook his head only slightly and smiled. I saw no humour in his eyes. We could be observed no matter which way we turned.
Hardly moving my lips, I continued. “Are the steps to it inscribed on my skin?”
He picked a strawberry from a brimming bowl of fruit and offered it to me to bite. I was a little surprised, but, in this, too, I followed his lead and bit it in half.
“No,” he replied and popped the rest in his mouth.
“What comes after the kneeling?” I whispered, holding my empty cup near my mouth.
He truly smiled at me then. “When the time seems right, you will stand and begin to move, still beating out the tempo,” he explained through his curved lips. “It will have become faster.”
“Will you signal me?”
He picked up another strawberry, bit it and touched the rest to my mouth.
With my lips, I took it, my gaze fixed on him. He daubed with a fingertip at the corner of his mouth as though there might be a fleck of fruit there, then reached out and touched my lower lip.
I hadn’t seen the drop of blood on his finger, but I tasted it. My eyes widened.
“No,” he replied, and upended his cup of wine. “But you’ll know what shape your steps should take.”
He glanced towards the gallery.
A flutter of notes came from the flute, but then I heard a clarinet, an oboe and then a bassoon. I squinted in hopes of discerning if others had joined the four I had seen playing earlier, but their candles were half-covered to light their scores and not their faces. The violinist tuned his strings, a second joined him and then a third. The music didn’t sound like it was going to be simple.
Sherlock took my arm. “Ready?”
“As much as I’m going to be, I suppose.”
When we had reached the centre of the floor and Sherlock had indicated my place, the late arrival separated from the other guests and greeted Sherlock. He was a trim, fair-haired man with a pointed beard and spectacles that seemed to gleam with their own light. He was not ill-favoured, but there was something sharp and cold in his face that made me check the set of the knives in my sleeves. He spoke of his pleasure at meeting Sherlock after so very long and his voice had an oiliness that I could almost feel on my skin.
Sherlock tilted his head in acknowledgement, without speaking.
The man bowed slightly then, taking one of Sherlock’s hands in both of his and raising it to his lips. It did not look like an act of obeisance to me and then he began to croon as his lips hovered over Sherlock’s skin.
The hair on the back of my neck rose.
If I wasn’t certain that I was not supposed to stab this man to death in the middle of the dance floor, he would have been dead or I would have been for making the attempt.
His hands caressed Sherlock’s and he spoke of the art of those fingers…
…how they were the hands of a musician, an alchemist, a scholar. He extolled Sherlock’s genius and waxed eloquent upon his beauty.
Cock No. 1.
I bit my lip.
Sherlock said not a word.
Nor did anyone else. I could hear them listening.
Cock One assured Sherlock he would become accustomed to his caresses in time.
The presumptuous prick.
I glared daggers since I couldn’t throw them and ground my teeth.
Careful of the dental work there, Watson.
And then he murmured something I couldn’t hear except for the word ‘father’ and I understood why Sherlock hadn’t reduced this reptile to heap of ash.
You’re not the only one that limits his options.
I tried to breath as that sunk in. Succeeded partially. Whole new plan needed.
It’s the new dance. Whatever it is about it that he couldn’t explain to you.
Our final dance was supposed to knock anybody flat that needed knocking over.
Something extra awful about this guy. He needs something other than passion to take him down.
Right. I mean, I can improvise, but it helps to have a general idea.
Maybe that would limit your imagination.
Right. Following in the dark, then.
The serpent was writhing about my neck, but the moon blade hadn’t gone cold. I wondered why.
Maybe he’s too disgusting to touch with it.
That felt true.
I slipped out the knife tucked between my wrist and my right cuff, slid it into my belt on the side opposite to where my silver dagger was sheathed.
Just being prepared.
I glanced up at the gallery and caught Mrs Hudson watching us. She looked very cross. I held out one hand and gestured as though I was moving a bow across my arm. She nodded and turned away. The tuning of instruments got much louder. There had to be at least a dozen of them. I wasn’t sure how they were all fitting up there.
The sound seemed to rouse Sherlock. He stepped away from noisome Cock No. 1 and looked at me.
It seemed the time to kneel, so I did. Got down on one knee facing him, as if I knew exactly what I was doing and that had been the signal to do it.
A drum and a flute began to play to each other.
Softly, I clapped to their rhythm.
Sherlock stood tall as though he was gathering himself in and raised the edge of his cloak until it covered his face. The jewels on it flashed, tiny white sparks burning through the dark cloth.
A gust of wind blew through the open doors, its scent more of the seashore than of flowers.
All the candles went out.
I wanted to grip a weapon.
I didn’t miss a beat.
A murmur rose from the guests, more like the wind than the voices of people and then, even that, died away.
Without the flicker of a candle, the musicians played on. The clarinet joined the flute and the drum.
Outside, the leaves rubbed against one another; silvery clouds raced past the moon.
A bassoon took up the melody.
My eyes were adjusting to the gloom. I strained forward, squinting. Behind me, I heard rustling as others did the same.
Another clarinet joined in.
I clapped, sound rising up to meet the music drifting down, and in front of Sherlock’s cloak, a hand appeared, slim as a crescent moon, swaying to the music like a miniature dancer.
On the terrace, petals scattered over stone and the last of the clouds scudded away. Moonlight flooded the room.
An oboe caressed the air.
Sherlock’s fingers opened and closed like a fan, his hand bending at the wrist above its white ruffle, the rest of his arm invisible in its black sleeve against the black cloak.
The tops of my fingers struck against my palm.
The flute sang. The flash of a trumpet caught my eye, moving side to side, over the rail of the gallery, panting.
The hand vanished.
A horn cried for it.
Sherlock dropped his cloak.
The full length of my fingers hit my palm.
Both Sherlock’s hands fluttered above his head; spread wings above the solemn mask of his face. The white of his shirt showed where his doublet was undone; a line leading down, opalescent in the moonlight.
Another horn complained.
I stood, my clapping more percussive, and began to prowl around Sherlock.
I brushed against guests. They moved back.
A celeste tinkled.
The doublet fell to the ground. From waist to brow, he reflected the moonlight, billowing sleeves rising and falling at his sides to the tide of the music.
I circled, elbows out, palm striking palm.
The woodwinds called.
Sherlock’s hands twisted at his wrists as though they would fly away.
My feet fell in time to the music, palms striking, louder and louder.
Sherlock took a step towards me, another, a step back.
I pushed backwards into the crowd and they gave way.
He leaned back from the waist, and forward again, arms gliding through the air.
Is he going to take flight?
I’d never seen Sherlock do that. I knew he could. He told me of battles that had to have been in the air. Battles without me.
He needs to be outside, then.
My circuit took me deeper into the crowd. They parted.
I didn’t miss a beat, even stepping up the little stairs and over the threshold of the central doors.
Through the other doors, the guests followed, Cock One in the fore.
Sherlock stood framed in the doorway, shoulders back, arms back, hands twisting, fingers fanning.
I heard the slide of a trombone.
Cock One was clapping.
Sherlock stepped onto the terrace, feet bare.
I clapped louder. The stones echoed with it.
Damn right. It’s not your fucking house, fucker.
I never missed a beat. My blood beat in time to it now.
The woodwinds wailed as the musicians followed out the doors.
How’d they get down so fast?
Flew, for all I know. Maybe there was an army of them waiting in the music room, on the gallery stairs, in the shadows, behind the curtains.
I turned at the lilies, no longer circling, but describing an arc, whose apex was closer and closer to the edge of the terrace and the stairs leading down to the water.
Don’t know. I think that’s where Sherlock wants to go.
The wind picked up.
Seemed like agreement to me.
Sherlock moved closer, flowing with the music, glowing with the moon.
Cock had been pushed towards the back of the crowd as it shifted with us. He raised his hands over his head to clap.
There were violinists pouring out the doors now. Some wearing powdered wigs.
The light flickered, wisps of cloud drifting past the moon.
I smiled and smashed my hands together. We were luring him into the river.
Who knows? No, Sherlock knows and I feel it.
I started down the river stairs.
The guests squeezed between the urns, leaning over the balustrade on both sides to watch.
Not fucker though; he came down the stairs after Sherlock.
I stepped onto the barge. It dipped. I kept my balance, sat, without missing a beat.
Sherlock stepped in after me, arms extended to either side, hands describing waves.
The boat didn’t even rock.
Sherlock pivoted to face the house.
An appreciative ooh rose from the onlookers.
I nodded to the boatman.
With a long pole, he pushed us away from the landing.
Fucker reached the bottom step, cursing at the boatman, calling him back, still clapping and swaying to the music.
The boatman headed out to the middle of the river.
Must not like Fucker.
Maybe he fancies Sherlock.
I glanced at the man. He was leaning on his pole, holding us in place, his eyes on Sherlock.
Yeah, well just to look at Sherlock’s worth a risk.
My hands found each other of their own accord.
The musicians were on the top steps now, their music rolling out over the water, louder and louder.
Sherlock’s arms arced above his head, crossed and flowed down again.
Fucker stepped off the landing, cloak spreading out on the water behind him. It came up to his waist. He continued to clap, walking slowly towards us, spectacles gleaming, arms raised higher as the water rose to his chest.
A wind blew along the river, swirling Sherlock’s hair about his head.
The light dimmed. Dark clouds glowered in front of the moon. A few, large raindrops hit the bottom of the boat.
The water had reached Fucker’s neck now and still he walked along the river bottom towards us, hands above his head now, clapping.
The music reached a crescendo.
The sky growled. The clouds flashed. Lightning struck the water.
For an instant, Fucker looked ecstatic; head thrown back, mouth open, hands paused mid-clap and then he slipped from sight. I stared at the spot where he’d disappeared beneath the water. Ripples faded away.
Thunder growled, a deep satisfied sound.
The boatman manoeuvred us towards the shore.
I glanced at the sky; the clouds were drifting off. I looked back at the water. It was bright with the moonlight. No more rain fell.
The sound I heard was applause.
Along the edges of the terrace, the crowd was expressing their appreciation. The musicians bowed.
I checked the water again to see if Fucker was going to pop out of it, applauding his own performance.
The surface of the river was an unbroken glaze of moonlight.
The boat reached the landing. Sherlock stepped onto it and bowed.
The crowd cheered.
I hadn’t thought they had that in them.
Somewhere amidst the noise, I heard the jester’s laugh.
Couldn’t he have joined the Fucker at the bottom of the river? Maybe snake boy, too?
No, they’re already mad.
Don’t think so. Cool, cold evil.
He seemed to like the feel of it though, in the end.
I followed Sherlock onto the landing and up the steps.
Inside a bell rang, a cool, silvery sound.
The guests and the musicians all turned to go inside. The candles were burning brightly again.
Sherlock looked at me.
“Are you all right?”
“You just saw a man die.”
“He wasn’t a very nice man.”
“No,” Sherlock agreed, “he wasn’t.”
I tilted my head towards the river. “So, is that a traditional thing? A sacrifice to the river?”
Sherlock scowled and shook his head. “People are giving them dead bodies all the time. They don’t like it, prefer live ones...who stay alive.” He smiled a little. “Ones having sex together, preferably.”
I snorted and filed that away. “But it accepted another nasty one anyway.”
“Assault, rape, blackmail – yes, he must have tasted dreadful, but he was threatening me. River takes that very seriously.” We had reached the door. “The rain will help wash it away.”
I looked back at the sky. The clouds had nearly obscured the moon.
Inside, the bell sounded again.
“Dinner?” Sherlock asked.
“Starving,” I replied and we stepped over the threshold.
Behind us, the skies opened up.