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The Emerald Band

Chapter Text

We had done the right thing. We had struck a blow for freedom of our enslaved race. Once I believed that. Then the reprisals began. Her Victorious Majesty was terrible in her wrath. Week after week, The Star came out with thick black borders, and every issue carried lists of ‘traitors’ deemed to have Restorationist sympathies on no greater evidence than their failing to turn seawards before their evening chop.

We moved, my friend and I, from lodging to lodging, seldom staying above hours, never above a single night, Moriarty’s hounds ever running on our scent. But I had lived out of my pack before, in Afghanistan, in far less comfortable surroundings; had been hunted by a force far more awful than Her Majesty’s police. When one has walked through a valley choked with the writhing bodies of men turned witless as worms; when one has felt the Shadow pressing pressing—but I shall not think on that. Dwelling on the past is a weakness we can ill afford, as my friend daily reminds me. His nerves are steel, but even he cries out in his sleep some nights when the moon drips blood in the sky, red blood, not like—

The future. We must look to the future. Those momentous events in Russia that crowded on the heels of our own act: dare one hope that the Czar Unanswerable, the Great Alexander, has been destroyed? We had hoped before, some fifteen years past, when whispers spread of the death of He Who Presides Over the New World. But the renewal ceremony came, and Abraham arose from the blood of the sacrifices as he ever did. Some say the Old Ones do not live as men do, and cannot be killed. Nightly I dream that the creature’s blood, green as lime leaves, coalesces back into his hideous form, and—

But my wits are wandering. My friend has made a study of the lore of the Old Ones, what little is written in obscure volumes in illicit libraries; or spoken of in hushed tones by men with pallid and ghastly faces, and hair streaked with white before its time; or scratched on stone in caverns long lost to map or memory. I believe my friend even once trained for the priesthood, a step he said ‘formed as sound a basis for the vocation of a stage actor as ever a man might want.’ But he would never be drawn on whether the Old Ones could be destroyed absolutely. ‘I never theorise in advance of data,’ were his invariable words, and I replied as invariably that what he meant was, he never declared his theories.

‘Well, when the dust in St Petersburg has settled, perhaps we’ll have some data on the Russian line.’ It took me a moment to realise that the voice was not in my own head, and then I turned to catch sight of my friend’s face poking up through the trapdoor into the airless garret above a wine-seller’s that was tonight’s billet. There was a twist to his mouth that was the nearest the man came to a smile. ‘And now you will bleat that you have not the slightest idea how I deduced what you were thinking,’ he said, as the remainder of his frame followed his head into the attic. He was disguised today as a workman of the sort one saw on every street corner, and by some magic he had conjured six or eight inches off his tremendous height. The crossbeams of the roof were not to be so easily deceived, though: as he bent almost in twain to squeeze beneath one, the illusion vanished. ‘I’ll spare you the trouble,’ he said. ‘You were staring fixedly at the candle, so abstracted that you failed to notice my entrance for thirty-two seconds, though I took no pains to be silent on the ladder—’

‘And I too will spare you the trouble,’ I rejoined. My thoughts these days revolved a scant few topics over and over, and it did not take an intellect of the magnitude of my friend’s to intuit what might be on my mind. ‘Is that today’s paper?’

‘It is. And there is a name in it that I think will be familiar to you, and for once it is not on their infernal lists. Although,’ he added, bleakly, ‘it is a fine circumstance when the murder of someone whose name one recalls counts as good news.’

‘Murder! Who is it?” I demanded.

‘A Miss Julia Stoner.’

The name meant nothing to me. ‘But who is she?’

‘I was relying on you, my dear fellow, for that intelligence.’

While my friend was Albion’s foremost expert on the Old Ones, and a physicist with a wide knowledge of cosmology besides, my role was to be a sort of aide-memoire for all matters of a less exalted nature. ‘Stoner,’ I said, searching my memory. ‘Was there not a Brigadier of that name? Of the Bengal Army? No, now I remember! Major-General Henry Stoner, awarded the Star of Victoria for his part in subduing the sepoys in the ’49 Mutiny—’

‘And then flayed alive a couple of years later on suspicion of his involvement in the Chittagong Plot,’ said my friend, grimly. ‘I knew I had the name from somewhere.’ He took a peculiar kind of pride in forgetting information not pertinent to his causes.

The Chittagong Plot was among the most audacious Restorationist acts of this century. The Royal Yacht, moored overnight just off the coast by the port city, had been blown into matchwood by a dredger packed with dynamite. The Queen, the sole survivor, had swum to safety unscathed. It was the last time she had left the shores of Albion.

‘It might not be the same family,’ I said.

My friend handed the paper to me, cunningly folded so that today’s list was concealed. ‘The Eye’s hack calls them “notorious.”’

Tragedy Strikes Again at Stoke Moran—Locked Room Death Baffles Police

The sudden and unexplained death of Miss Julia Stoner, aged thirty, of Stoke Moran in Surrey, continues to baffle local police. Miss Stoner was the daughter of the late Lady Roylott, who was struck down in a railway accident, only eleven months ago. The mansion’s residents were awoken in the early hours of Monday morning by a blood-curdling shriek. The unfortunate lady staggered from her bedroom, clad only in a nightgown, to collapse in the passage. Sir Grimesby Roylott, whose name must be familiar to all our readers as one of the most illustrious personages of our land, hastened to render first aid to his stepdaughter, but she expired, only minutes later, in the arms of her twin sister, Miss Helen Stoner. No marks of violence were discovered on the deceased, who enjoyed excellent health. The surviving Miss Stoner has sworn that her sister’s bedroom was locked. The notorious surname of the deceased has led to speculation— [Continued on page 3.]

It was with no little incredulity that I drew my friend’s attention to the name ‘Roylott’: for that name was known to both of us. Indeed, as The Star attested, it was among the most ancient and glorious – which is to say, mildewed and blood-spattered – in all of Albion. The Roylotts boasted of having welcomed Her Victorious Majesty when she came ashore, seven centuries ago, at the city that now bears her name. Whether there was any truth in the boast or no, they had enjoyed royal patronage for centuries. It was Governor Sir Arthur Roylott who had ordered the Chittagong Massacre. Major-General Stoner’s widow must have married the Butcher of Bengal’s son!

‘A trip into the countryside will be just the thing to blow the cobwebs from our heads,’ said my friend. ‘Guildford, I think. The crocuses will be fading, but I have hopes of the daffodils.’

I would have thought that his great brain had shaken loose from its moorings in our reality but that the newspaper reported Her Majesty’s coroner would hold his court in the county town of that name on the morrow. I marvelled instead at his nerve, to suggest that the two most wanted criminals in all of Albion should stroll straight into Her Majesty’s courtroom, and thumb their noses at Her Majesty’s justice! We should as well walk up the Mall to Marble Arch, and tug on the Palace’s bell rope!