Chapter 1: A fight of magic trinkets
The April afternoon was ending where the train ran hurriedly along the tracks, the darkness soon enveloping the passing buildings, the run down houses of the pour and the town houses of the wealthy alike. The rain was pouring down in sheets, water trailing every surface, seeping into the brick walls and spreading a penetrating chill throughout the city.
Inside the living compartment of the railway carriage, it was considerably warmer and cosier, a roaring fire in the fireplace and oil lamps casting their flickering warm sheen about the room. The atmosphere, however, was shattered by angry raised voices.
“Evie, you have to abandon this meaningless search!”
Sitting at either side of the table, glaring daggers at each other were the Frye twins. Both set of eyes blazing, both wearing a hostile countenance and none of them ready to budge under the glare of the other.
They were discussing Evie’s search for the Eden artefact. To Jacob the hunt was a dreary waste of time; shuffling through old books for clues and trailing supernatural antiques was not his cup of tea. He was one for stalking people, not following paper trails, and his patience with his sister was running very low.
Leaning forward and slamming a fist on the table, Jacob forcefully continued.
“The Templars have taken over London; they are a step away from controlling all of Britain. Forget the magic trinket; we need to stop them! Hunting for ancient artefacts is getting us nowhere!”
His anger did nothing to faze her and Evie’s expression hardly changed from his outburst. Her jaw clenched slightly tighter where she sat leaning back against the chair, her arms crossed over her chest and her bright blue eyes ablaze with anger.
“You know we will not take over London if the Templars find these artefacts, Jacob.”
“Stubborn, bloody Evie!” Jacob thought.
Evie’s trails had come to a dead end. The standstill was a great frustration to her, but still she would not abandon the search. That was a contradiction, and Evie could not deny it.
“There aren’t any trails to follow, Evie. Until there are you could help me fight the Blighters.”
She recognized the devilish gleam in his eye even before he spoke and his words only served to make her frown deepen.
“You and those bloody Rooks of yours’s are going to expose our Brotherhood!” she spat before taking a deep breath collecting herself. Turning to him, she forcing herself calm and collected.
“I know we would find the clues we need, Jacob, if you would just help me look for them!”
Her rational reasoning was not going to change his mind. Jacob refused her with a hostile glare and anger sparked back in Evie’s eyes.
It was a battle of wills, one they had been fighting since childhood and since coming to London, those rows had only increased in number.
Henry Green was occupying the couch nearby, silently following their bickering while reading a book, knowing too well it was better not to get in the middle of their argument. Now he sighed, and mumbled to himself.
“If only Nathan Cole had reached the London Brotherhood 17 years ago, things might have been different.”
Evie had had enough of Jacob’s arguments and turned to face him, ignoring Jacob completely.
“Nathan Cole? Henry, what are you talking about?”
Henry lifted his eyes from the book and turned a questioning gaze to Evie.
“Don’t you remember? The Assassin who disappeared?”
Evie’s small shoulder shrug and interested attention encouraged him on. Jacob grumbled at Evie’s back and listened annoyed with only half an ear as Henry continued.
“Seventeen years ago, the London branch had words from an Assassin, Nathan Cole, stationed in India. He had come across information of importance to our cause. He did not give any further description of what he had found, but he wrote he was planning to bring it back to England. The council was expecting his arrival for some time, but he never came. By the time he was missed and they started making inquiries, the trail had gone cold. What happened to him and the information has been a mystery ever since. Did your father never talk about it?”
Neither Jacob nor Evie had heard the story before. Jacob was not amused. It was another useless clue, a dead end trail.
“Now there is a trail suited for you, Evie. A real ghost hunt!” he snarled mockingly. By then Evie had had enough. Her eyes turned dark as she abruptly turned to face him. Leaning over the table, she pointed to the door and spoke through gritted teeth.
“Just GET OUT, Jacob!”
She knew how to get in his face, but he also knew how to drive her around the bend. They were at a draw, none of them was going to budge and Jacob was fed up with the whole argument. They both needed a break before they tore each other apart, literarily. Without another word, he got up and left.
Pulling up the hood and turning the collar of his coat up against the rain, Jacob stepped outside and climbed to the top of the carriage. He had no patience to wait for the next stop, and shot the grappling hook at the first passing building. The line pulled him sharply into the air and the rattling noise of the train faded as he shortly made his way up on the roof. He watched the train disappear in plumes of steam billowing out in the falling rain, the anger against his sister’s stubborn conviction boiling hot inside, before turning his back on it as it moved out of sight.
The lads were waiting for him at the Thistle and Crown. Stepping off the train early, meant he had to trek across the burrow to get there, but that suited him well. Jacob needed to blow off some steam before joining his Rooks, and exertion was the outlet he favoured when Evie got to him.
She never saw eye to eye with him about how to fight the Templars, always trailing the Eden artefacts. Jacob was fighting the Blighters, toppling the Templars from the bottom, making a difference in people’s lives every day. Since coming to London, it was a constant source of disagreement between them.
On the roofs Jacob used the anger, channelling it into energy, letting it fuel his speed and strength and use it to drive his body to the limits until it blew away, or he caved under exhaustion. He moved over the rooftops through London, finding footholds and handholds without thinking, his mind absorbed with the nuisance with his sister.
London had changed her; Evie was all work and no play, trying to live up to, some glorified ideal of father’s teachings. Jacob missed the sister who was always up for a challenge, who had followed him to London on a whim, turned around and boarded a passing freight train with little to no thought. Now, she would not take action before everything was analysed and planned. She was relentless in her search for the artefact even when all her trails had gone cold. He wanted her to fight by his side, to join him and the Rooks in the battles against the Blighters, but she had blatantly refused. She did not approve of forming the gang nor did she want to place her trust in the Rooks. He knew she saw the potential and the strength their numbers represented, and still she refused to utilize it.
“Stubborn, bloody Evie” he thought again, and despite himself, Jacob found a smile pulling at his lips.
The anger died away, faltering like embers falling onto wet sand. He stopped his arduous trek across the roofs, bending over, leaning his hands on his knees and breathing heavily.
Evie would not be Evie if she let go her convictions easily.
Although he would never admit it to her, deep down he knew she was right; they needed to find the artefact before the Templars got to it or they would be in deep shit, but as long as there were Templars to kill and Blighters to fight, he would refrain from going through old books.
Jacob straightened and continued his trek at a walk while his breathing came down.
He would make her see reason eventually, that the Rooks had their use, and that fighting the Blighters was essential to take over London. In the meantime, Evie was still his sister and would always be his ally, as he would always be hers.
His mind calm and his coat dripping water, he arrived at the pub where the Rooks had gathered for the evening. As he approached, the door opened and the face of the man exiting lit up in recognition.
“Leaving already, Ed? The evening’s just begun.”
“Other obligation calling, Boss. You’ll see how it is one day,” the Rook answered smiling.
Edward was a father of two and his wife was heavy with child. As her due-date was drawing close, he made his way home at a sensible hour, and refrained from the stronger drinks.
Ed turned his head and gestured to the pub.
“The lads are sitting at a table in the back. They’re waiting for you.” Then he took his leave and disappeared down the street in the rain as Jacob entered the pub.
The room was full of chatter, green coats and yellow armbands displayed all about the room except in the corner by the door, where a traveling merchant was sitting by the table with his wife and two children, looking slightly pale at the boisterous company having taken over the public rooms of their would-be quiet lodgings for the evening. Dining in a hall with a criminal gang was clearly not what they’d anticipated when choosing to stay in the Thistle and Crown.
Jacob tipped his hat in their direction, seeing their faces lighting up in relief, thinking they had found someone with a fellow destiny, and that ordinary people did visit the site. Their smiles shortly faltered when the Rooks noted Jacob’s arrival and greeted him with shouts and cheers.
At the back of the room, he spotted the unmistakable fiery red hair of the Cullen-brothers, Tom and Liam and knew the company he sought was there, as Ed had told him. He was about to make his way through the crowd to the back of the room when a hand fell on his shoulder. He turned to find Charles, a former Clinker and one of the first to join the Rooks by his side, carrying two mugs of beer in his hand.
“Ya might as well ‘ave this, Boss. Greg ‘as no use fer it.” He gestured to the corner where Jacob could make out Greg, sitting with a girl on his lap. Beer was clearly not on the lad’s mind, as he buried his face against her neck, an arm around her waist and his other hand well under her shirt.
“‘E’ll end up with more children than king ‘Enry the first if ‘e’s not careful,” Charles mused grimly before shooting Jacob a slight smile.
“As long as he’s not going after my sister again,” Jacob thought to himself.
The first time Evie had joined Jacob for drinks a few months back, he had been late and Evie had been waiting for him, sitting at a table by herself in a pub full of Rooks. Greg had taken an interest as soon as she had sat down and had bestowed his charms upon her. Evie had kindly tried to reject him but Greg took her uninterested and dismissive countenance as a challenge. When Jacob arrived, he had stayed back and watched, amused at the situation and curious to see how Evie would deal with it. Greg’s pursuits ended abruptly when Evie was fed up and made clear who he was dealing with, slamming him into the wall and all but lifting him off his feet. Greg had never mentioned the incident with a word, but since then the Rooks had never treated Evie anything but courteous and Jacob knew word of the story got around.
A smile tugged at the corner of his lip as he turned back to Charles and accepted the pint.
“Don’t thank me. ‘Arry’s the one payin’,” Charles said as they made their way to the table and sat down.
The men all greeted Jacob with cheers, albeit the youngest of them, sitting across the table was somewhat reserved. Harry was the newcomer of the pack, a boy of 17 who the lads had recently taken under their wing.
“So, you lost the game, Harry?” Jacob asked, seeing the boy’s glum expression.
The lads around the table broke out in chuckles of laughter.
“He didn’t just loose one,” John said. “He lost three.”
“Three, ay?” Jacob turned his gaze to another of the former Clinkers, sitting quietly amused at the end of the table. Rob was an austere middle-aged man who rarely laughed, but now his eyes twinkled in amusement as he dried a smile of his face. The short nod he sent, let Jacob in on the prank. Jacob took a deep swallow of the beer, covering up a grin of his own and the light of laughter he knew was in his eyes.
Playing a game of whist seemed a merry pastime, however, rules were, the looser payed for the drinks. Harry was a gullible lad who didn’t know the silent language between the rest. He did not understand they were all playing against him. He would never win a game, no matter what cards he was dealt.
The Clinkers had subjected Jacob to the same trick back when the Rooks were first formed, but Jacob had smelled the rat before the first round was finished and called their prank. Since then, the Cullen brothers had gone through the same routine, first the older and then the younger. It had evolved into an initiation to the group, letting the newcomer loose until he gave in and admitted defeat before the prank was revealed.
Harry was sullen and pondering.
“I want to see that deck of cards,” he demanded.
John handed it to him and the boy went over every card, searching for markings Jacob knew weren’t there. The less he discovered the more frustrated the boy was. Having found nothing, he handed back the deck of cards and continued pouting in silence.
“Do you want to play another round, Harry?” Liam’s question seemed to taunt the looser.
“I can’t afford to, can I” he replied bitterly
“I’ll give you your next wage in advance if you need it,” Jacob shot in. He wondered if the lad would take the bait or not. This taunt could go on for days if Harry didn’t throw in his hand.
“Double or nothing, Harry. What do you say?” The younger redhead brother, Liam, was leaning over the table, eager to spur things along.
Of course, he would be the one to encourage, Jacob thought to himself. Liam held the record of length in suffering under this prank, having relented for three nights of playing whist, getting deeper and deeper in debt until he was a nervous wreck without an income to look forward to for weeks.
Harry’s inner dialog was in debate as he sat quietly a few moments more. Then he shook his head.
“No,” he said. “I’m done.”
The men around the table cheered, all but Liam who let out an exasperated sigh.
“The record stays firmly stuck with you, brother,” Tom laughed
Harry looked around in wonder at his mates
“What’s going on?” he said
“You were hoodwinked, lad,” Rob explained. “They’re all playing together against you. Remember that the next time you decide to put your money in a game of cards.”
Wide grins greeted him all around the table as the information hit home.
Harry tugged his hair and leaned back on the chair, his face red as he exhaled forcefully through his mouth, both annoyed and relieved that they had had him.
“Pay him back and buy him a round, lads” Jacob said, and John and Liam rose to get the drinks.
The rain had ended when they made their way home through the streets a few hours later, the sheen of the gas lights reflecting off the wet surface of the cobblestone paving where they walked, some a little straighter than others. Liam and Harry would probably not be attending breakfast in the morning Jacob mused as they turned a corner an left the lighted street for the dark back alleys.
Their destination was a former workhouse in Lambeth where the Rook’s had set up a base. The indistinctive property lay aside from the main streets, and consisted of an austere three story brick building surrounding a yard on three sides. Jacob kept an office and a bedroom there on the first floor. It suited him well to have a base away from Evie, in company with the people who shared his view on how to take over London.
It was the only stronghold the Rooks had established themselves and not taken over from the Blighters. It was home to most of the lads, only Rob and Ed lived elsewhere in rented rooms with their families. Aside from the bedrooms on the upper floors, the central building contained kitchen, cellars and washhouse in the basement and a sizable dining-hall on the ground floor. The accommodations were basic and simple; they had no need for the luxury of carpets and fine wallpaper, only a sound structure and a solid roof over their heads.
The back street lay dark and silent under the moonlight as they covered the last leg home, however, the area was not deserted, even at this hour at night. Atop the building, the faint outline of a man became visible as he raised an arm in greeting, only the movement displaying him as a solid figure against the starry sky. Soon after, the gate to the property came into view, along with another couple of men. As every stronghold, the base was well guarded, day and night, Rooks covering the gate and yard outside as well as the roof.
The two guards by the gate greeted the party merrily, receiving an account of the night’s escapades from their drunken fellows. Listening to their laughter with a wide grin, Jacob bid them good night. They made for much better company than the stiff neck sister of his back at the train. Moreover, in the morning when he woke up to a headache, he would not have to endure her scolding.
Chapter 2: The orphanage
Staying away from the train, did not mean staying idle. It just meant he decided for himself what missions to do, and today that involved taking down another Templar to liberate a number of orphans. Jacob had spent a few days planning, after having received intel of a particular orphanage and the conditions the children there were living under. The orphanage had been under Templar administration for years, but in the last few months, a new Master had turned the living conditions to new depths of despair. He was a low rank Templar, a man with a brutal streak and a clear ambition to climb within the order. Any fault or deficiency among the orphans was reprimanded harshly, usually by cane, and the children feared him. By the look of their thin bodies, they were not fed properly; the meals probably consisted solely of boiled potatoes, offering to little nutrition for growing bodies.
Moreover, the older children had all disappeared, and Jacob suspected they were sold off to the large factories as cheap labour, easily controlled as they were. Some factories kept children locked up, working long days for board and lodging. Not being allowed to leave the factories, they never got a chance of an education, to earn a decent wage, nor to better their standard of living. It was the modern form of slavery, and Jacob was intent on ending it.
The air was slowly heating and the sun burned away the morning mist as Jacob gathered his Rooks out of sight from the orphanage. It was going to be a warm day.
A few steps away, Edward was trying to give Harry the last instructions. The lad was still in training and this was going to be his first real fight. Harry listened with only half an ear while his eyes followed Greg and the two ginger brothers Tom and Liam and the light-hearted jokes flying between them. He worried more about missing the fun, than about the coming fight Jacob thought with a lopsided grin.
John and Rob were preparing in silence, one checking his gun, the other going over his knifes. John was about Jacob’s age, an austere lad and a good shooter. Jacob had seen him pick just about everything he aimed at the last half year. The man could probably give Evie a good run for her money, Jacob mused, but John never made a point of his skills.
To his left Charles was idly waiting for the rest to finish. His black bowler drawn down on the front and his thumbs tucked into his belt, his eyes followed another group of people, waiting a few yards further down the street. Catching Jacob’s attention, he nodded in their direction.
“Someone seems pleased ter stay behind and wai’ ‘til it’s over,” he said with a gleam of amusement in his eye. Jacob turned around to see the new management for the orphanage waiting down the street. The men were calm enough, seasoned Rooks as they were, but the three women looked positively terrified, pale and fidgeting with their clothes and bags. Jacob met Charles’ gaze with a wide smile.
“All the more fun for us,” he said and pulled out the brass knuckles from his pocket. Charles was a burly man, slow to anger and not a quick fighter, but one who threw a mean punch. He was the oldest of the lot, nearing fifty. He had joined the Clinkers a few years back after his wife had died. Now he was among the once Jacob trusted with his plans.
Preparations finished, all eyes turned to Jacob.
“Let’s go throw them out, shall we!” anticipation and adrenaline rushed through him, drawing a smile on his face and a gleam in his eyes, as the lads answered in cheers and yells.
The orphanage was a run-down building, with broken windowpanes and paint peeling of the walls. Jacob led the men through the gates and halted outside in the yard. It was empty save for a lone Blighter who leapt to his feet and disappeared inside at the sight of them. He returned shortly after with the Master and, by the looks of their numbers, most of the remaining staff. Jacob spoke up
“The Rooks are taking over this orphanage. Your exploit of children is stopping today! Those of you who wish to leave the Blighters may do so now. The rest of you we will deal with later.”
Jacob’s words fuelled a rage in the Master standing on the porch, but most of the women chose to leave, and hurriedly disappeared out the gates.
Seeing the control of his staff about to crumble, the Master had had enough.
“WIPE THEM OUT” he bellowed and the remaining Blighters charged.
The Rooks threw themselves into the fight and the air filled with angry cries.
Jacob dodged a Blighters fist and punched his side, the brass knuckles connecting with ribs in a sickening sound. The man buckled and Jacob clobbered him to the ground, unconscious.
To his side Rob’s blade struck and countered a Blighter’s, weaving his way with determination set in his eyes and jaw. Further away John pinned and pommelled a Blighter to the ground.
Jacob found another Blighter in front of him, yanked him out of balance and chattered his knee. His howl of pain drowned under the shouts and yells, blows and strikes.
He had planned to end this fight quickly. Every minute it drew out meant greater chance for injury to his men.
A movement on the edge of his vision made him turn. Harry was in trouble, caught in the choking grip of his opponent. The weight of a throwing knife was in Jacob’s hand before he’d made a conscious thought. With a deadly flash of silver flying through the air, the Blighter’s grip just faltered and Harry shoved him off.
The key to end the fight lay in taking out the Master. His men were used to controlling children, not fend off seasoned fighters. Their determination and drive depended on the Master leading them, and when he fell, it would crumble.
Jacob’s focus flicked back to the fight just a bit too late. The momentum of a blow threw his head sharply to the side. His vision was dappled in spots of light and the metallic taste of blood filled his mouth. Barring his teeth in anger, Jacob launched forward, brandishing cold steel. The kukri ripped through clothing and skin alike as he planted the blade in the redcoat’s chest.
With a howl of anger another Blighter charged; a big brute with pure hatred in his eyes.
“You killed my brother, you filthy dipper!” he bellowed and swung a club at Jacobs head.
Jacob dodged the blow. A hit meant broken bones, and blocking it was not an option. His grip on the Kukri was wet from blood and sweat. Jacob clutched it tight and dodged again, carefully looking for an opening. The split second of opportunity was all he needed and the kukri found another target, the colour of his Blighter coat deepening as he sunk to his knees beside his brother.
Then suddenly, the way to the Master lay open ahead.
“Go, Jacob. Take ‘im out,” Charles shouted to his side.
Sheathing the knife, Jacob plunged forward.
The Master saw him coming. Fear filled his eyes as he aimed his gun and pulled the trigger. Jacob dropped low and avoided the shot. Before the man could aim once more, Jacob floored him, pinned him down and thrusted the hidden blade in his neck. The Templar shuddered slightly. Life and spirit left his body, and he was no more. Jacob eased his grip and retracted the hidden blade. The fight was over. The sound of the gunshot had caught the fighters’ attention, and seeing the Masters demise, the remaining Blighters fled the property.
Aside from bruises and a few cuts, there were no injuries amongst the Rooks. Jacob sent Harry to fetch the new management, waiting down the street. The time had come for them to start their work, setting up a new regime at the orphanage.
The dining-hall lay just off the yard, and by the muffled sounds of sobbing, a large number of children were gathered there. As Harry left, Jacob and the rest of the Lads entered the building to find them.
Breakfast had evidently just been served when the fight started, half-eaten bowls of mashed potatoes left on the tables around the room. The room span the width of the building with a central istle and five long tables either side set a few feet from the wall. The children were gathered at the end, frightened by the sounds of the fight and startled to find bruised and bloody strangers entering the room.
Two Blighters, a man and a young woman were left with the children, guarding the only door and making sure they would not escape during the commotion. The Rooks quietly settled down, leaning against the tables and standing along the walls close to the door.
Jacob approached the man alert and aware of his stance, slightly turned away concealing his arm behind him. He sensed the coming attack, alarm triggered by the slight shift in tension. He extended the hidden blade as the Blighter launched at him, a gleam of sharp metal in his hand. In one, flowing move Jacob avoided the attack and slashed the man’s throat. It was over in a second, and the dead Blighter crumbled, blood pooling on the floor around him.
It sent the children panicking. They were screaming and crying, clawing their way to the back, all trying to hide behind each other. Jacob ignored them. They would receive help once the new management arrived, but first he had to eliminate the last member of the staff.
“Yet another of these blasted people, exploiting the children.”
She was standing square in front of the children, blocking Jacob and his men from reaching them. Her eyes blazing with anger, she still did not fool Jacob. He sensed the fear behind the anger as he assessed her. Her garments were simple, a grey wool skirt and a white shirt with rolled up sleeves. Her fists opened and clenched hard.
“Unarmed, then?” he thought, while silently signalling John to steal along the wall to the back of the room to get between her and the orphans. She wasn’t exactly dressed for a fight, and her small frame was no challenge to take down. However, the children were still at peril if she got a hands on one of them.
Keeping her eyes fixed on himself, Jacob walked slowly sideways and unsheathed one of his throwing knifes. If she tried to take one of the children hostage, he was ready to stop her.
Her eyes followed the movement of his hand and saw the knife.
“Leave them alone!” she shouted
She had not noticed John rounding on her, silently sneaking closer by the second. Jacob kept moving, drawing her focus to him, and in a calm voice he said, “We are not going to harm the children. You, however, have been exploiting them long enough, and now you will pay for it.”
Startled by his words, the young woman backed away, but John was already there. Forcing her away from the children, he gave her a firm shove in the back.
With a scream of agony, she fell to the floor.
On her back, blood seeped through her shirt, colouring the fabric red. Jacob sheathed the throwing knife and walked to her side. The pain etched on her face stunned her senses and rendered her oblivious to anything else as she lay panting on her knees. Kneeling down beside her, Jacob carefully lifted the collar at the back of her shirt, curious to see the cause of her agony.
Her whole back was swollen, the flesh a bright mix of colour, bright scarlets, purple and blue. His brow furrowed in anger. Across it, ran three half-inch wide ridges of dried blood. The push had made the scabs to split, reopening the wounds.
Who would beat a woman like that?
As the pain subsided, the young woman became aware of him, stooping over her. With a frightened shriek, she crawled backwards away from him and her shirt slipped through his fingers. John was there to stop her flight and grabbing her, he pulled her to her feet. Jacob slowly rose and pulled back the hood.
Along the wall, Charles and Edward escorted the children outside. Their relaxed demeanour and calm authority had settled the panic down, and the sounds of young voices dwindled as the room was shortly emptied. The new management was taking over care and Jacob knew the orphans would be better off from now on.
What puzzled him was the young woman. He had expected resistance from the staff, and had taken her for one of them, but something did not add up. Her wounds were not the result of a fight, there were no defensive wounds, and only her back was injured. She had been reprimanded for something and recently. To Jacob’s judgement, the wounds were no more than a day old.
However, a staff member would be fired, not receive a beating if she broke the rules. Her injuries made him unsure if she was really a Blighter. Then again, if she was not, why was she there?
His attention focused on the girl, Jacob leaned against a table. Her eyes were darting around the room, as if looking for a way out. There was only the door, and with John keeping a firm hold of her arm, she reluctantly stood still.
“Who beat you?” Jacob asked.
“The Master” she answered. Her voice was colourless and her answer disinterested, however, she wasn’t throwing Jacob off. She was clearly uncomfortable being at the centre of attention, her face turned away trying to avoid his gaze.
“Why were you beaten?”
“I was disobedient,” she answered, still in the monotonous voice and determined disinterest.
Jacob found her illusiveness peculiar. She had the opportunity to disclaim loyalty to the Blighters and portray herself a victim of their brutal rule, as they obviously had not treated her well. Instead, she chose to answer evasively.
“Why would the Templars beat a staff member like this? Disobedience seems an unlikely cause.”
At those words, her countenance changed instantly. She turned and met his gaze and anger flared inside her grey eyes.
“I was NOT working for them! I wasn’t allowed to LEAVE!” she shouted.
Even as the words left her mouth, he could see she had told him more than she intended. Her eyes widened, and she drew a sharp breath before closing her mouth resolutely. Then she looked away.
Jacob crossed his arms over his chest while his mind was working to solve this mystery. The Templars had sold off all children old enough to do a day’s work, and she was probably close to 20 years of age. Why would they keep her here, even hold her here against her will? The only explanation he could come to was that she was somehow important to them.
He relaxed, opened his mind and examined her in eagle vision. The room faded into black and white, as he opened up to the gift obtained after years of training. Again, Jacob was caught by surprise. He expected her to show a dull grey colour as the innocent bystander or to shine red, confirming her as a Blighter, but the young woman in front of him was shining bright white, the same way artifacts, pieces of information or treasure usually did. He had never seen a person glowing white before.
His silent scrutiny unnerved her, drawing her eyes to him despite her efforts to ignore him. Jacob let go of the eagle sense and the colours of the world flooded back.
All signs of anger in her were gone, her eyes turned into black wells of fear. It made no difference to him. He had long since become used to the effect his demeanour had on people. His main concern was what to do with her. The white glow she emitted made the decision easy to make; she had some form of value, was an asset the Templars wanted to keep, and therefor would have to come with them.
Charles and Edward came back inside with the new Master, and Jacob walked across the room to settle the few remaining matters. After having made sure the children were well cared for, Jacob turned to his men.
“Our work here is done, lads. Let’s go.” With a glance at the girl, he added, “She is going with us. Bring her out to the wagon.”
He did not expect her to come quietly, and for a second her body tensed. Her mind worked ferociously behind those grey orbs and John tightened the grip on her arm. The Rooks all noticed her reaction and anticipating a brewing protest, rose to their feet to aid John. However, the girl shortly lowered her head and followed John calmly through the room.
Jacob had anticipated some form of resistance, at least a verbal protest, but she did not utter a word. He had seen how fear could control people, her submission was a normal reaction, and yet it puzzled him that she surrendered so easily. However, he did not think too much of it, and accredited it to the fact that she was surrounded and outnumbered.
On their way back to the base, they made a short detour to seek out a doctor. During his brief inspection of her injury, Jacob had seen how her garments were stuck in the wounds. It needed tending to or the wounds not heal. He had the knowledge to do it himself, but seeing her fear, he found it was better to leave it to a neutral third party.
The doctor’s was a relatively new stone house, handsomely situated on the corner of the street and an adjoining square. Jacob led the young woman up the wide stone steps to the solid oak door and rang the bell. Meanwhile, the Rooks settled down in the shade. A nurse opened. Being explained their errand; she led them through the house to the doctor’s office.
The doctor was a short man of solid statue with a stern face. He listened to Jacob’s tale and questions, and nodded, inclining to the assignment.
“Just leave it to us. We will sort her out,” he said. Jacob payed him for the services and turned to leave the room. The young woman was watching him, standing in the sunlight from the windows facing the square. Her expression was slightly puzzled and her eyes wondering, but as he met her gaze, her eyes hardened and she turned away. Jacob ignored her disrespect and went to join the Rooks waiting outside.
It was midday already, and the street lay bathing in sunlight, the rays colouring the buildings in a warm glow. The lads were passing time with jokes and discussing the ventures of the day. They were in a good mood, having taken the orphanage with few problems. Across the stairs, Tom caught his gaze, gesturing at Harry with a lopsided grin; the lad was clearly still high on adrenaline. Jacob answered his smile without a word. They both knew the feeling, the blood pounding through the veins, making everything so clear, so vibrant, but for the seasoned men it didn’t last that long. By now, they were much to accustom to the fights for that. Harry could not stop talking for the life of him, and Jacob turned his focus to the street.
Time passed slowly in the heat. It was a quiet day, the few people passing seemed to be out on errands; kitchen maids with wicker baskets on their way to or from market, a couple of carriages passing on their way to appointments unknown to the onlookers. Jacob observed them indifferently as he listened to Harrys chatter and the jokes of the others. He was looking forward to lunch and cold ale when they got back to the base. Fighting always made him hungry, and the heat was making him thirsty. The thought of the dew cold ale from the cellars of the Base only made his thirst worse, and he shrugged off the thought.
On the opposite pavement, a young man wearing a cap came strolling down the street. He carried a grey bundle of fabric on his shoulder, his jacket a bit too large, hanging off the shoulders. “Probably a hand-me-down” Jacob thought absentmindedly.
The man disappeared around the corner as the nurse came out to tell them the doctor had finished. She led Jacob back through the house, giving him the doctor’s assessment on the girl’s health. The beating had rendered the flesh swollen, but underneath, there were no broken bones. The wounds would heal within a week’s time and a fuller diet would soon restore the girl’s health. Jacob listened in silence to her instructions on changing bandages while they walked through the house. When they reached the office, she had finally finished talking.
“Here we are then, Mr. Frye,” she said with a courteous smile as she opened the door.
The room inside was empty.
Bewildered, the nurse walked into the office to search for the girl, but Jacob did not waste time waiting. The open window, facing the square told him where she had gone.
Chapter 3: A chase
Jacob ran back through the house, his mind already trailing the young woman. The square being a dead end, would have forced her to pass the front door of the doctor’s house. She had walked right passed him and his men. That insult struck a nerve, and anger coursed through his veins.
“She’s not getting away!”
His mind coursed. Only a few people had walked by; the two or three kitchen maids and the young man, save for the wagons and only one person stuck out in his mind. The young man in the large jacket. There had been something strange about the way he walked, and now Jacob knew why. He was no man, but a young woman, trying to impersonate a man. She had rounded the corner as Jacob entered the house, giving her only a small head start.
Jacob threw the door open and ran down the stairs. The Rooks were on their feet in seconds, realizing by his acute behaviour that something was off.
“She’s made a run for it,” he growled. “The lad who walked past in the large jacket; that’s her.”
The momentary confusion wore off as the men recalled the figure walking past.
“The one with the cap? Fuck!” Anger sparked in their eyes as they hurried off down the street, rounding the corner where the girl had disappeared.
“We’re going to get her back,” Jacob said, “She can’t have gotten far. Search the area and meet back here in half an hour!”
The lads divided into pairs, Harry and Charles mounted the wagon and drove off, heading for the street furthest down. Rob and Ed sprinted off down the second street as John and Tom, Greg and Liam made it for the once running parallel to it either side. There was nowhere for her to hide.
As the Rooks disappeared down the streets, Jacob shot the grappling hook at the nearest building and shortly pulled himself up on the roof.
He had not expected her to flee. In hindsight, he should not have left her alone in the doctor’s office. He understood now, why she had come along quietly. She had awaited an opportunity to escape to present itself. Her compliant behaviour had made him lower his guard and leave her alone with the doctor.
“How the hell did she manage to get her hands on a disguise?”
As soon as the thought fled through his mind, he knew the answer; it had been prepared. She had tried to escape the orphanage, and had been caught in the act; the reason for the beating she had received. It showed to what degree the Templars intended to keep her in the orphanage, and further fueled Jacob’s curiosity.
Running along the rooftops gave him an overview over the street ahead, the people walking up and down, children playing, horses and carriages driving along placidly. The bustle in the street was growing thicker along the way, nearing the local markets and the larger streets. If she managed to get away, he would not find her easily. They needed to get to her now, before she was able to hide or loose herself in the masses of London.
He stopped for a second, opening his mind to the second sight and scanned the crowd below. Dull greys mingled about, criss-crossing paths along the street as he extended the search. She could not have gotten far; she had to be there, somewhere. As he raced along the roof, the grey figures beneath were intermixed with stray once gleaming red.
“Blighters. Fuck!” That was just what he needed. Then, in the corner of his eye, a glimmer of white made him turn his head.
In the distance, he’d spotted her as she rounded a corner.
Jacob’s mouth twisted into a shrewd smile, and his anger turned into determination.
“You are not getting away, lass,” he thought. Taking off again, his mind focused fully on that white glimmer, needing no more than instinct to find handholds and footholds while climbing and running. He was easily gaining on her, her head start dwindling as he raced across the rooftops.
Trailing people, was something he took pleasure in, foreseeing the movements of the pursued, assessing the best way to get close and topple a target. He preferred stalking from high ground, like a bird of prey, staying out of sight, circling ever closer, then striking down while the victim was still oblivious to the threat.
Now and then she would look back to make sure she was not followed. As most targets however, she did not check the rooftops and did not see him.
Getting closer, he could see by her movements that she was tiring, her movements strained and slowing. The poor diet of the orphanage was rendering her body unable to run for much longer. Checking behind her yet again, she took off down an alley. From above, Jacob could see it was a dead end. The alley made a sharp turn and seemed to continue, but ended in a low building. She was walking into a trap. She just did not know it yet.
The satisfaction he felt when capturing a target or cornering a mark, Jacob could have never achieved by hunting for artifacts. He could not fathom how his sister endured the endless search for those lifeless trinkets. Dealing with people was so much more intriguing than searching for the pieces of Eden.
At the edge of the roof lining the alley, Jacob crouched down and found the girl leaning against the building, catching her breath. Every now and then she was looking around the corner whence she came, checking to see if anyone was trailing her. As nobody seemed to follow, she walked further down the alley, scanning the buildings on either side, searching for a place to hide. She had no energy left to run, and was looking for a place to lay low.
Jacob waited until she had walked past him before letting himself drop to the ground, breaking the fall with feet and arms. The girl turned around, startled by the sound. Seeing him there, as if materialized out of thin air, she stumbled backwards, and fled down the alley.
Jacob let down his hood and followed at a walk. There was nowhere for her to run, and he saw no reason to intimidate her further. She was not his enemy, not a target to kill, just an asset he needed, and she feared him already.
Finding the dead end, the young woman stopped, and slowly turned to face him. Seeing his satisfied smile, she realized she had walked straight into his trap, and backed away with frustration written all over her face.
An inch away from the brick wall, she stopped, shaking slightly from fright and exertion.
“Easy now, Lass. I’m not going to hurt you,” he said as he closed in on her.
Her eyes shone with hostile anger, unwilling to believe his word but unable to get away. Jacob curiously studied her appearance. She wore a pair of worn, dark brown trousers, and a jacket long enough to conceal her figure. Her braid was hidden under the cap, and the hair underneath was cropped short. Only her face gave away her gender.
She flinched away as he raised a hand to draw the cap off her. Her braid fell down to cover the short hair perfectly as he tossed the cap away. Despite himself, Jacob was impressed. He could not remember ever being fooled this way before. She quietly waited for him to finish his inspection.
A breeze ruffled through her hair and her eyes fell on the grey bundle of her skirt, lying on the ground a few feet away. Jacob picked it up and handed it to her. She eyed him suspiciously, but took the skirt and turned away while putting it back on. When it was done, she froze slightly, dreading what to come next, her body tense and her shoulder cringed.
Jacob seized her arm. He would have to walk her back through the streets to find the Rooks and the wagon. Running away, the girl had entered a borough that was not Rook territory, and any stray Blighter could mean trouble if they were discovered. Jacob did not think she would try another escape, but he was not going to risk her making a scene or drawing attention to them either.
“Now you will come with me,” he said and twisted her arm behind her back. “You will keep your eyes front and centre. If you make a sound or try to resist, this will hurt.” He carefully twisted her arm further to illustrate the meaning of the words. She winced and tried to shift away as the ligaments in her arm joints were put under strain, but Jacob held her firmly in place. “I suggest you cooperate,” he said before easing the grip.
It was an effective way to restrain a person, demanding little effort and leaving the use of his other hand free. Suffering his firm hold was a consequence of her escape, and Jacob did not feel sorry for her. She had put herself in the situation and deserved no leniency. She tried to dig her heels in a couple of times, but Jacob forced her on, tightening the hold and pushing her forward. Along the way they caught up with Tom and John, emerging out of an alley along the way.
The two lads spared only a stern glance at the girl before casually falling into a walk in front of her. From there the trek back was an uneventful undertaking. Behind the Rooks, no one noticed the scrawny girl Jacob led along the streets and she gave up fighting.
By the doctor’s they found the wagon waiting with the rest of the Rooks, and seeing them return with quarry, the men met them with cheers. Mood among the lads was soon returning to normal, but the young woman’s spirit plunged. She was lifted onto the wagon where the Rooks placed her on the floor between them. She had succumbed to despair, her shoulders stooping, and a pained expression on her face as she studied the floorboards with unseeing eyes. She was close to tears, and looked like she wanted nothing more than to disappear.
That suited him well. He needed to question her to find out what she knew and who she was, and a dishevelled person was more likely to surrender and give in when questioned. He would have to act fast if he was to take advantage of her state of mind; however, this was Assassin business. Her peculiar white glow had to mean something, and Jacob wanted Henry Green to partake when questioning her. He needed to go and get him.
“Don’t let her out of your sight, Ed,” he said. The man nodded solemnly and mounted the driver’s seat beside Charles.
“We won't, Frye, you can coun’ on us,” Charles said, before smacking the reigns, bringing the horse to a trot. Jacob turned and raced in the other direction, in a hurry to find Henry in the curio shop.
Henry wasted no time getting ready , having heard Jacobs accounts of the morning, the eviction of the old management from the orphanage, finding the injured woman, her unexpected white glow and then her escape. He understood the importance of the task and the urgency of getting started on the questioning, and before long, they were walking through the gates of the base.
In the office, Edward and Charles were waiting with the young woman. The Rooks had placed her by the table in the middle of the room, and were sitting either side of her. Now their chairs scraped against the worn surface of the hardwood flooring as they both rose to their feet. The girls eyes was trailing about the room, cautiously taking in her surroundings, the shelves of neatly lined books and maps lining the wall and the cupboard in the corner, with the small brass key in the lock. The room was spacious, but austere and unadorned.
At the end of the room, bright sunlight was seeping through the windows facing the yard. The light caught the dust dancing in the air against the dark surface of the door leading to the adjoining bedroom Jacob kept as his own. He felt for the key in his pocket as he entered the room, making sure the door to his room was locked, rendering the door to the stairway the only one to watch.
As they entered, the girl’s eyes locked onto him, and Jacob turned away to talk to Ed before he left, getting him to prepare a room for the girl and arranging a guard outside of the door to the office.
Ed silently nodded inclining to the task before walking after Charles, closing the door as he left.
Turning back to the task at hand, Jacob took a seat by the table opposite the girl. Henry had taken a seat by the wall, away from the table where he could watch her reactions without taking part in the questioning. Observing her was as important to them as hearing her answers. Her unconscious reactions, especially the twitching of muscles in her face and around the eyes would tell them if she was lying or withholding what she knew.
She sat gingerly on the edge of her seat, shooting a cautious glance at Henry Green. Jacob had sensed the growing fear in her as she watched the Rooks leave the room and close the door behind them. With apprehension, she turned her focus to Jacob.
Their alert attention clearly made her uncomfortable, as Jacob started to talk.
“My name is Jacob Frye and this is Mr. Henry Green,” he said.
“We would like to know who you are. What is your name?” he asked.
“Liz” she replied shortly.
“Your full name?”
She answered unwillingly, and as before, was restricting them to the absolute minimum. She would not make this easy on him. Jacob smiled at her defiance. He enjoyed a challenge, wringing the information out of her would take some time, but he was sure he would get what he needed in the end.
“Do you have a surname?”
“I don’t know”
A shift in her eyes told him she was lying, and lying well. An untrained person would easily have been deceived, but to a trained eye though, there were still signs to be found. Someone had drilled her until she answered automatically. It was unexpected, but strengthened Jacobs conviction; she was hiding something.
“Well Elisabeth. We know you are of some importance to the Templars running the orphanage, and we need to find out why. Will you tell us?”
“They said I have a debt to pay off” she answered and looked away. Jacob silently scrutinized her. The Templars might have told her it was the reason, but it was a lie, and she knew it was a lie.
“How long have you been living in the orphanage? “
She stole cautious a glance at him. “Since I was a little child,” she said studying her hands.
This surprised Jacob. For once, she had answered truthfully, but he could almost not believe it.
“You grew up in the orphanage?” he asked.
She was telling the truth, but how could that be? If she had been there since she was just a child, how could she be important to the Templars? He wondered for a second if he had read her wrong, and decided to press on with another angle.
“Why were you beaten?”
“I told you; I was disobedient.” Again the short, evasive answers. She was back to resisting his inquiries, however, that just made him more determined to find a way around it. A wry smile spread on his face.
In the orphanage she had slipped when he made her angry, accusing her of being one of the staff. Provocation might be the way to get a genuine answer.
“You tried to escape, and they caught you,” he said.
Seeing that smile and hearing his snide remark roused anger in her and she turned to fully face him.
“Yes, I tried to escape,” she spat and turned away, fuming. Jacob was satisfied. He had just made her slip and she had given him an answer of value. This was another kind of pursuit, but equally satisfying as chasing her down.
“So the Templars caught you, and beat you for it. What makes you so important to them?” he said lightly.
“I told you, I have a debt to pay off.” Her voice was colourless and low, but Jacob noted the shift in her eyes once more, giving her away, and letting him know he was on the right track.
“No, they said you have a debt to pay off. You know it is not true. What makes you important to them?” This time his voice was firm, pushing her for a true answer. He had caught her in a lie and could see she felt backed into a corner, her eyes unsure for a second, and her hands clinging hard to the edge of the seat. Then something within her shifted.
“I don’t know,” she answered and looked away.
He saw her mindset change as she answered, defiance growing in her, her posture one of silent hostility. Cornering her had mobilized a defence in her; the fear receded and was replaced by determination.
It took Jacob aback. In a young woman, he had anticipated growing desperation and then surrender, but seeing her reaction, he knew that would not be the case. Pushing the question further would not make her break. Changing angle Jacob continued.
“Who were your parents?”
“I don’t know.
“Where did you come from?”
“I don’t know. Why are you asking all these questions?”
For every answer, Jacob observed the same shift in her eyes as before. He exchanged looks with Henry, confirming he had observed the same. Turning attention back to her, he said:
“We are working against the Templars extortion of the people of London. If you were important to them, you might be important to our cause as well. It is what I need to find out.”
Jacob observed her calmly as he answered. Her attitude was the same, but he noted how her pupils contracted and the pulse on her neck beat faster when she heard his answer. He knew they were signs of fear. “Who are you, and why do you fear to have your identity disclosed?” he thought.
“And if you find out, will you let me go?” she said, trying hard, but failing to sound casual.
Lying to her would not help him. She would not believe him anyway.
“If you are important to our cause? No,” he replied.
Desperation flashed in her eyes for a split second, before the defiant look returned.
“How will you find out who I am, if I don’t know?” The challenge in her voice was clear. She was not giving up without a fight.
It was almost dinnertime, and Jacob had not eaten since breakfast. The lack of food was eating at his patience and irritability would soon turn into a disadvantage. Jacob decided to take a break before it did.
He whistled sharply, calling the Rook outside the door. When he entered, Jacob told him to put Liz in the vacant room and lock her up.
Hearing his order, Liz got to her feet and bolted for the other door, hoping for an escape. Jacob got up to follow her, but let her run. Knowing there was no way out would maybe break her spirit and aid him in the further pursuit for her knowledge. She got to the door and tore at the handle. Realizing the door was locked she stood defeated as Jacob reached her and grabbed her arm.
He was about to turn her around to walk her out of the room, when her eyes fixed on the wall beside the door. Jacob froze, noting the look of recognition and bewilderment in her eyes. It was only a fleeting moment, until her initial surprise wore off. Then her eyes flicked up to meet his, hardening in defiance.
He escorted her to the Rook waiting in the doorway, and when she exited, she stole a short glance back inside the room and the wall beside the door.
Jacob and Henry exchanged looks. Their eyes moved to the back wall of the room, to the only thing hanging there: the crest of their order, the sign of the Assassins.
Chapter 4: A forced oath
“She recognized the crest” Jacob said when the door had closed.
“I believe you are right” Henry said, “but where would she have seen it? That orphanage has been under Templar administration all the while she was there. It is not likely she would have come across it.”
Jacob looked at him, “Then she must have seen it before she came there. If her parents were Assassins…” he started, but Henry cut him off.
“If her parents were Assassins, she would not have been put in an orphanage. She would have been raised within the order.”
Henry walked over to the table and sat down. Jacob was still standing in front of the sign, not able to let go of the thought. A gut feeling told him he was onto something. When it came to him he turned to face Henry, and said “…unless they died without our knowledge; unless her name is Elisabeth Cole.” Jacob rubbed a hand down his face as the implications unravelled in his mind.
“He never mentioned anything about a child.” Henry said faintly, trailing Jacob’s line of thoughts, “however, he could have kept her a secret in order to protect her.”
“He would also have been able to teach her how to answer, if questioned,” Jacob said. The pieces of the puzzle were falling into place. “It explains why the Templars were keeping her; they think she knows where that information is. Moreover and it means they haven’t found it yet, or they would not have cared if she left.” After finishing, Jacob fell silent. His empty stomach was derailing his concentration.
Henry was lost in thoughts for a moment, before turning to face Jacob.
“This changes the situation, Jacob. If she knows anything about that information, we need her to tell us. You saw how she shuts down when you get near the truth. The Templars have already tried to force her to talk, with little success. She even withstood that beating last night without talking. She has to tell us where it is, by her own choice.” Gravely, he turned to face Jacob. “This will be a challenge, Jacob. You will have to win her trust.”
Jacob’s spirits fell. This morning he had been ready to kill her when he drew the throwing knife. Then he had chased and hauled her through London making her terrified and desperate. Winning her trust seemed an impossible task. At least he had been honest with her; he would not let her leave now he knew whom she was. “Then we need a plan,” Jacob said flatly, “and some food” he added.
Jacob walked down the corridor to the room where Elisabeth was held. He and Henry had eaten whilst putting together a plan, and now they were ready. The light coming through the window suggested evening was fast approaching outside. Jacob had lost track of time, they had talked for a long time, discussing different strategies. Moreover, they had talked about how to break the news to Evie, and get her to go along with their plan, but that was a task for the next morning. First, he would have to try and convince Elisabeth to stay. Jacob turned the key in the lock and opened the door.
Elisabeth had risen from her seat and was standing beside the bed, the same defiant look on her face as before. He could see she had found little rest while she had waited. The fatigue of the day’s ordeal and the pain of her wounds had drawn lines in her face and made dark circles under her eyes. She was trying her best to hide it, but he saw right through her façade and knew she was worn out.
The fire flickered lazily in the grate, illuminating the room in a low light. Just beside the fireplace, a small table was set where a plate of food still stood, untouched. It showed him her level of distrust. She had not eaten anything since the poor excuse for breakfast in the orphanage, and still she would not touch the meal put in front of her. A clean shirt had been provided for her, but she had not touched that either.
Silently he stood back and gestured her to exit the room. She threw a longing glance at the stairs behind him. He was blocking any chance to access it, and resigned she turned and walked in front of him, down the hall and into the office.
Jacob closed the door behind him and led her to the crest hanging on the wall.
“You know this sign, don’t you?” he said. Feigning disinterested, she looked away and did not answer. When she did not respond, he continued:
“You know it because your father, Nathan Cole wore this sign.” She drew in a quick surprised breath, and looked at him, panic-stricken. Jacob kept his face neutral, but his insides made a leap. He had been right.
“Relax,” he said, seeing her frightened look, “no harm will come to you while you are here.” His voice was low and soothing, but his words did little to calm her. He could see her pulse racing on the skin of her neck as he continued.
“This is the crest of our order, the Assassins, an order your father was member of. To us that makes you family.” Elisabeth let out a disbelieving snort and turned away, crossing her arms over her chest.
Jacob led her to the table and drew out a seat for her. She was still wary when she sat down, her body tense and her eyes watching his every move, as he put down a tankard ale, filled a plate with cheese, bread and cold meat and put it down in front of her.
“We will ask no further questions tonight.” Jacob said sitting down. “You will eat, and Greenie here will tell us a story. Please help yourself.”
She was sitting straight, keeping her back away from the spindle, looking at the plate suspiciously, and made no sign to touch the food or drink in front of her.
Jacob rose heaving a sigh.
“Look;” he said. “I know you are hungry, and you are not leaving this room until you have eaten and heard us out. We are not trying to drug you.” He demonstratively took a sip from her cup and sat back down, and then added with a wry smile “However, the ale might be stronger than you are used to”.
Henry shot Jacob a stern look as he sat back down, which he ignored, then coughed slightly and started on the tale.
“Your father was stationed in India for many years. We know little of his time there other than, that he spent his time alone, tracing clues for old artefacts. Somewhere in India, Mr. Cole came across information vital to the London branch and our cause. About seventeen years ago, we had words that he was bringing the information to England.”
Elisabeth had slowly started eating. Jacob could see she was restraining herself from wolfing down the food, and suspected it was the first decent meal she had seen in months, maybe even in years. He had noticed every time he had grabbed her, how little muscle there was to her. She was as thin as a rake, and after the day’s ordeal, her body relished at the resources finally available. She cringed slightly under his stare, and Jacob changed his focus to the flames in the fireplace, their silent dance casting its flickering glow through the room while Henry continued telling his tale.
“For a long time we awaited his arrival, but he never came. At first, we presumed he was delayed by storms, or other trouble faced on a sea voyage, but at his continued absence, we started making inquiries. We found that he had landed in Blackwall almost six months earlier, but there was no trail after him from there.” Henry took a pause in the story to empty his cup. Jacob filled it, and topped off Elisabeth’s and his own. He could see the girl was still uneasy, sitting tense and avoiding his eyes. However, the food was doing her good, and the ale giving her cheek a rosy taint. Jacob sat back down as Henry continued the story. “The Templars must somehow have gotten word of his arrival, and that he was bringing something important back to England. We suspected your father was ambushed and killed, somewhere along the way from Blackwall to London.”
Elisabeth kept her focus on the plate in front of her and avoided to meet their eyes, but when Henry mentioned her father’s demise Jacob saw her brow tighten in sorrow.
“For a while, we thought the Templars had gotten hold of the thing he was carrying, but there was never any rumours of it. What happened to Mr. Cole has been a mystery to us all these years.” Henry paused a moment. Believing the tale finished the girl looked up and Henry caught her eyes.
“We never knew he had a daughter. Had the order known, you would not have been left in an orphanage. You would have been raised amongst us,” he said. His words made no impact with her. She had no faith in them to see it was a better option than living in an orphanage.
It did not deter Jacob. He was still going to confront her with what they knew and make her stay.
“You are Elisabeth Cole,” he said, “daughter of Nathan Cole. The Templars were keeping you in that orphanage because they think you know where the information is.”
Elisabeth moved on her seat, clearly uneasy about where this was leading.
“You are in danger from the Templars, and you know it. It is why you were trying to escape. It is also, why we cannot let you leave. We need to keep you safe, for our cause, and for your sake.”
She met his eyes, a flame of silent protest burning deep inside. Jacob knew he could not back down, and met her gaze firmly.
“I know you do not trust us, but I hope you will learn to, in time.”
She made no reply, just averted her face. Her posture had gradually sunk as Henry and Jacob had talked. She was full for the first time in weeks, and the ale she had consumed was mulling the pain on her back. Although fatigue was slowly eating away at her, there were still things to be said and Jacob could not let her rest.
“I will give you a choice, Elisabeth. If you swear to stay with us, you will be free to go where you will inside the compound. You will partake in the daily life and chores, and we will treat you like one of our own. No one will hurt you while you are here.”
“If you do not swear to stay, I will have to lock you up again.” He leaned back on his chair, watching her and awaiting her answer.
Jacob could see she was trying to think, but the alcohol was getting to her head, unaccustomed as she was to good ale. The offer had her surprised, and was probably more than she had hoped for. There really was not much of a choice. She had no place to go, and desperately needed to rest.
“I will stay,” she said quietly,” I swear.”
Jacob studied her face as she answered. He would not trust her as far as he could throw her, yet. The conditions under which she had been living had taught her to take any opportunity that presented itself. She would break her oath if she could find a way out, but he had gotten her to swear, as was his intention.
“I will hold you to your word”, Jacob said. “The property is under guard, day and night, for our safety as much as for yours. If you try to leave, the guards will stop you. If you do escape, I will find you.”
Still her eyes burned with silent protest. Jacob took a key from his pocket and held it out to her.
“You will have the key to your room. The guards will knock on the door during the night to check that you are there, but as long as you answer, no one will enter your room.”
He noted the surprise in her eyes before he continued.
“I have a spare key. If you do not answer when they knock, we will know if you have left. If you break your oath, I will take away the key and lock you up again.”
As her hand coiled slowly around the key, clutching it tightly, Jacob could see some of the tension leaving her body. The key meant safety. It meant she could rest, that she could sleep without fearing that anyone would creep up on her. To Jacob it was a leverage to keep her there. It was a thing of value to her that he could take away.
“I think that is enough for tonight,” Jacob said, stretching. “I will introduce you to the rest of the household in the morning.”
Outside it was darkening, twilight settling on the yard. The sounds of the house were fading as the residents were settling for the night. Jacob followed Liz down the now darkened corridor, back to her room. When she entered, he bade her good night and left. As he walked off, he heard the key turn in the lock behind him. A satisfied smile spread across his face.
It was dark when the guard shook Jacob awake. “The girl is not answering,” he said. Jacob rubbed the sleep from his eyes. Cursing under his breath, he found the spare key in a drawer. He had been sure she would stay, at least this first night. Walking down the dark corridor, he was already planning a search in his mind, whom to bring, where to search, directions she might have taken. Turning the key and opening the door he expected to find the room empty.
She was still there, lying on her side, sleeping. Jacob watched her for a minute, evaluating her deep breathing and level of relaxation, making sure she was really asleep before quietly closing the door and locking it. Then he turned to the guard: “She is just too exhausted. Let her sleep through the rest of the night,” he said before leaving to turn in.
Chapter 5: Of cat and mouse
The next morning he found her awake and ready when he knocked on her door. The dark circles under her eyes were all but gone, as were the weary lines on her face. Her back still troubled her, he could see, but not as much as the day before. The sleep had done her good. Her attitude towards him, however, was the same. It was much like being around a skittish horse. He felt her guarding his every move, ready to recoil at any time. Jacob adjusted accordingly and made sure not to make any sudden moves.
He took her downstairs to the dining hall where the rest of the household was gathering for breakfast and led her to the middle of the room.
Everybody turned their attention to the sound of his voice, then at her, as Jacob spoke up: “Everyone: this is Miss Elisabeth Cole. She will be staying with us from now on. She is the daughter of one of my order, and the Templars are after her.”
Jacob was making no secret of her identity. He saw her flinch when he spoke, but she would soon learn, who she was, made no difference with the Rooks. Only if she understood, might she let down her guard. Then he introduced her to all of them in turn, the lads who was with him the day before, and rest of the women and men.
Jacob made sure she found a seat among the women, before seeking out the matron of the base, Mrs. Cutler, a woman of forty who ran the household with a firm hand. She had earned Jacob’s undisputable trust keeping the Rooks and the base in order for almost a year.
“I need you to keep her occupied today,” he told her, “Let her join the work with the others. She is not to sit idle somewhere, alone.”
Jacob knew Mrs. Cutler understood the importance of the task he set for her. Keeping Liz active would prevent her from pondering an escape, and if she was included in the community, it was less likely she would want to leave, given some time.
“Make sure you don’t wear her out, and no heavy chores,” he added. “Her wounds need to heal and she needs to regain her strength.” Then he went to join the others at the tables.
Jacob left the base after breakfast. He needed to tell Evie about the turn of events and sought her out on the train together with Henry. She listened with half-hearted interested as Jacob told the story of finding a young woman being held against her will in the orphanage, and huffed irritated at as he relied her escape and their manhunt after her.
“Rally, Jacob! You cannot treat innocents this way,” she reproached, but for once, Jacob did not take that bait. Evie leaned back on her seat, silently following his story with her arms crossed over her chest and looking irritated out the window. Only when Jacob told her who the girl was did Evie’s attention turn around to face Jacob. She drew her breath rapidly and hectic roses spread in her cheeks.
“We need to find out if she knows where the information is,” she said.
Henry exchanged looks with Jacob, and Jacob said; “We believe she does, Evie.”
“Then we must make her tell us! If we get that information I might find clues the Templars does not have, maybe even to the Eden artefact I am trying to track down.”
They had anticipated Evie would want to get to the information quickly. Henry cleared his voice.
“We cannot force her to tell us, Miss Frye.”
She looked at him incredulous, then to Jacob.
“What do you mean? Are we just going to wait for her to tell us?” she said.
Jacob caught her eyes. “She has managed to keep this secret from the Templars for years. If you try to get close to anything to do with it, she closes up like an oyster.”
Evie’s mind was racing, focusing on finding a way around the resistance she was meeting in her brother and her friend. “Oysters can easily be opened if you know where to insert the knife!” she said absentmindedly.
“Evie!” Jacob’s voice carried a menacing tone. He knew she was frustrated over the standstill in her work of lately, but he could not tolerate blatant threats, not even from her.
Evie rolled her eyes at him. “I did not mean it literarily, Jacob, but we cannot just sit idle and think she will tell us?!”
“We have made a plan” Henry said, and looked to Jacob. “If we are to make her tell us anything, Jacob will first have to win her trust.”
To say that Evie was sceptical of their plan was a grave understatement. She sat silent and looked at Henry as if he had gone mad. For a few seconds she was lost for words, before looking back and forth between them. Jacob waited for her reaction. Both he and Henry knew they were in for a fight, to get Evie to accept the plan.
“You are joking. Tell me it is not true.” Her face was shortly turning red and her blue eyes darkening with anger.
“It has to be Jacob, Miss Frye.” Henry said firmly.
“No, it does not have to be Jacob! I can do it; I will do it. Just send her to me and I will fix it!”
Henry sighed as Evie continued, her voice turning almost pleading; “Jacob is a walking disaster. I will never have those clues if this is our strategy.”
To Jacob’s surprise, Henry raised his voice against his sister.
“Miss Frye! This is just why it has to be Jacob. You are too eager, and your focus is on the information, and not on the girl. She will smell your intent the moment you open your mouth.
“But…,” Evie was taken aback. The Indian Assassin rarely spoke his opinion this clearly, however, now his words were firm and the tone in his voice one not to be contradicted. It stopped Evie’s frantic argumentation and made her listen.
“This young woman has been to hell and back because of that information. Jacob found her; he dragged her across the city, scaring her half to death. She will never tell us anything unless she learns to trust him. Jacob must do it. There is no other way.”
Jacob could see his sister was still frustrated; the turmoil inside her evident on her person, but the anger in her eyes was gone when she looked back at Henry. His opinion carried weight in more than professional reasons, and Jacob felt sure she would not have given in to him, even if he had used the same arguments.
“She has sworn to stay at the base,” Jacob said, “I am able to keep her there, and keep her safe. I promise you, I will not to screw this up, Evie.” His sister turned to face him.
“You had better not, Jacob, or I swear I will break your nose.”
Jacob smiled at her. Knowing his sister, this was as good an affirmation as he was going to get, that she accepted the plan.
Satisfied with the outcome, Jacob got up to leave. Evie trailed after him, following him to the door. He expected her to give him a lesson or quote from father about the task, but as he turned beside the door to face her eyes lit up with amusement.
“I thought hunting for ghosts was my department, Jacob,” she said grinning slightly at him. Jacob remembered his words from the week before and answered her with half a smile, before tipping his hat at her and getting off the train.
On his return that evening, Jacob went around the compound, talking to the guards. Liz had made no effort to escape, but the guards had seen her eyes wandering. She was trying to figure out their routines whatever chance she got. It was as he expected. Her oath to stay was a forced one, but Jacob hoped the key would make her wait until she was sure, before she made an attempt. The security was strict and figuring out a way past the guards would take her some time. In the meantime, she would have to interact with the people at the base. For someone who had never known friendship, the community would be an alluring force to face. Jacob was curious to how she would react to the experience and went to find Mrs. Cutler in the kitchen to get her reports of the day.
Liz had been surprised to find that Jacob had left the Base after breakfast. She had anticipated another round of questioning in the morning, and when she understood the subject of her father would be left alone she had relaxed. She had joined the women in the tasks of the day; their good-natured humour had made her ease up a bit. The work was much the same chores she was used to from the orphanage, and she had made an effort to contribute.
“She is a good girl, Jacob.” The matron said, “She is hard-working and easy to ask, a bit reserved, maybe, but that is to be expected.”
A few days passed uneventfully, the reports from the guards were the same; Liz was clearly searching for a way out. Jacob would have to find a way to make her keep her toes in line. The opportunity presented itself one morning, as Jacob made a round of the property talking to the guards. It was a routine he followed whenever he was staying at the base, making sure the security was tight. Tom was the one posted on the roof that day. He had little to report; the night had been a quiet one with nothing out of the ordinary happening. Jacob was about to take his leave when Tom’s eyes averted to a point behind him, and the flicker of alertness in his eyes made him turn his focus on the yard below.
Elisabeth was alone by the water post, supposedly fetching water. The Rook on duty in the yard was talking to someone at the gate, his back tuned to Liz. She had finished drawing water and the buckets were full. Believing she was unobserved, she was eying the rooftop on the other side of the courtyard. Jacob followed her line of sight, saw her note the skylight on the roof and assess the height of the next building. She had obviously not seen Tom and Jacob standing on the other roof. Jacob met Tom’s amused gaze and smiled wryly. It was an excellent chance to confront her, and he seized it. He walked to the edge of the roof and scaled down the building.
The sound made her turn. Seeing him, she lifted the buckets, hurried across the yard and down the stairs leading to the kitchen and washhouse. It was washday and Liz had been given the task of filling the big wash kettle. It would take several turns, and she would soon return. Jacob decided to settle down on a bench by the water post and wait for her; there were no one else outside, lest the guards out of earshot, and he could speak to her alone. When she re-entered the yard, he saw her stiffen at the sight of him. She knew he had caught her red-handed, and now she expected a reprisal. She was uneasy, as was his intention. He did not want her to believe she could plot an escape without him finding out, and he wanted her to feel watched, to discourage her from attempting to flee.
When she started drawing water, he said, “Have you found any holes in our security yet?” The question made her jump slightly.
“I haven’t tried to escape,” she said. She made a point of watching the water level in the buckets as she drew water, and avoided to meet his eyes. He would not let her get away that easily. Smiling a devilish smile, he said, “You have not tried to escape yet, but we see your eyes wandering, searching for a way out.”
Elizabeth made no reply, and Jacob continued, “I need to keep you safe, to prevent the Templars getting hold of you and the information your father was carrying. As I have told you before, the property is well guarded. There are guards on the street, in the yard and on the roof.”
He caught her eyes whilst talking, and held her gaze. “So, have you found any holes in our security? If you did I would like to know.”
Jacob knew her answer would be “no” whether she had found a way out or not. He still wanted her to say the word. Her mouth would say no, but the true answer would be in her eyes. Liz shot a glance at the guard on the roof. She had thought the roof was a way out, and was clearly disheartened to discover it was not.
“No,” she said and looked away.
There were no signs of lie in her eyes; she was telling the truth.
“Good” he said.
To Jacob it was a confirmation the security was as it should be. Liz filled the buckets in silence and made to carry them back to the washhouse. Before she could lift them however, Jacob took them from her hands. “I told them you were not to do any of the heavy chores,” he said. Somewhat baffled she followed him as he walked towards the kitchen stairs.
“I don’t mind. My back doesn’t hurt much anymore,” she said.
He turned his head to look at her, walking beside him. She was not used to anyone making allowances for her sake, and her threshold for tolerating pain was set thereafter.
“I saw your face when you carried those last two buckets. Your back still pains you, and you can take it easy for a couple of days more.”
Being seen, and cared for was a new concept to her. She had put up her guard and braced herself in anticipation of a reprisal and this act of care had her perplexed and had thrown her defences off, not sure how to react. Jacob bit back a smile, but it shone through in his eyes and shortly brought a pretty colour to her cheeks.
In the washhouse, the women were surprised to find Jacob carrying the water buckets. He put them down by the fire and turned towards Mrs. Cutler.
“I told you she was not to do any heavy chores,” he said. “She is used to push herself beyond what is good for her. She would not tell you, but she is in pain for carrying those buckets. You just need to use your eyes to see it.”
Mrs. Cutler turned a worried face towards the girl. “Liz, why did you not say something?”
“I did not think anyone would care,” she answered quietly.
As Jacob left, he could feel her eyes burning on his back and smiled to himself. He found he enjoyed throwing her off.
Every afternoon dinner was served in the dining hall. The social gathering around a warm meal strengthened the bonds of the people on the base, solidifying their community, and dinner was the second, and most important of two common meals a day. During dinner, the dining hall was always warm and crowded, the air buzzing with the sound of chatter. When everyone had finished eating, more ale was brought out, and soon the room filled with the sound of laughter and good stories.
Jacob was sitting in the dining hall, drinking ale after dinner one night, listening to one of the Rooks telling a story of a Templar they once had toppled into the river, “…he had to be pulled from the water by his accomplices, soaking wet, and steaming with anger!” Laughter rung out, and when it died down John stole a glance at him and continued,
“Talking about steaming…, you should have seen the Boss as he came out the door at the doctor’s last week.” He pointed at Elizabeth, “That one had walked right passed all of us, and nobody had noticed. I don’t know if he was angrier with himself, or her or us.”
The room filled with laughter once more as Liz’ face reddened. Jacob smiled to himself. Once someone was included in the community, their stories became a part of everyone’s entertainment as well.
“How did you manage that, Liz?” someone asked. Elisabeth gestured to borrow a cap from one of the lads. She coiled the braid on top of her head, exposing the short hair underneath, and put on the cap.
“I was wearing trousers and the doctor’s jacket as well,” she said, smiling. The women laughed.
“She looks nothing like a lad. How could you ever mistake her for a man?”
Jacob had to agree. She looked nothing like a young man, the soft curve of her lips and the finely carved features of her cheek and brow was not masculine.
“The mind sees what it expects to see,” he answered, laughing as well. She was a pretty girl, when pain and fright was no longer drawing lines on her face. Her blue eyes lit up when she laughed, like the clear sky of a summer day. It was quite a change from the steely grey they looked when she was angry, more like a brewing storm, he thought.
Jacob noted with satisfaction how Liz was laughing at the jokes on his expense, even if he was present. She no longer feared him as she had, showing him his plan was slowly working. The base offered friendship, safety and community, something she had not known before and she was letting down her guard and making friends.
A little later in the evening the soft tones of a violin trailed through the room, the notes slow at first, then growing in volume and running faster, soon to be joined by a flute. Tom and Liam were the source of the music, drawing dancers to the floor, the men picking partners among the women. Since their arrival at the base, dancing was a common occurrence, nevertheless welcome every time.
Jacob noted Elisabeth’s long glances at the dancefloor, even if she refused the couple of lads who asked her to dance. He suspected she had never learned how. There was no cause for dancing in an orphanage. Jacob emptied his drink and walked over to where she sat together with Mrs. Cutler and a few other women.
“You will have to excuse Miss Cole for a while,” he said addressing her company as he took her hand and pulled her to her feet. Elisabeth turned her head in surprise.
“Have I done anything wrong?” she asked.
“No, not at all. I’m just going to dance with you.” He placed a hand on her lower back, leading her away from the table, in the direction of the music.
She dug her heels into the floor and turned to face him. Jacob rested his thumbs on his belt, knowing she would shortly sound a protest. Her cheeks flushed in embarrassment, and her eyes darted around the room.
“You are very kind, Mr. Frye, but I can’t. I don’t know how.”
Jacob gently turned her around, leaned close to her ear and whispered.
“Then it’s about time you learned to.”
When she turned her head to look at him a lopsided smile tugged at the corner of his lip.
Out on the dancefloor he turned her around to face him, took a hold of her hand and drew her closer. Ignoring her uncertain awkwardness, he calmly lifted her arm and placed it on his shoulder. She swallowed heavily, and Jacob chuckled.
“Relax Elisabeth, this is supposed to be fun.”
He took her slowly through the paces, counting and telling her what to do. She stumbled in her own feet a few times, but he ignored it, and slowly she caught on, but still her body was somewhat rigid.
When she stumbled in her feet for the umphteent time, she let go of him and stopped, sighing exasperated.
“I’m lousy at this. Just let me sit down will you?”
Jacob took her hand and pulled her back in.
“You’re doing well, Elisabeth. You just have to let me lead. Now try to relax and follow me.”
She shot him a look of doubt; of the praise or the advice, he was not sure, but suspected the latter. She was used to fight against, not follow and giving up control was not that easy. Jacob knew, having watched his sister learn how to dance, years ago. It was a good test of her will.
“I promise I won’t bite,” he said, as the doubt seemed to linger. She broke into a slight smile that actually reached her eyes. She closed her eyes with drew a deep breath, and then exhaled. With that, Jacob felt the tenseness leave her. They joined the dance again and a sense of conquer spread inside him as she followed lightly, let him guide her and seemed to enjoy herself. When the music stopped, John cut in and took her hand. Jacob was almost reluctant to oblige, but knowing it would aid the cause, he let her go.
Jacob was enjoying the task set to him. His determination to win her trust was as strong as ever. To him, it was not so much about finding the information, as conquering her mind and will. It was a test of his Rooks as well. A year ago, they had been a band thugs, unorganized and fighting amongst themselves. He had turned them into a force to be reckoned with; seasoned fighters and alert guards working efficiently at keeping the base safe. Jacob was proud of what he had accomplished.
The task never grew old or boring either as he saw the changes in her. It was a game of cat and mouse, where she was searching for a way out whilst unaware growing attached to the community. He was quietly steering her on and making sure there was no way out.
Then one evening, something happened that made her revert.
She was having a good time, sitting with the women in the dining hall, when one of them made a comment. Later Jacob learned it was an innocent remark on how Elisabeth contributed that day, and how difficult it would have been without her. He saw her mouth turn into a smile, but it never reached her eyes, instead sadness crept over her face as she looked away. A little while later she snuck out the door and went to her room.
From that moment, she changed; started to close up and withdrew from the others. Mrs. Cutler’s concern with her grew day by day. She still contributed, but getting her to interact with the others was growing harder. Sometimes she forgot herself and blossomed, but soon she retracted again, keeping to herself as much as possible.
Jacob suspected he knew the reason for her actions. She was still planning to leave and the innocent remark had made her aware of what she would have to leave behind. After years of carrying the burden of her father’s secret, she could not bring herself to believe it was safe to let it go, even if the temptation was strong. The fact that she was still a captive was partly contributing to it, Jacob thought, but letting her go was not an option.
What was worse, she was growing restless; leaving was the only way to end the turmoil of it all.
He could see it every day on her body language. Staying there and excluding herself was tearing her apart, and she was growing desperate to leave. The reports from the guards told him the same tale. Jacob felt for her, and he was vexed with her. Her stubborn conviction reminded him of his sister and her search for the Eden artefacts.
Jacob had spent the evening in the dining hall pondering how to turn her around. Once more, she had left the party early and gone to her room. He had started to follow her whenever she left to make sure she did not go wandering, looking for a way out. This evening she had forgotten herself briefly, and eased up a bit, but it did not last. Jacob stayed out in the hallway, until he heard the key turn in her door, before going back to the dining hall.
He sighed and took another drink of the pint in front of him. Deciding what to do next was proving difficult. He had the means to make her stay, but the trick was to make her want to. He was hesitant to force her as it could make her feel more trapped. Up until now, everything she had done within the base had been of her own choice, even staying in the first place, although her alternative had been a poor one.
Finding no answer to his problem, Jacob decided to turn in for the night. It was well past midnight and the last of the Rooks were leaving for their own quarters. They left the door to the stairway open behind them, and Jacob took a turn about the room blowing out the last of the candles. The house was silent, save for the steady drumming of rain against the windows. It had been pouring down all evening turning the yard outside into a hundred small puddles of muddy water. The overcast sky left no moonlight seeping through, and the darkness and rain was swallowing all shapes and muffling all sounds.
Jacob turned away from the window and was about to exit the room when he heard silent footsteps on the stairs. There was little doubt that someone were trying to descend the stairs without alerting anyone, and Jacob quietly made his way to the door and peered out into the hallway.
Elisabeth was standing in the doorway to the yard looking at the heavy rain outside. When she slipped outside, Jacob cursed under his breath and walked after her.
She had not attempted to escape yet, and he did not think she had found a way out. However, he knew she would try anyway, if she were desperate enough. He had sensed that moment growing closer for some time and had tried to find a solution to the problem. If she did escape, he would have to follow through with the consequence and lock her up. That meant a huge step back on the course of winning her trust. Now he hoped she was not about to do something stupid.
He stopped just inside the door, concealed by the darkness of the room, and embraced the eagle sense. The Rook guard was glowing green from across the yard, showing Jacob he had sought shelter from the rain, staying close to the wall. Liz was watching him from the other side, her white glow emanating in the darkness of the building. She shot a glance to the roof, trying to catch sight of the guard she knew was there, somewhere in the rain. The glow of the Rook showed Jacob his current location, on the opposite roof, his back turned to Elisabeth, but the rain obscured him from her view. Her hand stole up to her neck, fishing out the key hanging on a string inside her shirt. The key lay heavy in her open hand as she looked at it. She weighed it shortly and clenched it hard, before putting it back and turning her attention to the guard and the gate. She was on a verge of making a run for it, and Jacob would not let her go any closer to the edge.
Walking briskly out into the open, he saw her freeze in the corner of his eye. As he walked over to the Rook on guard, she silently stole along the wall, down the stairs to the kitchen and back inside the building. It had been a close call, and Jacob decided time had come to take action. He would have to put her under pressure, and see if he could make her break, before she attempted another escape. In the meantime, he made sure to double the guards.
During dinner the next day, Liz was sitting at the end of a table, taking no part in the conversation. The Rooks had persuaded Tom and Liam to play again that evening, promising them pay by way of drinks and cigars and the mood around the tables was one in anticipation of a merry evening. Jacob expected Elisabeth would try to leave unnoticed after dinner. He snuck out before the others had finished eating and took a seat on the stairs to wait for her.
When he heard the sound of the men moving tables to clear the floor, the door opened quietly, and Elisabeth stepped into the hallway. The buzzing of voices muted as she closed the door, and he saw her shoulders drop. The part of her craving company and friendship was tormented at letting it go, the inner struggle evident on her posture as she stood alone in the gloom. Jacob sat silently watching her. She sighed and turned to climb the stairs. When she saw him sitting there, blocking her way and waiting for her, she was startled.
“Where do you think you’re going?” he said.
“I wasn’t going to run,” she answered, “I was just going to my room.”
He smiled at her “I’ll take back that key, then.”
She looked dumbfounded, opened her mouth, but closed it again without speaking.
Jacob continued, “I told you: You will partake in the daily life and chores of the compound, and you swore you would. Daily life here is not just work, Elisabeth, it is play as well.”
Unaware, she was clutching the key to her room again. A pained expression flashed across her face as she looked back at the door to the dining hall. This time the other part of her, the one obligating her to leave, was in turmoil. He felt a compulsion to reach out and comfort her, but held back knowing it would do no good. She still was adamant to rely only on herself.
Elisabeth suddenly let go of the key, realizing her hold betraying its value to her. Jacob bit back another smile as he rose to his feet.
“So what will it be, Elisabeth? Will you join the dancing tonight, or do I have to take back the key and lock you up?” Reluctantly, she smiled and turned around without replying. Jacob followed her back to the dining-hall.
Re-entering the dining-hall, Jacob found her a spot at the centre of a table, made sure to put a pint in front of her and left her there. In the middle of the crowd, it was hardly possible to stay reserved and he saw she was no longer trying to exclude herself. The ale soon got to her head, loosening her tongue, and easing her worries. The music was playing gaily, and when one of the men took her hand and led her to the dancefloor she came willingly.
She had been dancing for the best part of the evening, just disrupted by pauses to get something to drink, when Jacob cut in and took her hand. She followed lightly as he led her in the dance. Her eyes sparkling with enjoyment as she laughed, made him reconsider what he was about to do. She looked so content and happy; no one could think she was planning to leave. However, she was, and recalling her near escape the night before, made up his mind. The time had come to sway her.
When the music stopped, Jacob released her, but kept her hand in his as he collected a couple of pints and led her to the far table where they sat down aside from the others. Taking a small gulp of the cold ale, he watched her over the rim of his tankard.
She felt safe at the base now, and with no choice but to join the fun of the evening, the weight of worrying about staying or leaving was lifted from her shoulders. She drank deep from her ale, her cheeks burning red from the dancing. As she put the tankard down, a smile played on her lips.
Bracing himself for the undertaking, Jacob set his mind. It would either work or it would not, but he had to try. Turning his gaze to her, he caught her eyes.
“Are you enjoying yourself?” he asked quietly. She smiled in reply, nodding slightly.
“Then why do you exclude yourself from our company?”
The blunt question caught her off guard. Sadness crept over her face, her posture stiffened, and she looked down on her hands resting on the table.
“You choose to be alone, yet I know you do not want to.” He took a sip from his ale, giving her pause to think. She had grown up surrounded by people, and yet she had always been alone, with no one to depend upon in the orphanage. He was prodding her most vulnerable spot on purpose.
“Please…” she said quietly, a pained expression spreading over her face. “Please, don’t. I can’t…”
“No, Elisabeth, you need to stop running. Do you really think your father intended for you to carry this burden? A mere child? A girl with no way to defend herself?”
She made no reply, just put her head in her hands and closed her eyes. He still had to push her further to get her to a breaking point. It was painful to see her like this, but by now, there was no turning back. Jacob raised his voice.
“Pure luck has held you alive so far, but that will not last, Elisabeth. We are fighting a war here. Do you really think you can take on the Templars alone? They know who you are now, and know you have knowledge they need. How long do you think you can last on your own?”
As before, provocation would get her where he wanted. He could feel anger rising within her as he continued.
“How would you fight them? You have no fighting skills! Where would you go? There is no safe place for you but here, as long as that information is not found!”
“He told me not to trust ANYONE! Not friends nor strangers!” she shouted as tears of grief and desperation filled her eyes. Abruptly she stood up to storm out of the room, but he rose quicker, caught her wrist and held her back. She wrung her arm in his grip, trying to pry his fingers off, but he was not going to let her get away when she was nearly there.
“Your father was trying to keep his three year old daughter safe, until you got back among his allies. He needed to make sure you did not give him away on the journey here. HE NEVER MEANT FOR YOU TO CARRY THIS BURDEN ALONE!” he shouted.
The conversation around them had quelled and everybody’s attention turned to their high voices. Jacob paused for a moment and caught her in a firm gaze.
“We will not let you do this alone,” he said, his voice sincere, calming her anger down.
Around the dining hall, the Rooks muttered their affirmation of Jacob’s statement. She looked around the room, at the people who had taken her in and recognized what it meant; she was no longer alone. She stopped trying to pull away from his grip, her desperation slowly replaced by wary relief. Jacob could see the rest of her defences crumbling in front of him. Calmly he pulled her close and wrapped his arms around her as tears kept streaming down her face.
Chapter 6: A church tower
You know your'e crazy caught up in your writing when you spend a whole afternoon googling and trailing along od maps to find locations... However, I found this beautiful map over London, drawn 1868. I use it for my writing. If you are interested here's the link.
The next morning, Elisabeth was still in her room when Jacob knocked her door. He suspected she was dreading facing everyone after last night’s events. She had probably drunk more than she should, but Jacob had not stopped her, nor had any of the others. Jacob however, had held back on the drink, knowing he needed a focused mind when trying to topple the girl. He had pushed her over the edge, making sure she chose the safe side, but he would not have her tell her story while she was drunk. When she had calmed down, he had seen her safely to her room, before sending words to Henry Green, summoning him to the base in the morning.
Elisabeth was looking pale. Whether it was from too much drink, or dreading telling her tale, he could not say, so he decided to treat her as usual, and made no comments about her outburst of the night before. After having eaten, he followed her to the office, where Henry Green soon joined them.
Sitting at the edge of her seat, she drew her breath and held it, as if wondering for a moment if she had made the right choice. Jacob and Henry gave her the time she needed to settle her mind. Slowly exhaling, her mind made up, she started to tell her story.
“The first thing I can remember is the endless sea. The waves seemed to go on forever, rolling, and tumbling and foaming. Sometimes we could see land or a bird, but mostly it was just endless stretches of water.
They had been the only passengers aboard the ship. Her father had anticipated trouble on the return to London, and he had spent the journey teaching her not to disclose their identities, and training her how to answer questions if asked.
At first, it had been a game where her father would try to trick her and get her to answer. Then, after a while, the rules had changed, and he had put her under pressure to make her talk. Whenever she slipped, there were consequences. In the end, he could shout and scream at her or even make threats, without getting her to talk.
“It made me cry at the time.” A melancholic smile played on her lips as she spoke of her father. Even if she looked sad, Jacob could tell the memory was sweet to her.
“He taught me never to let my guard down, never to tell anyone who we were and what he brought with him,” she said, before pausing. Her eyes were focusing on the memory in her mind, and for a few seconds she was lost in her own thoughts.
“I knew nothing but the ship when we landed in London, and yet I remember I thought it was a strange place, cold, and wet and dark.
Her father had been right to expect trouble. When they landed at Blackwall, he soon learned people had been asking for him. He left all belongings on the ship, bringing only a small package and Elisabeth along with him. They had fled, but she had not understood the danger at the time.
The light in her eyes disappeared and a furrow was deepening on her brow.
“He left me behind in an alley to hide the valuable thing he was guarding.” She closed her eyes, and Jacob noted her muscles tensed as she forced herself to continue. She had seen him returning to her, when the Templars had caught up with him. She had stayed in the alley, paralyzed with fear, watching as her father was surrounded and slaughtered. When he fell, he had turned to face her one last time, anguish written on his face.
Tears were gently rolling down her cheeks as she spoke.
“When he fell, I ran to him, screaming. I did not care about the Templars any more. He was all I had.” She paused, and looked away, out the window while she regained her composure. Jacob’s heart was bleeding for her, knowing all too well what the loss of a father meant, but he stayed seated, not wanting intrude on her grief.
The Templars had been stunned to find her there. They had pulled her away from her father and tried to question her about him. However, the drilling her father had put her through had kicked in, and they had not been able to trick her or pressure her to tell anything. In the end, they believed she knew nothing, and put her in the orphanage.
She had grown up there, then worked there, but was not allowed to leave. Someone had made an entry in the protocol alongside her name stating that she was to remain there. When the old Master had died, the new one had figured out who she was, and once more, the questions about her father were raised. He was not as easy to fool as the old Master was, and suspected she knew something. She had feared for her life when she was caught in the yard, trying to escape, and was taken to his office. “He knew then that I was hiding something. The next morning Jacob overtook the orphanage.”
Her eyes was resting at the table as she was talking, but met Jacobs eyes as the narrative was drawn up to present day. Taking a deep breath, she plunged into the final, what they had been waiting to find out for the past few weeks.
“What my father carried, was an old journal. I do not know its contents, but it is what you seek. It is hidden it in the bell tower of a church somewhere on the road between Blackwall and Whitechapel. As my father left me in the alley, he told me not to look where he went, but I saw him climb the bell-tower and disappear inside. I will know the right one when I see it.”
Her tale finished she leaned back in her seat, exhaled and closed her eyes. Jacob exchanged a look with Henry. Elisabeth needed a break.
“I will go down to the kitchen and have Mrs. Cutler prepare lunch for us,” Henry said.
He left the door open as he exited, while Jacob walked over and opened the windows to the yard, letting the fresh air of the morning outside sweep through the room. He remained by the window, pondering what her life would have been like, had they known of her existence. She would have been raised an Assassin, maybe even alongside Evie and himself. In his mind, he saw her standing in the orphanage, shielding the children from him and his men. She had faced them alone and unarmed, but still she had not backed down. Moreover, she had successfully deceived the Templar’s at the age of three and carried her father’s secret for seventeen years. She had a strong mind and a strong heart, and could have made a fine Assassin, had she received the training.
She walked over to the window and leaned against the windowsill peering out at the sky above. “How are you feeling?” He asked.
“Empty. But also relieved,” she said quietly. They remained by the window, both lost in thoughts until Henry returned with lunch.
Jacob had been pondering their next move while Henry was gone.
“There must be 30 or 40 Churches between the docks and Whitechapel,” Jacob said as they sat down to eat.
Henry agreed, “But not all of them have bell towers. The ones that do are visible from afar. You just have to find the right one for now.”
Jacob knew he was right. He wanted to retrieve the journal and finish the job, but it would have to wait until Elisabeth was safely back at the base. Leaving someone alone, who could not defend herself, was not a good idea. Reluctantly Jacob agreed.
“We will take a wagon and search for the right tower,” he said, “and I will have the Rooks trail behind us, just as a precaution.”
Henry was satisfied.
“I will seek out your sister while you are gone and inform her. I know she will want to be here when you return, and join you when you go after the journal.”
Jacob put on the leather overcoat and fastened the gauntlet to his arm. He did not expect them to meet any trouble, driving a wagon through the city, but that did not make him derive from his normal routine. Preparing for the mission, he went over every blade and throwing knife, making sure all edges were sharp as razors, before tucking them away in the sheaths on his belt. As he went through the routine, his manner changed, adapting to the mission, bringing on an austere, unyielding mind-set. Gone was the humorous gleam in his eye, left was a calculating fighter, an Assassin. Ready to go, Jacob collected the cane from its stand and walked out into the yard.
The sky had turned the colour of cold steel, and in the distance, dark clouds were rolling in. The gusts of wind brought sprays of droplets, in promise of the storm to come. Elisabeth was waiting by the wagons with Tom and John. They and the rest of the lads were going with them, and the others were making the last preparations before parting.
Elisabeth stiffened when he approached, the change in his frame of mind making her uneasy. He could not blame her, after their first meeting in the orphanage. He ignored her unease as he crossed the yard and gave the lads the last instructions, letting them know the route they were going to drive. Turning to Elisabeth, he gave her a reassuring smile as he lifted her up to the driver’s seat of the wagon, before climbing up and seating himself by her side.
With a smack of the reins, the horse started moving. The Rooks were going to trail them at a distance, and the second wagon held back as Jacob and Elisabeth set out.
They wound their way through the Streets of London, staying clear of the areas the Templars controlled. At the edge of Whitechapel, they left Whitechapel Street for Church Lane and Commercial Road East, which would take them to the East India Docks. As they travelled, Elisabeth was scanning the horizon for every bell tower there was. They passed numerous churches and chapels, but none of them was the right one.
The sky was dark with storm clouds and rain started to fall as they came up on Limehouse. In the distance, the bell tower of St. Anne’s Church rose over the trees lining the nearby Limehouse Cut. Elisabeth was watching it and as they got closer, she said:
“Jacob, stop the wagon. I think this is the one.”
He halted the wagon, scanning the surroundings for signs of trouble. All was quiet, but he did not want to stay long in one place.
“I think this is it,” she repeated breathless, looking mesmerized down the narrow street leading to the church.
Jacob was satisfied, and flicked the reins to get the horse moving again, when without a word, Elisabeth got out of the wagon and started walking down the street. Jacob cursed and tugged on the reins to stop the horse. Angry, he called after her, but she continued to walk further away, not even reacting to his words.
Staying there, out in the open for long was dangerous. Jacob quickly got out of the wagon and set after her. She stopped for a brief moment, looking down the narrow alley across from the church, then turned and walked around the corner towards the church.
The rain was slowly making puddles in the street as Jacob caught up with her in front of the gates to the churchyard. She was staring blankly at an empty spot on the narrow street, lost to the world. He knew she had found the place where her father had perished years ago, and was reliving those final moments.
However, this was not the time for recollection. Grabbing her shoulders, Jacob shook her back to reality.
“We need to go, Elisabeth. Now!”
He was fuming that she put herself in danger like this. He knew by experience that even small deviations could topple a well-planned mission.
A year ago, he would not have cared. Then he had been reckless, his only responsibility was his own life and completing his missions. He had always been like a cat; no matter how bad things had gotten, he had somehow been able to land on his feet. In a way, it had been a game to him up until they left Crawley. None of the missions really meant anything to him; they were just minor and separate tasks in a system he could not see.
Coming to London had changed him. Seeing the state of the city and its poor workers had ignited a passion in him he did not know he possessed. It had given purpose to the missions and fuelled a drive to rid the people of the invisible chains under which they were straining and drew him to rally the Rooks to the cause. Suddenly he saw how he could change things, how he could topple the system and change people’s lives.
He was still an Assassin, but the Rooks were his army. Whenever he went out on missions alone, he could still be reckless and wing it and rely on his speed, strength and skills to get him out. When the Rooks joined him, their numbers meant strength, but planning was essential to utilize it.
And so, Jacob had changed. He started to strategize and plan. Conquering a borough at the time, taking over the orphanages, leading the Rooks.
His sister had failed to notice it as she was too preoccupied with her precious artefacts. She expected him to be the same as ever, the reckless brother she had to clean up after. She considered his war a series of gang brawls. Her views always brought out the worst in him. Lately it had driven them apart.
Deviating from a plan could mean disaster, and this time it did. As they rounded the corner to go back to the wagon, Jacob’s heart dropped. Blighters were blocking the alley in both directions. Fronting them was a man wearing an overcoat adorned with the Templar cross.
Jacob shoved Elisabeth behind him and took a stance at the crossroad. He put two fingers in his mouth and whistled loudly before unsheathing the cane blade. He knew the Rooks were nearby, but too far away to reach them before the fight started. He would have to hold the Blighters off on his own, until the Rooks arrived. The weight of the blade in his hand brought sense of security, like always. He gripped it tightly and twirled it once over, feeling the balance of it while his eyes locked on the Templar.
The enemies, confident of victory stopped a few yards away, jeering and laughing scornfully.
“Give her over Mr. Frye, and we will grant you a clean death,” the Templar said.
His heart beat hard against his chest, pure adrenaline bringing clarity and sparking his senses alert. “If you want her, come and claim her,” he growled in reply, not ready to give the Templar an inch.
His answer washed the smiles off their faces, and three Blighters moved forward. Their faces drawn in snarls, they closed in as a cresant. Jacob silently waited for them to come within his reach.
The scythe blade released with a slight klick. A second later, it swung in an arch and lodged in the neck of the first man. Jacob spun to block a second attacker. The oncoming knife sang against the cane and was thrown from the Blighter’s hands. His eyes widened in fear in the second before the cane blade ended his life. Jacob didn’t register, already moving on to clobber the next assailant to the ground.
When three men lay dead or dying at his feet the Blighters realized this was not going to be an easy fight. Roars of anger rose around him, but they did not move. Jacob read apprehension in their countenance, and felt a flicker of satisfaction.
Install terror in them. Show no sense of pain or weakness, show no emotion and they will fear you. His father’s word rang through his head as the Templar ordered the rest of the Blighters forward.
This was not a position he wanted to be in. There was no way out; she could not run or climb and they were at a dead end.
Jacob dodged another blade. The Blighter left his side exposed and sharp steel tore through skin and hide. Sweat streamed down his face. Blood soon lined his grip on the blade, but it was not his own. He spun and let a throwing knife fly, dipped and slashed another throat as the Blighter fell.
A sense of gratitude raced through his mind towards his sister for the cane. She had insisted he add a blade with longer reach to his arsenal. Keeping this mass of Blighters at bay without it would be impossible.
His muscles were feeling the strain of the fight, sending signals of fatigue to his brain. Jacob denied acknowledging it and pushed it away as his training had taught him. The Blighters kept on coming; he kept on moving, making sure cold steel was always there to greet them.
There was a pause, the Blighters attention turning away for a split second. Jacob could hear the Rooks join in the battle, and knew it would turn. The Rooks levelled the field, making it an equal fight. He felt the mood change. The Blighters had been sure of winning, now they were unsettled. Grinning wryly Jacob took advantage of their hesitation and drove them back, gaining ground with each blow, pushing the assailants to retreat.
Until then, the foes had focused on him, tried to finish him off to get to Elisabeth. With the flash of a throwing knife flying through the air he realized she had turned a target as well. If they could not get the journal they would make sure, Jacob did not either. The hairs on his neck stood on end as she cried out in agony. He shot the Templar who threw the knife and controlled the impulse to turn, forced himself to block it from his mind. He could do nothing for her now, until the fight was over.
A knock from his cane rendered a Blighter unconscious on the spot. His throwing knife stopped another in mid stride. The next one turned around and fled. Finally, the Rooks had reached them, and the rest of the Blighters bolted.
The smell of blood lay heavy in the air as Jacob turned to find Elisabeth on her knees in the rain. She was bent over, clutching her side. He shouted for the Rooks to fetch the wagons as he knelt down beside her.
“I’m s-s-sorry,” she said, her speech erratic as she lifted her gaze upon him. Gripping her arms, he eased her down on the ground.
It was my job to guard you, said the voice in his head. The lads kept guard around them, blades still drawn and keeping a lookout for any signs of trouble. Jacob fought to control his racing heart, the adrenalin from the fight and from seeing her injured now flowing freely in his veins. He still needed a clear head to get them out of this mess.
The blood seeped from the wound in her side, blending with the pouring rain to join the red river flowing down the cobbled alley. Jacob ripped the fabric of her shirt and chemise apart, exposing the injury underneath. She flinched, from the pain or the exposure, or both; he did not care. The knife was lodged in to the handle. She was still too thin and the knife had gone deep, meeting little resistance in the insufficient mass of muscle. The wound blead more than he liked. There was no point in trying to remove the knife; chances were it would make the bleeding worse. Instead, he put to fingers each side of the blade and put pressure on the wound to stem the flow. Elisabeth cried out at the shock of the initial pain. As it subsided she looked at him intently and tried to speak again.
“I-i-in the w-wall” she said, trying but failing to point in the right direction, her arm falling weakly to the ground.
“Shh, don’t worry about that” he said, bending over to shield her from the rain as the Rooks brought the wagon to their side.
Jacob knew they would have to move fast, were they to save her. There was no use in seeking out a local surgeon or a hospital. Their method of stopping internal bleeding was cauterizing; jabbing a red-hot iron in the wound, a medieval method as likely to kill the patient as the wound itself. The Assassins knowledge of the art of healing derived from centuries of saving wounded brothers. Her only chance was to get her back to the base. Jacob was relying on his sister’s and Henry Green’s skills to save her.
Chapter 7: Failure
The wagons were driven into the yard before halting; the horses steaming with sweat from the hard drive. The guards and the people outside came running, having seen their rushed arrival. By experience, they knew it bode badly. The hurried transport had rendered Elisabeth unconscious, the shaking of the wagon inflicting more pain than her mind could handle. They were all soaked to the bone, but Elisabeth was shivering uncontrollably. As Jacob picked her up from the wagon, he saw his sister crossing the yard in long strides with Henry trailing close behind.
“Jacob! What’s happened?” Seeing Elisabeth hanging limp in his arms her face changed to shock. “Jacob, you were supposed to guard her!”
Jacob felt the anger flare in his chest and worked hard to control it. He hated it when she acted as if she was his mother, and not his twin, but this time she was not going to make him loose his temper.
“Evie! I will not fight with you right now. You can either leave, or shut up and help me.”
Evie opened her mouth as if to speak. He noted a look of surprise on her face before she shut her mouth and followed him in silence down the stairs to the kitchen, where he lay Elisabeth down on the table.
The last time it was utilized as operating table, he had lain there himself, after having suffered a serious stab wound to the chest. He remembered the worried look on his sister’s face and the flippant remark he had made to cheer her up. “It’s not too bad, Evie. Most of the bleeding is inside, and that is where the blood should be.” She had rolled her eyes at him, and her worry had mixed with anger. He found it was easier to deal with her anger than knowing he caused her worry and grief. Now, standing by the table where Elisabeth lay injured, he felt his remark had only added to Evie’s burden.
Mrs. Cutler had been tending the fire in the hearth when they walked in, but came to help Evie get Elisabeth out of the wet clothes. With the blood-loss, her body was struggling to maintain temperature, and the wet clothes were draining heat from her body. Jacob turned his back to the table and started to remove the gauntlet and the hidden blade. He took off the soaked overcoat and threw it in the corner when Henry entered the kitchen carrying the medical supplies. Jacob helped him unpack what they needed.
Evie and Mrs. Cutler had Elisabeth wrapped in blankets, all but the side where the knife was still stuck in the wound. Now she was slowly coming around, a pained expression on her face and confusedly struggling against the swathe. Jacob found the bottle of chloroform in the bag, unscrewed the cork and wet a cloth with the substance. The faintly sweet smell filled the kitchen as he draped the cloth over Elisabeth’s mouth and nose. After breathing in the sedative, she lay at ease as Henry set to work. Carefully he cut the skin, widening the wound for access, until the blade was visible almost to the tip. Only then, did he remove the throwing knife. Blood gushed from the wound when the knife was no longer holding it back. Even with the chloroform, Elisabeth twitched as Greene explored the wound to find the ruptured vessel. Jacob aided Evie in pinning her down, making sure she would not move. Once she was still, the bleeding vessel was not too hard to find, and sewing it shut, Henry soon stopped the bleeding. She had lost a lot of blood, and looked as pale as a sheet, but her heart was still beating and she was still alive. Henry washed the wound out with a dilution of carbolic acid, before sewing it shut. By then unconsciousness had found Elisabeth again, though Jacob knew by the rapid pulse on her neck and the shallow, rapid breathing she was still in pain.
Jacob left his sister and Mrs. Cutler to clean up and dress the wound, and went up to the dining hall where the Rooks were waiting for news. The room was crowded as usual, but the atmosphere was sombre and quiet.
“She is still alive,” he said as he sat down amongst them, “but only time will tell if she makes it.”
Charles placed a pint of ale in front of him and someone brought him food. He ate, thankfully, feeling the warmth spread through his body, famished after the fight. The Rooks were talking quietly amongst themselves, no one in a mood for laughs and jokes tonight. Jacob fell into his own thoughts as he drained his pint. “You were supposed to protect her!” His sister’s words rung through his head. Jacob pushed the thought and the guilty feeling it brought to the back of his mind. There were still things to sort out and he could not afford to lose his focus. Not yet.
With the pint empty, he left the Rooks in the dining hall and returned to the kitchen. Henry had packed away the medical supplies while Evie and Mrs. Cutler had cleaned the blood of Elisabeth and dressed her wound. Jacob had ripped the only set of clothing she owned, and Evie had gone rummaging in his drawers. Knowing Jacob never slept in anything but his smallclothes, she had put Elisabeth in one of his nightshirts. The shirt was far too big, and made her look fragile, almost like a child.
Jacob was not unknown to injured people. He had seen plenty, both during his days of training and over the last year in London, but somehow this was different. Elisabeth had not taken part in a fight, did not have the ability to defend herself, and had depended on him to keep her safe. It was not her war; she was an innocent who had been entwined in the fight against the Templars. She had put herself at risk by walking off, but he should have known; should have foreseen the pull the site would have on her. He should have stopped her. The sight of the unconscious girl on the table almost made him flinch, but he pulled himself together, feeling his sister’s eyes on him.
“I need a word with you two he said,” addressing Evie and Henry. “Will you join me in her room?” Evie was drying off her hands and turned to follow him, as Jacob picked Elisabeth up from the table.
The pain from moving made her moan, as he carried her upstairs to her room. He laid her down on the bed, pulled the covers up to her chin, and sat down by the fire with Henry and Evie.
“Now tell us what happened,” Evie said. She was watching him interested, and for once, there was no judgement in her eyes.
He relayed the events; the search for the tower, halting the wagon at Limehouse and Elisabeth’s entranced walk down the street. “The Templars were waiting for us,” he said stroking a hand down his face. “They knew we were coming, and we were ambushed.”
The day had drained him, but he would not show them how tiered he was. He continued his tale, relaying the fight blow by blow, the Rooks appearing and the attack on Elisabeth. He said nothing of the horror he felt as he saw the injury and her blood streaming down the street, but he knew he could not fully hide it from his sister.
She had always been able to tell his inner turmoil when they were younger, but after coming to London, the wedge between them had clouded her insight where he was concerned. Now he knew she saw right through the stoic statue he put up.
“I have to go back to search for the journal,” Jacob said. Henry looked at him sceptically,
“There will be Templars all over the place,” he said.
“It can’t be helped.”
“Then I will go with you, brother,” Evie said.
Wasting no time, he rose to gather his things and prepare the mission. When he exited the room, he looked back at Elisabeth, lying pale against the pillows.
“Watch over her, will you?” he asked Henry. “We will be gone a couple of hours” he said before closing the door behind him.
They trekked over the rooftops through the city, back to Limehouse, and St. Anne’s church. The rain had stopped but the roof tiles were still wet and the water in the streets reflected the sheen of the gaslights. It was nigh fall and the city was mute and tranquil. They kept good pace, his sister might not be his equal in strength, but she still was the faster of the two. It was long since they had gone out on a mission together, and Jacob found he had missed it.
As they reached Limehouse, they approached the church with caution. Templars were exiting the churchyard, and dispersing in different directions down the streets. The search party seemed to be leaving. Evie was about to jump down from the building and confront them, but Jacob caught her arm and held her back. A couple of Templars came walking along, talking heatedly in hushed voices.
“… but we have searched everywhere! They must have found it.”
“How could they? We saw them arrive. They did not go near the church. We made sure they did not have time enough!”
“I don’t know how they did it, but it’s not there.”
“Starrick is going to be furious...”
Their voices trailed away as the men rounded the corner and disappeared. Jacob heard Evie sigh in relief. The Templars had not located the journal, and had given up the search for the night. That did not mean the area was deserted.
The graveyard was dark, the rows of gravestones standing tall and silent like sentinels over the dead, but in between them there was movement. Blighters patrolled there, under the trees. Silently, he signalled Evie, showing her the guards. Evie nodded without a word, signalling back through the darkness. There were more guards round the other side of the church. She would clear the back and meet up with him on the other side. Jacob shifted his attention to the guard closing in underneath him as Evie headed off.
When the guard was directly below, Jacob flicked his wrist. The hidden blade extended with a soft click as he dropped down on the Blighter and buried the blade in his neck. There was only a soft thud as the Blighter was plunged to the ground, but it was enough to draw another to walk in his direction. Jacob crouched down behind a large gravestone. He closed his eyes briefly, before opening them to scan the area, red figures trailing slowly through the graveyard. He unsheathed a throwing knife. Checking the area again, he flung it at the approaching guard, catching him square in the chest. The Blighter toppled over in the grass.
Jacob scanned the area again. Evie was picking her way around the back, leaving an empty wake of blackness behind her. There were no Blighters between them, and Jacob continued forward. He stole between the gravestones, black, polished pillars looming over him in the night.
Another Blighter came his way, craning his neck and searching for his fellows. Jacob crouched down behind another stone, whistling low. The Blighter turned his head and stood still for a moment, his eyes searching the darkness for its source. Then he came slowly walking through the grass, the swooshing sound growing closer with each step. Jacob grabbed and threw him to the ground. The Blighter drew a sharp breath in surprise, but when he tried to scream only gurgles left him as he choked on his own blood. Jacob retracted the blade and moved on, leaving the man to die alone.
There was a movement to his right, another figure glowing red, but the Blighter disappeared between the graves. Jacob unsheathed another throwing knife. Bending low, he snuck after him. The Blighter came into clear view for a second before disappearing behind another stone. Jacob silently cursed.
There was a muffled cry in the night. The Blighter turned sharply at the sound.
Jacob froze. Evie!
The throwing knife flew hard and fast from his hand, catching the Blighter in the back and sending him face first into the grass.
Jacob raced forward, throwing caution to the wind. Evie was in trouble, the sound of fighting reaching him from further on between the graves.
From the corner by the gate, two more Blighters came running, guns drawn. This mission was about to go south. Gunfire was sure to draw police, if not more Blighters to the site. He threw another knife, taking down another redcoat. The second Blighter froze and turned, holding on tightly to his gun and backing away, scanning his surroundings with panicked eyes. Jacob sent another knife flying and caught him directly in the face. His arm faltered and he crumbled limply to the ground.
His attention flicked back up to search for his sister, only to find a Blighter drawing his gun at her a few feet ahead.
Fear gripped him tightly as he bolted forward, tearing his feet to the ground. She was fighting off one last Blighter, oblivious to the danger. He launched through the air and struck down the shooter. The man yelled in surprise and anger, but Jacob was upon him, pommelling him into the ground. The gun was lost in the ruckus, but s fist swung and caught Jacob in the face. He scrambled to his feet, drawing the kukri. Steel glistened in the Blighters hand as well as he circled slowly.
He had no time for this. He had to get to Evie. He feigned a fall out, drawing the Blighter in. The man’s face lit up in a snarl of pleasure as he launched forward. Jacob sidestepped and lodged the kukri in his back. Yanking out the blade, he bolted to the place where he had last seen his sister.
He found her between the graves, leaning over, resting her hands on her knees and breathing hard. Three blighters lay dead by her feet, a fourth a little further down the path. All was quiet. A quick scan of the area confirmed all Blighters were dead.
“Are you all right?” he said.
She threw him an irritated glare.
“Fine!” she said. “Just fine!”
She was on edge. Evie was an agile fighter and strong for a woman but facing multiple enemies was always a risk, especially in close quarters. Being shorter and smaller was always a disadvantage. She preferred to be in control of the situation, taking out one enemy at the time, staying out of their reach. This time something had gone wrong. He watched her for a minute and she straightened up, squared her shoulders and walked up to him.
“What?” she said.
He knew her well enough to know she had been afraid there for a second, but she would never admit to that. There was no reason to tell her of the shooter he had taken out.
“Nothing,” he said, “should we get on?”
Together they scaled the bell tower, the ledges and embellishments of the old building giving ample support for hands and feet. In the tower, the floor bore the signs of the Templars thorough search. There were muddy footprints everywhere. Using their eagle vision, they set to explore the tower. They searched every nook, cranny and crevice for the journal, but turned up emptyhanded. There were no hollow walls, and no signature of any hidden objects in the room. They spent an hour, gradually widening their search, going through the whole tower without finding anything. Finally, Jacob gave up. Looking at his sister he said; “There are really no good hiding places here. If it were hidden here, it would have been found 15 years ago. They obviously knew to search here.” Evie silently agreed. The journal was not there, and could not have been hidden there. Disheartened they left Limehouse, Evie in the direction of the train, Jacob returning to the base.
Jacob found Henry sitting in Elisabeth’s room, watching over her. She was still out, and had been all the while he had been gone. He took a seat by the fire and told Henry about the conversation he and Evie had overheard, relayed the search of the tower, describing the room and its insufficient hiding places. “They knew we were coming there today, they were waiting for us, and they knew to search the tower after we had left. They must have searched the tower 15 years ago as well. It would have been the first place to look for it.” Jacob stretched, feeling the muscles of his body protesting loudly at the motion; it had been a long day. “He must have hidden it somewhere else.” Henry said, staring into the fire.
A few moments later Mrs. Cutler entered the room with a tray. On the small table between them, she put two bowls of warm stew, two pints of ale, a cup of broth and a loaf of bread. The broth was for Elisabeth if she woke up. Jacob was thankful for the warm food. It had been hours since dinnertime and his stomach was screaming for food. He had not felt it before sitting down by the fire, but he was famished. They ate in silence, Jacob savouring the warm food and the rich ale while keeping an eye on Elisabeth’s face. She was slowly coming around. A worried frown on her forehead, she tried to move, and winced with pain. Jacob put down his empty bowl and walked to her side.
“Easy, Elisabeth, you have been stabbed. Try not to move,” he said.
She opened her eyes as he sat down on the side of the bed. She drew breath in shallow gasps and her brow cringed as her eyes clenched shut. Henry handed him the cup of broth.
“You need to drink this” he said, “then I will give you something for the pain”.
Supporting her back and neck, Jacob aided her in drinking. The blood loss had made her thirsty, and she emptied the cup willingly, drinking slowly from his hands. He let her lie back to rest against the pillows as Henry filled the cup with gin from a bottle on the mantelpiece. She lay with eyes closed, colour drained from her skin, her hands flexing and clenching. Supporting her back once more, he lifted the cup to her mouth. She started drinking, but after a couple of mouthfuls, she coughed, made a grimace, and tried to turn away. He smiled slightly; the girl clearly was not used to the taste of spirits.
“You need to empty the cup, Elisabeth. It will take away the pain.” He spoke softly to her, as if she were a child.
She looked at him with glassy eyes and swallowed hard, then turned back to the cup and started drinking again, one small sip at the time. She finished the contents and shuddered with disgust, but kept the alcohol down. Jacob let her lie back down and watched her face as the lines of pain went away and she drifted off to sleep, her breathing deep and regular, the pulse on her throat beating calmly. Then he left her to Henry Green’s care, to find his bed and some much needed rest.
It was winter and she was back in the alley, crouching down close to the ground, fascinated with the cold substance covering the cobblestones. A sound of stones scraping against each other, made her turn her head. Her father was there, walking towards her. He smiled at her “Stay here Elisabeth. I will be right back. Be a good girl, and don’t look for me when I go.”
“Don’t leave me,” her heart said, as he kissed her forehead, but no sound crossed her lips. She looked after him as he walked away, his silhouette the symbol of safety in her life. He had promised to return and he always held his promise. Then she turned her attention to the frost again, melting patterns in the surface with her fingers. For a while, she was absorbed with the game, until her fingers were wet and cold. Wiping her hands on her coat, she lifted her gaze to see her father climb the bell tower, his hands and feet finding sound holds all the way to the top.
When the pale light of dawn crept through the curtains, Jacob relived Henry Green, watching over Elisabeth. He had dozed off in the chair and was looking forward to finding the comfort of his own bed.
Elisabeth was sleeping uneasy, muttering under her breath, but the words were incoherent and without meaning to him. Her skin was flushed, an unnerving colour with the blood loss she had suffered. Feeling her forehead, a concerned wrinkle spread across Jacob’s brow. She was running a slight fever.
He settled down in the chair by her bed, cleaning and honing his blades with a whetstone. The sound of the steady grinding and the repetitive movement had a soothing effect on him, but did nothing for the girl’s troubled sleep. He continued his work for a couple of hours, now and then checking the girl’s temperature. By then the rest of the house had woken up, and Mrs. Cutler brought them breakfast, bread and cheese for Jacob, and another cup of broth for Elisabeth.
“How is she doing?” She asked concerned.
“Not too good I am afraid. She is running a fever.”
Mrs. Cutler took her leave as the girl stirred and woke, disturbed by their voices. Her face bore the lines of pain once more, the effect of the gin from last night, long gone.
“The wall” she said, “It’s in the wall.”
Jacob moved to the edge of her bed. She was talking nonsense, the fevered dreams playing with her mind. He gave her some more broth, and made her drink another cup of gin. Lying back down she continued to mutter about a wall. He cupped her cheek and stroked her temple soothingly to calm her down.
“Shh, Elisabeth. It is just a dream. I searched the tower; there are no hollow walls. You need to rest.”
She gripped his wrist and held on tight. It seemed she found comfort in having someone close; she stopped muttering, and lay at ease. When he felt her fingers relaxing, slowly letting go of his arm he made to rise from her side. The movement stirred her, and tiered but aware she met his eyes. “Not the tower wall, Jacob” she said, “the canal wall.” Her eyes held his gaze a moment until realisation hit him. Then she closed her eyes and succumbed to sleep once more.
Chapter 8: Guilt
Jacob was sitting on the side of Elisabeth’s bed, processing her words. He knew the canal, and had been there before. The brick walls either side varied in height with the bank, and with the towpath on the eastern side. In some parts, the wall rose higher than the bank, shielding the surrounding areas from the water in case of flooding. He remembered Elisabeth in her entranced walk, standing with her back turned to the church to look down the narrow alley leading to the canal. It was where her father had left her while climbing the tower, and where she had watched him fight for his life and loose. If he had hidden the journal in the canal wall, it would be there, close by the alley. It made sense; Elisabeth had tried to make him search along the canal, pointing away from the church. Moreover, Elisabeth’s father had not left her to hide the journal. He had hidden it close to her, and gone to get an overview and find a safe way out.
There was a knock on the door and Mrs. Cutler entered the room, carrying a pitcher of water. “If she is running a fever, we need to keep her temperature down,” she said, collecting the washbasin and putting it on the small table. Jacob rose from his seat on the bed and filled the basin for her. Mrs. Cutler started folding down the covers. Elisabeth looked frail, her fevered face and limp body a stark contrast to the headstrong countenance she usually demonstrated. “I should have been able to keep you safe.” The thought clawed his insides.
“It might be better if you leave.”
Mrs. Cutler’s words brought him back to reality. He was trained not to reveal his emotions, but the thought had caught him off guard, and Mrs. Cutler had noticed. She caught his eyes and sent him a stern smile.
“I will take care of her,” she said.
Sitting down on the side of the bed she wet a cloth and started cooling Elisabeth’s face and neck. Jacob gathered his blades and left the room. He had to finish the mission and retrieve the journal, and keeping occupied would distract his mind off Elisabeth. Don’t let your personal feelings compromise a mission. He remembered his father’s caution. He would not compromise it. He would use the mission to forget his worry for a while.
Once more, he trekked across the rooftops towards Limehouse. He considered to seek out Evie before going, but decided against it. He craved the solitude and silence of a lone mission, letting his mind focus on nothing but finding the journal. Moreover, he wanted it finished. Although the Templars had left the area last night, he expected them to be back. By coming there with Elisabeth yesterday, Jacob had practically confirmed the journal was there. As long as they had not located a hiding place in the bell tower, they would surely soon widen their search.
Nearing, Limehouse Jacob noted numerous Blighters in the streets. There were far too many of them for it to be a coincidence. The Templars were back to continue their search, and were adamant to keep the Assassins away. A stern grin pulled at the corner of his mouth. As if, a few Blighters was going to keep him away.
He surveyed the church from a distance. Several figures were moving around it, clearly searching the exterior for the journal. Blighters were guarding the gates to the churchyard. Jacob kept to the roofs and the shadows, closing in on the area while staying out of sight.
Lack of skill was not the reason he rarely worked stealthily; Jacob just did not see the point of it. He would often start out a mission hidden and under cover, but if something happened, a captured Rook being beaten or Blighters exploiting children, or any other incident he could not idly stand by and watch, he would expose himself and teach the Blighters a lesson they sorely needed. If things got bad, he could fight his way out and outrun any stupid Blighter. Really; what was the fun and excitement of a mission if he could not to use his fighting skills. This time, however, there were no distractions and Jacob wanted the mission finished.
The towpath and the canal ley deserted. In the distance, on the viaduct of the Blackwall railway line, a train was slowly crossing the canal. The cargo train was on its way towards the docks with goods, and the rumbling noise it made blocked out all other sounds. Jacob waited for the train to pass before letting himself drop to the towpath. As he started searching along the canal wall using the eagle sense, the world’s colours faded into black and white. The low placement of the towpath meant he was shielded from view, but it also meant a great disadvantage if he was discovered. Jacob did not intend to stay down there for long, and searched the wall efficiently. A little further along, he saw a white glimmer near the top, and quickened his pace. Something lay hidden there in a cavity in the wall. Quietly he climbed to the top and crouched down. The top of the canal wall was level with the bank and the alley leading to the church. Jacob knew the distance to the guards by the gate was short, but the corner of the nearby building blocked their line of sight.
The top stone in the canal wall was loose, only held in place by the snug fit. When Jacob moved it, there was a scraping sound, and a deep thud, as the stone fell to the towpath beneath. It was loud enough to carry a short distance and alarm the guards by the gate. They would soon be there to investigate its source. Jacob quickly reached into the hollow wall and felt the smooth surface of an oilcloth wrapping against his fingers. He drew out a small package, and knew he had found what he wanted.
In the alley behind him, footsteps were approaching. He had to move if he was not to be discovered. Jacob had noted the number of enemies in the area and this was not the time to pick a fight. He ran along the canal, scaled the viaduct and hid behind the adjoining building as the Blighter rounded the corner. Jacob unsheathed a throwing knife. Finding the gaping hole in the wall, the Blighter turned to voice the alarm, but no sound crossed his lips. Instead, there was a whet ‘chuck’ as the throwing knife hit him in the neck, and he crumbled to the ground. Jacob ran along the viaduct away from the area. Before anyone else came along, he would be long gone, well on his way to find Evie on the train.
He had not been back to the train for weeks, not since he and Henry sought out Evie together. As he entered, Evie looked up from the parchments she had been studying, curious to see him there. Then she noticed the parcel in his hand and drew her breath in surprise. “You found it!” she said astounded.
“Yes, I found it. Cole did not hide it in the tower, he hid it in the canal wall, close by the alley where he left Elisabeth,” he said.
Then he relayed how he had found the journal. Jacob understood his sister’s elation, and was happy for her. She was devoted to the cause, and sitting idle did not suit her. Finally, she had new clues to follow and could continue her work. However, he could not find any joy in the situation. Now that the mission was ended and the journal recovered, he found it hard to keep from worrying over Elisabeth. His thoughts travelled back to the base, and he saw her fevered face no matter how much he tried not to. The image of her lying unconscious against the pillows would not leave his mind. She seemed so frail, and he feared her life was slipping between his fingers.
It is my fault. The surge of pain he felt had him draw his breath sharply.
Evie was watching him. He had been pacing the floor of the railway carriage, blindly absorbed in his worry over the girl. She had spoken to him, but he had not noticed. The journal lay untouched on the table in front of her and the joy she had expressed just minutes ago was gone, replaced by a worried look.
“Jacob, what is it? How is she doing?” she asked, ashamed that in her eagerness over the journal and new clues, she had forgotten about Elisabeth.
“Not too good. When I left she was running a fever.”
Both knew what it meant. Any wound could go bad, and it usually started with a fever. The girl’s life depended on whether or not it broke. The next couple of days would be critical. Jacob braced himself for his sisters scolding.
“Jacob, don’t blame yourself for this,” Evie said.
They were not the words he had anticipated coming from his sister. She usually rolled her eyes at him and scolded him for every mistake he made, and he would let it wash over him or pick a fight with her, depending on what suited his mood. Now he had anticipated a lecture, and been ready for a fight. The surprise he felt turned to anger.
“You can’t mean that! I should have been able to stop her; I should have been able to keep her safe. She trusted me. Why don’t you tell me off like you usually do?”
“I have been telling you off, because you did not care about the consequences of your actions, Jacob,” she said calmly. “Now I see you do.”
Her usual annoyance with him was gone. Maybe it was because her mind was at ease from having new trails to follow, or maybe it was a form of gratitude. He had aided her in finding new clues, as she had asked, even if it was no deliberate choice of his. In any case, she had taken the time to open her mind, and now she was seeing right through him, just like she had when they were children.
For month’s he had missed his sister and the bond they shared; the way they used to understand each other before coming to London and the fierce but friendly competitions they used to have. She had become absorbed with her work, and her nuisance with him had brought out the worst in him. He had gone into the missions trying to provoke her, being reckless and rash, to the point where she could not see any of the good he was doing.
He had wanted her to see him, but he was not ready for this: for her to see his heartache and fear and take pity on him. He needed her to be angry with him so he could take his frustration out on her. Fuming, he turned around and left the railway carriage. He would find relief from his inner turmoil as he usually did; by trekking the roofs of London, letting the physical exertion empty his mind.
Jacob returned to the base in the afternoon, to find Mrs. Cutler was still by Elisabeth’s side, cooling her fevered skin. The covers were folded down, the sleeves of the night shirt rolled up and the collar buttoned down to cool as much skin as possible. He could see Mrs. Cutler’s concern with the girl, deep furrows lining her forehead. When he leaned over and felt the girls burning forehead, Mrs. Cutler said, “She has been out all day. I have not been able to wake her, and she has taken no food or drink.”
Her voice was trembling and it unnerved him deeply. Mrs. Cutler was not easily unsettled, but she knew as well as he did, that getting Elisabeth to drink was essential. Without it, the fever would burn her out and she would die.
“Then lets wake her,” he said.
Pain had been part of Jacob’s life for as long as he could remember. He knew it well, as a consequence of the training he was put through, but also as the knowledge of how to put pain to use; to hit a specific point to stun the senses, or keeping a captive in check by the twist of an arm. Inflicting sharp pain could also be employed to wake an unconscious person. He knew it would leave a nasty mark for a few days, as he put his knuckles against Elisabeth’s chest. Rubbing the skin hard against the bone underneath with his knuckles, she flinched and opened her eyes. Getting an adequate amount of water into her was a joint venture, Mrs. Cutler spooning water in her mouth, Jacob supporting Elisabeth and keeping her from relapsing into unconsciousness. By the morning, she would be blue and green, but it meant nothing.
Her fever broke at dawn, Jacob learned the next morning as he came by her room. The woman watching over her was on her way out, but stopped in the doorway to talk to him.
“She is resting, but I think she is waiting for you,” she said, “make sure you don’t keep her up for long, she needs to sleep.” Then she left.
Elisabeth was dozing as he entered. She looked pale and drawn, but the fevered redness of the skin was gone. He put his hand on her forehead, needing to make sure the woman was right, that the fever had really gone. Her skin was cool against his palm and he felt relieved as he sat down on the side of her bed.
His touch woke her and she looked at him with matte eyes.
“Did you find it?” she asked.
“Yes, I retrieved it last night. It was hidden in the wall, like you said,” he said.
He did not want to upset her, but felt there was one more thing she needed to know.
“Your father did not leave you to hide the journal. He left it close by and went to get an overview, probably to find a safe way out.”
Tears welled in her eyes and trickled down her cheeks. She had wondered why her father had left her alone in the alley, all those years ago. He hoped the information would put her mind at rest. She dried her tears, and tried to sit up, but instantly winced.
Without asking, Jacob reached for her cup and the bottle of gin. He had noted the lines on her face as he sat down and suspected she had masked the pain from the woman who watched over her. She had used it to stay awake, anxious to know the fate of the journal. He handed her the cup, and this time she took it and drank without hesitation, knowing it would bring relief. Leaning against the pillows, she closed her eyes, and Jacob left her room. The worst was over, now time and rest was all she needed to get her strength back. As he walked downstairs to breakfast, Jacob felt the tension he had carried the last couple of days leave his body. She was going to be all right.
Chapter 9: Falling
The grey light of a rainy morning filled her room as another day began. Elisabeth stared blindly into the fire as she brushed through her hair. The mess of waves almost reached her waist, hanging loose over her shoulder as she worked to rein it into a more orderly form.
Her hair had always been unruly, the staff of the orphanage had often threatened to cut it short and leave her ridiculed, so she had learned to tame it. Combing through it was a regular necessity, but now she continued brushing although the bristles went through it without sticking, lost in thought.
Recovering was tedious business, and inactivity was testing her patience. She had stayed in her room for more than a week now, sleeping, resting and watching the walls as the hours ticked past in agonisingly slow pace. She was at a point where she wanted to scream if nothing happened, but the Matron would not let her leave her room.
Her hand pulled idly through the curls a couple of times, before she got to grips with present day. Without much thought, she braided the length of the locks and coiled the braid on her neck, securing it with a pin.
She cleaned the brush from loos strands of hair before putting it away. Hairs should never lie about. Although she was not particularly superstitious, Elisabeth always made sure to burn the strands, a custom she had learned from the older children in the orphanage. She crossed the floor on bare feet to throw the hairs into the fire, then crouched down to watch them shrivel and burn.
She had asked to be allowed downstairs for breakfast, at least, to relieve the women of having to bring the food to her room, but the Matron had blatantly refused. You’re staying put until you recover, Liz, she had said, and Elisabeth’s hopes had plummeted. The last couple of days she had felt much better; a hundred times better than when she woke up after the injury, however, a full recovery would still take a while. Despair gripped her chest at the prospect of days and weeks cooped up in her room and she forced the thought away. That could not be, she could not let that happen.
Her feet were getting cold, drawing her away from her miserable trail of thoughts and Elisabeth found her clothes, lying on the chair beside the fire.
She had been provided with a new shirt, a simple but pretty garment in white cotton with decorative seams down the front. The tightfitting collar was buttoned up with a row of small buttons at the neck and the shoulder. She didn’t know where it came from, but Elisabeth loved it.
Doing her hair and putting on her clothes made her feel a little better. She made a point of dressing each day, even if Mrs. Cutler seemed to think it unnecessary. It was necessary to her. Those who brought her meals usually sat down for a little while, keeping her company as she ate. Taking her meals at the table, chatting of the everyday happenings at the base brought a sense of normality into her day, and Elisabeth looked forward to every visit, no matter how short it was.
She sat down to wait by the fire, losing herself in thought for a while until a knock on her door broke through the monotony. The door opened as the woman bringing her breakfast entered the room. Elisabeth’s face broke into a pleased grin. The woman threw back a brittle smile.
“I’m sorry, Elisabeth, I can’t stay. I have to fill the wash kettle before breakfast,” she said, wiping the sweat from her brow.
Elisabeth felt her smile stiffen as she tried to keep a level appearance despite the disappointment surging through her.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said, “I’ll be fine.” The girl gave her another apologetic smile and left.
As the door closed, Elisabeth scolded herself for her reaction. Self-pity was not a trait she wanted to confess, and she was angry with herself for falling into it. Instead, she felt a surge of guilt. While recovering, she was dead weight, not even capable to do her share of work. The women had their hands full running the base and they were hard at work all day. A missing set of hands always put a strain on the others, and here she was fretting over idleness. In fact, she was even worse than dead weight; she was a burden, adding to the load by staying in her room and making them tend to her needs.
She ate in silence.
There had to be something she could do, some way to get out of this futile existence. If only Mrs. Cutler would let her help, but of course she would not. Elisabeth could not help but feel somewhat angry with her.
She’ll never budge unless she is proven wrong! She thought darkly.
And there it was. A wide grin spread across her face and light tingled in her eyes for the first time in days.
I’ll just have to prove to her that I am fit enough to help.
The idea started to form in her head. Breakfast was served in a short while, and while people ate, the kitchen would be empty. She would have half an hour there alone, to prove herself. She needed an easy task, something where she could make headway in half an hour, something that didn’t involve heavy lifting, a chore… such as peeling potatoes.
Peeling potatoes was useful, it was an everyday undertaking that stole time from the others and could be done while sitting down; perfect in other words. She would start peeling, and when the others returned from breakfast, she would surprize them. Then they would have to let her stay.
Spurred on by the prospect of spending time with the others, Elisabeth finished her food and by the time the residents of the base slowly made their way inside and the bustle outside died down, she was ready. She got up and peered out into the hallway. There were no one there, and she quietly made her way downstairs. The hallway swayed a bit as she got to the front door. She took a pause inside, closing her eyes and breathing until the dizziness died down.
The next step was worse, getting past there guards outside to access the kitchen. She did not think they would stop her, but she would rather they did not see her at all. She peered outside. They were standing by the gate, chatting. Taking a deep breath, she steeled her mind and stepped outside. She stole along the wall, feeling the yard start to sway, but ignored it and pushed on until she reached the kitchen stairs. She could hear the guards’ easy chatter and jokes and was pretty sure none of them had seen her, though she did not look their way.
The kitchen swayed precariously as she leaned against the door and closed her eyes, feeling victorious that she made it, unseen. Although getting out of the base was a challenge, getting around inside undetected was possible.
The swirling in her head took its time slowing back down but Elisabeth knew the clock was ticking. If she wanted to prove herself, she could not hang about. She steeled her mind once more and focused on the task she had set herself. She collected a bowl on the counter and made her way across the room. The potatoes were stored in the cellars of the base, lying off the corridor at the back of the kitchen.
The room soon started swaying again and she had to put a hand to the wall, to find her way down the corridor to the cellar. It was chilly and smelled of earth, but the cold soothed the queasy feeling somewhat. However, by the time she reached the right cellar and opened the door, her hands were trembling and cold sweat lined her brow. She had to take another pause to breathe, before she filled the bowl. She leaned her back and head against the cold stone wall, and tried to breathe through the dizziness, as she had done before, but this time, the room continued churning.
Time was ticking. She had to get going.
You can’t give up now, she told herself.
The kitchen was just six yards away. She would just get the potatoes in the bowl and hurry back there.
Pull yourself together! Once you sit down you will be fine.
She filled the bowl and picked it up with trembling hands. The bowl felt heavy. How could she be so weak? It was just one bowlful.
She pushed herself to her feet and the room churned insistently as her heart beat hard against her chest. Bright spots of light were dancing in her sight and she started to feel sick.
Don’t be such a baby. You are going to prove yourself, remember.
She closed the door behind her, and willed herself on, feeling worse than in days. Her feet were heavy and the corridor seemed longer than ever. Suddenly she did not know how she was going to reach the kitchen. The swirling picked up pace and the spots of light were growing, multiplying; soon covering her sight and blinding her.
Maybe… this was not such a good idea after all.
She blinked, trying to clear her sight as she took another step, trying to stop the ever faster churning in her head. Strength seemed to escape her, seeping through her fingers like water from a strainer. Her fingers were numb, her legs like jelly. There was a loud crack as the bowl slipped from her grip and broke against the flagstone floor. She heaved for breath and grasped for something to hold onto, something solid in a churning sea of movement.
Time seemed to stand still and move very fast all at the same time. For a moment she had a queer sense of being weightless; floating. Then darkness enveloped her and all was nothing.
A warm hand against the side of her neck. Muffled voices talking.
“How did you find her?”
A female voice
“The guard thought he saw her cross the yard. He thought it strange and so did I.”
A darker voice. A man, her mind mused.
“I came down here looking for you; instead I found her lying like this; out cold.”
She knew that voice. A strong and assertive voice. A voice that made her feel warm inside.
Her head was spinning, she felt weak and there was something about her side, irritating and painful.
“Is she bleeding?” The other voice again; Mrs Cutler’s. She liked her too. Strict, but fair, Mrs Cutler. The voices seemed to come from afar, somewhere above her. Why was she so far below?
“She has probably pulled a few stitches. I’ll have to look at it.”
Something hard against her back. Cold, like stone. Was she on the floor?
“Come on, Love. Wake up now.”
The warm hand against her neck was removed and came back against her cheek with a stinging sense. She flinched. Opened her eyes. Another set of eyes were staring back, worried and assessing. She closed her eyes again. She had seen those hazel coloured eyes before…
Oh no. Not this. Not in front of him.
Her mind finally caught on, of what had happened and of her surroundings. She had fainted in the kitchen and he had been the one to find her. She stirred and tried to sit up. The insistent spots of light reappeared and the room swayed at the effort. A gentle weight against her shoulders pushed her back.
“Easy now. Give yourself a minute, Elisabeth.”
“What on earth were you doing down here, Liz?” the Matron asked. “You’re supposed to stay in bed.”
“I was… going to help,” she said. Speaking was such an effort. It was hard to find the words. The room was swirling and she was feeling ill.
“Oh, you silly girl!” Mrs Cutler’s voice was rimmed with both pity and annoyance. “It’s been little over a week since your injury. What made you think you were well enough to work?”
Elisabeth felt the words sting. Blood rushed to her face and a lump formed in her throat, making it even harder to speak.
“I just don’t want to be a burden!”
“Oh, don’t be daft! You were injured Liz.”
“Right now you have no choice, Elisabeth. You need rest to heal,” Jacob said.
The Matron turned to Jacob.
“We’ll have to get her back to bed,” she said.
“Mm,” Jacob replied. “I’ll take her. Will you manage the doors?”
Elisabeth felt horrid.
Oh, please no.
She was supposed to prove herself, not end up going back to bed and most certainly not being carried there.
“No, no. There’s no need,” she assured them, “Just give me a minute and I’ll walk, myself.”
Jacob let out a disgruntled snort and his eyes gleamed in irritation as he met her gaze.
“Who do you think you’re fooling, Love? You were out cold for ten minutes. You are walking nowhere.”
He dug his hands under her back and knees and with a heave of effort, he lifted her into his lap and rose to his feet. The movement sent the room into a spin, making all sense of strength drain from her body again. She stifled a moan and covered her eyes with her hand.
“Are you all right, Love?” Jacob asked. She wanted to reply, wanted to tell him there was nothing wrong, but all that came out was a whimper.
“She’s passing out again,” she heard him say as the abyss swallowed her back up.
She was moving. A smell of leather tingled her nose. A warm smell… a masculine smell… and something else. Something sharp, metallic, like gunfire. Somewhere she had a sense that she should not enjoy this smell so much, but she could not recollect why. The smell was warm and inviting, it made her feel safe. There was a reminiscence of protection in that smell.
Why would she not welcome that?
The smell made her feel as if someone was holding her close and somewhere it registered someone was. Her head was resting against his shoulder. The room was moving, everything was churning sickeningly and she could not muster the energy to open her eyes.
She was lowered to a bed; the softness there was welcoming, embracing her, but she could not seem to still her breathing. The warm hand came back to her neck, steady and sure. She opened her eyes, tried to focus, but her world continued on the relentless roll.
A face in front of her, worried eyes lingering on her face. She could not bear the weight of that look, the irritation burning behind the concern.
“Remove or loosen anything that’s tight,” Jacob said. “I’ll get the suture kit.”
Heavy footfalls retreated, and the door was closed. There was a sound of movement, and something cold was placed on her forehead. It felt nice.
“Oh, you silly girl.” The matron said, her voice quiet, sad, as she removed the boots, then proceeded to undress her, unbuttoning the shirt at the neck and pulling off the skirt. Then the soft, flowing feel of the nightgown graced her skin before the cover was draped over her. That too felt nice. The racing of her heart slowed down. She felt weightless, drifted, it could have been a second or an hour, she could not really tell.
There was a knock on the door and the heavy footfalls came back. Something was moved about, scraping against the floor, and then tiny things made tiny, jingling sounds, as they were unpacked.
Someone started pulling at her, moving her to lie on her side, disturbing her rest. The churning picked up again, as did her heartrate.
Leave me be…, I’m so tired.
Something cold graced her side, metallic, ripping through the inner layers of fabric. Her skin prickled in the cool air, but the warm hands were soothing. Muffled voices talking, something about stiches.
Then there was a sharp pain in her side. It pierced through the swirling and cleared her head. Mrs. Cutler was holding her hands and stroking her cheek.
“Just lie still,” she said. “It will be over soon.”
Another sharp sting and a queer sensation of the skin being pulled and tightened, then suddenly let go.
She was very aware of the cool air against her mid, and worse; the warm hand on her side before the needle pierced her skin once more.
She closed her eyes, feeling her face heat up and tears burn behind her eyelids. She wanted to sink down into oblivion again. This had all gone horribly wrong.
The needle pierced her skin again, and she could not hold back the tears. They pooled behind the eyelids and trickled in silent streams over her nose.
Jacob tied the last knot and cut the thread. He packed away the suture kit and retrieved a roll of bandage from the bag.
Mrs. Cutler met his gaze.
“How do you want to do this?” she asked.
“I don’t want to move her too much, but there’s no way around it. She has to sit up.”
The girl looked ash grey against the white sheets, and Jacob felt anger burn inside. How could she do this to herself? He handed over the bandage to Mrs. Cutler and rolled Elisabeth onto her back.
“I’ll hold her up, while you dress the wound, but you’ll have to be quick about it,” he said.
Tears trickled silently down the girl’s cheeks, as he crossed her arms over her chest. He had no doubt she regretted her actions by now, feeling the effects of pushing herself too far. Somewhere beyond the irritation, he did feel sorry for her, however, that drowned under the nuisance at her pointless feat.
“Are you ready?” he asked, and the matron nodded. Jacob leaned over digging his arm behind the girl’s back and raised her upright. She whimpered quietly and her forehead came to rest against his shoulder. Her hair graced the skin of his face. The matron worked efficiently, but the girl in his arms was withering away faster. Her shallow breathing picked up, and she was going limp within his hold.
“I need to lay her down,” he said, and the matron stopped. He eased the girl back down and felt for her pulse. Her heart was racing, working hard to bring blood to her head, but the softness of the beat told him it was struggling. She still suffered from the blood loss after the injury. Her body was not coping after her short outing and even moving was exerting her.
At least, Mrs Cutler had been able to cover the wound, if not dress it the way they should. It would have to do, for now.
He waited, but the girl’s breathing did not come down nor did her heartrate, still racing in that weak pulse he did not like. Jacob cursed under his breath. Her heart could give in from this, he knew. The matron watched him with concern as he pulled the pillows from under the girl’s head and moved them under her legs. He did not even register, attentively studying the girl’s face, checking her pulse and watching her breathing.
The measures had effect, her pulse slowed and the beat became more insistent. Her breathing followed suit, slowing down and deepening.
The claw of worry inside him eased a bit, only for the anger to flare instead. What an idiotic way to set herself back. Needless, futile, thoughtless were words that came to mind. He would have given her a piece of his mind, had she been able to withstand it, but at this point she would not.
He checked her pulse one last time, feeling the steady beat as the girl slept, then stroke a lock of hair out of her face, before turning to the Matron.
“It’s adamant she rest,” he said. “I know this puts a toll on our staff, Mrs. Cutler, but I would prefer if someone stayed with her.”
The Matron’s eyes were clinging to Elisabeth, a soft expression of worry lining her brow.
“I know,” she said. “I was thinking the same. I’ll have someone watch over her and keep her company when she awakes. We’ll find a way to manage.”
She turned towards him and caught his eyes.
“Don’t be too hard on her for this Mr. Frye,” she said. “I should have seen this coming. Condemning her to solitude in her room… I should have known better.”
“She should have known better,” Jacob said, but in his mind, an image surfaced of Elisabeth’s face screwed up in pain as she carried water to the kitchen a few weeks before, however, it did not quell the anger inside.
“This was NOT not your fault,” he said meeting her gaze firmly. He lingered until she acknowledged it, closing her eyes and nodding quietly, and then he left.
Chapter 10: Falling II
The train was rattling along the railway line as the morning drew to a close. Evie had summoned him for a meeting, wanting to plan what boroughs to take and which Templars to root out and assassinate next. They had eaten breakfast, and now they were in the library compartment of the train, Evie pacing the floor, energetically laying out her plans and drawing conclusions.
Henry stood leaning against the table; one foot resting on the chair beside him as his eyes attentively followed Evie. Finishing a trail of thoughts on how best to go about tackling Starrick’s henchmen, Evie turned to him.
“That’s very good Evie. Your work is thoroughly planned out, as always,” Henry said. Jacob noted the way her eyes lit up and the slight flush covering her cheeks as Henry seconded her opinion and smiled to himself.
His sister had grown fond of Henry over the year. Jacob had seen it evolve. At first, he had not liked it, uneasy of the thought of his sister with a man. He had taunted her for her infatuation. Really, he still did, however, he had come to hold Henry in high esteem. He would never admit to that to Evie though, and he would never call Henry anything but Greenie in front of her, however, there was no way around the fact that he was the only Assassin who had remained in London when all the rest of them had abandoned the city to the Templars tyranny. Although he did not go after the Templars, the knowledge he had gathered of the Templars organization and the network he had built, using urchins to spy for him, had proven invaluable to them. They would not have known where to start without Henry.
Jacob was casually strewn on the couch with his feet up and was idly tinkering with the gauntlet while following the interaction between the two others. It pleased him that Henry seemed to return Evie’s feelings. He treated her with the utmost respect, and made an effort at all times to be at service to her, whether it was aiding her work or pulling out her chair.
Some of the lads had asked if Henry had sought his approval before pursuing his sister. Jacob had laughed heartedly at that. He had long since accepted Evie’s love life was none of his business, moreover, had he tried to prevent her, he had been in for a fight, and one he was quite sure he would lose. Question only remained which of Henry or Evie, (if any of them,) would ever make a move on the other. Jacob smirked, thinking about it, earning him a smack on the head from Evie.
“Jacob. Pay attention, will you!” He met her gaze smirking, and somehow she knew what that smile was about. She shot him a glare saying “don’t you dare!”. Jacob innocently raised his hands, and Evie turned back to Henry.
They started discussing the piece of Eden and the clues the diary held. Jacob’s mind trailed away. On the table beside him, lay the journal. Jacob had not really taken the time to look at it. Once recovered, he had given it to Evie and lost all interest in it. The trails inside it were Evie’s domain, and his mind was otherwise preoccupied at the time.
It looked like any other old book. Its leather cover was worn, the edge of the pages were frayed and had by age obtained a yellow, sunburned color. The oilskin wrapping, in which it was found, had kept it dry enough to prevent serious damage. He picked it up. The leather felt soft and warm against his hand as he turned it over. Such an insignificant thing, and yet, it had come at a high price, depriving Elisabeth of her father and landing her years of misery.
The book brought an image of her face to his mind and a wave of annoyance washed through him. The girl’s exertion had cost her. She had slept for two solid days after the ordeal. And yet, it seemed she had learned little form the experience.
The Matron had denied her to leave her room again, and there was someone with her at all times during the day, but still she found ways around staying idle.
The woman watching over her was mending clothes, and Elisabeth had persuades her to join the work. She had a way with words, that one, and it took a while before Mrs. Cutler caught on to what was happening.
Jacob had complained about her little outing and the senseless reason for it to Evie and Henry during breakfast. Evie had eyed him in silence as he spoke, then laughed mirthlessly and pointed out to him her trouble with getting him to stay in bed while recovering. Somehow, Jacob did not find it all that amusing.
Evie had caught him daydreaming again, and was eying him irritated. “Since you are clearly not going to contribute planning; will you go do something useful?”
Hoping for an excuse to get out of the train, Jacob jumped to his feet. “Anything, sweet sister,” he said.
“Anything? Go get us some tea then, brother dearest,” she said with a smug smile. His hopes dove right back down. What?
Then he noticed the amusement in her eye before her face broke into an earnest smile.
“I’m just kidding, Jacob. There is a Templar we need to get rid of.”
Jacob felt his senses starting to tingle, a shrewd smile spreading across his face. Finally some action.
“I want you to take out Edgar Collicott. He controls part of Westminster, but he is heavily guarded, Jacob. You need to be careful.”
“I mean it, Jacob.”
“Yes, yes. Stealth. I heard you.” Well. It was better than listening to Evie and Henry planning.
Back at the base, Jacob greeted the Rook by the gate, walking into the empty yard. There was a satisfied spring in his step as he walked over to the water post to wash the Templars blood off his hands. A successful mission, despite the lack of thrill, he reflected.
The target had indeed, been heavily guarded. The grounds around the building had Blighters on sentry duty, and using the eagle sense he had noted red figures littering the whole building. The target was located atop the roof.
The water was cold against his skin as he cupped his hands and filled them with water and watched the dried blood dissolve in swirls of red.
The building was one of the larger in the area, a romantic take on a medieval fortress with massive stone walls and turrets on each corner. Fortresses were built to keep a large amount of people out. It took a large amount of people to guard such a large place, and yet, keeping watch of every angle was hardly possible. There were always gaps to be found. Sometimes, being alone was an advantage.
Spreading his fingers, the water drained out. He rubbed the spots where blood had dried on his skin then shut the gaps between his fingers and watched the water rise again.
Despite the massive amount of people watching the place, no one had thought to post guards atop the turrets, only on the roof between them.
What a mistake.
Jacob smirked to himself as he rinsed the last memories of the kill off his hands.
All the guards were watching the ground beneath, none suspecting a from-above attack. Jacob had snuck into the grounds and killed a sentry to get close to the building. Then he had used the rope launcher to get to the top of the turret. From there it was just a question of waiting until the man was within striking range and the other guards had their backs turned, before dropping down, making an air assassination.
He filled his hands with clean water again and rinsed off his face and neck, before shaking the water off.
Even Evie should be content with this mission.
The dining hall was as usual full and buzzing with chatter when he entered. To his surprise, he found Elisabeth sitting at one of the tables. He knew Mrs Cutler would not have consented to it and felt irritation spread like an itch inside. With an angry glare locked onto the insolent girl, he walked in determined strides along the tables. Mrs. Cutler had seen him arrive and met him as he approached.
“Who said you could leave your room?” he said addressing Elisabeth. Mrs. Cutler stood beside him, arms crossed in front of her chest.
“I told her she should get back to bed, but she would not listen,” she said and gave the girl a stern look. Elisabeth had seen the two of them rounding on her. Knowing they would put in question if she was fit to stay, she was prepared to argue her cause.
“I feel fine! I will go back once I have finished eating.”
“No you will not. You either go back to bed or I will carry you there myself.”
Elisabeth glared at him and made no attempt of getting up. Jacob shortly had enough. This girl would not get away with questioning his authority in front of all his men. A few of the Rooks sitting nearby, chuckled amongst themselves, having followed the debate. They knew Elisabeth was crossing a line in testing him, and were amusedly anticipating his reaction.
Without another word, he rounded the table, and that had effect. Elisabeth hurriedly stood to her feet as he crossed the space between them.
“Fine. Fine! I’ll go myself,” she said.
However, she had wasted his tolerance. Jacob seized her arm and led her out of the room. Out in the hallway he let go her arm.
“Why is it you think yourself above following orders?” he asked. Her eyes burned as she met his gaze.
“If you think me one to bend over backwards, you are sorely mistaken. Where would that have left me in the orphanage?”
Her provocation sparked anger to burn inside his chest.
“Do not compare us to Blighters and Templars, Elisabeth! We are doing this for your own good.”
Her cheeks reddened in a pretty pink colour and her indignation fell away.
“I didn’t mean…It’s just not that easy to change the way I am. It’s become a part of my nature.” There was no apology in her tone of voice, just a flustered presentation of facts. She looked away.
Her abrupt change of countenance had him surprised, and Jacob started laughing. Her mouth drew up in a small smile and the colour on her cheeks seemed to deepen.
“Well,” he said, “I would have gladly carried you, had it come to that.” He met her short, cautious glance with a wide smile. She made no reply to his comment, just hid the gorgeous blush he had conjured on her skin.
They walked on until Jacob shot her a glance another quip on his tongue, and saw that colour was draining from her skin. Her jaw was set in determination and her hand gripped the handrail, the skin of her knuckles turning white with the effort.
Grasping her arm, he stopped her.
“Take your time, Elisabeth. There is no need to push yourself like this,” he said.
She clenched her eyes shut and let him steady her until the spell of dizziness wore off.
“I’m fine now,” she said. His eyes clung to her face, and a sardonic smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.
“Elisabeth,” he said. “You won’t convince me of that until you run away from me again. Then I’ll know you’re fine.” His smile broadened as she smiled bashfuly, colour returning to her cheeks.
Keeping a steadying grip on her arm, he led her the last steps up the stair and along the corridor to her room. She didn’t really need it, but she did not protest either and he enjoyed keeping her close.
In front of her door, she turned around and he let go her arm. A lock of hair graced her cheek as she looked down at her hands.
“I never got to thank you properly,” she said and met his gaze. “For getting me out of the orphanage, for making me stay, and making me part of this community. Thank you, Jacob, I am very grateful.” The earnest look in her eyes made his heart beat faster.
Then she stood on her toes, shut her eyes and kissed his cheek, her hand touching the side of his neck. Jacob fought the desire to put his arms around her and pull her close, to tilt her face up and kiss her mouth. Instead, he answered her a throaty “It was my pleasure,” and let her go as she entered her room.
Her grateful gesture was innocent, but her touch lingered as a tingling sensation on his skin long after she removed her hand. Even as went back downstairs, he could feel it, sending warm waves through him at the thought.
When he came back into the dining hall Mrs. Cutler took him aside and caught his eye.
“You be careful with that girl, Mr. Frye,” she said sternly, not letting go of his gaze.
Jacob looked back at her, blankly. He was not used to being addressed like this, and the surprise was evident on his face.
“You know what I mean,” Mrs. Cutler said, still holding his gaze.
She knew. He should not have been surprised. It was this quality about her, the ability to look through people and keep an eye out for trouble, which had earned her his respect in the first place. As Jacob felt his cheeks starting to burn, she nodded shortly and left.
Chapter 11: Siblings
The door to the office was thrown open and someone came barging in. Jacob had asked not to be disturbed and felt irritated that the Rooks disobeyed his request. He turned around and was about to give the man he expected to see, a piece of his mind. Then he realized it was Evie entering, the look on her face a mix of frustration anger and something else. Was she sad?
Surprised to see her there, his mind went over the missions he had recently carried out, trying to pick out if any of them had led to unforeseen consequences, bringing Evie to his door in this state of mind. He came up empty. The minor fights against Blighters was of no concern and the missions had gone as planned, nothing to give Evie cause for anger. He had made no new allies, and besides, after the Attaway incident, he had started checking all of them using the eagle sense, to root out enemies.
Still something had happened.
“I need to stay here for a while,” she said, pacing the floor.
“What is wrong with the train?” Watching his sister, concern grew in the pit of his stomach.
“Nothing is wrong with the train. I just cannot go back there right now,” she said absentmindedly as her hand trailed along the bookshelf.
“Evie…” his voice carried a menacing tone he usually used when she would not tell him everything. There was no way he was going to let her get away without an explanation. “What has happened?”
Evie’s countenance faltered. Her shoulders dropped as she drew out a chair and slumped down, leaned her elbows on the table and put her head in her hands. Far from the composed and collected Evie, he had grown accustomed to in London and so much more like the sister he knew from their training days back in Crawley, whenever some mission had not gone to her plans.
Jacob sat down across the table.
“What did you do, sister?” he said. She had him worried now; for a long while her missions had been as close to perfection as one could hope to get, however, something was clearly wrong.
“I went on a mission with Henry, to retrieve the plans of Buckingham palace,” she said talking to the table. “I just asked him to create a diversion.”
Frustration was written on her body.
“And then what happened?” It was clearly a story she was not happy to talk about, but she needed to tell someone, and apparently, he was the only one to turn to.
“One of the Blighters saw me as I jumped down off the roof.”
Jacob supressed an impulse to taunt her and averted his face to conceal the lopsided grin tugging at the corner of his mouth. Evie rarely made mistakes like these. She was too caught up in her frustration to notice his smile.
“It was nothing I could not handle, but Henry exposed himself to draw attention away from me. Then he went and got himself captured.”
“What?” Jacob sat bolt upright. “Evie! Where is he?”
“It is fine. I got him out.” Evie’s voice was rimmed with annoyance. “However, the Templars secured the plans.”
Was that the reason for her frustration? A failed mission? “We will get the plans back, Evie,” he said leaning back against his chair.
Evie sighed. Her story was not over it seemed, and Jacob was curious to what came next. Evie was having trouble finding the words she needed. When she finally found them, she lifted her gaze and looked him in the eyes for the first time since she entered the room. “I scolded him, Jacob. I told him he should go back to the train and that I would no longer need his assistance.”
“Oh, Evie! That’s harsh.” The situation almost made Jacob smile, his sister mistaking their friend for her brother, but the thought of what her words would do to their friends self-esteem washed the smile of his face.
“I was just so angry. Why did he expose himself? Why didn’t he just let me handle it?”
“You know why, Evie.” He fixed her in his gaze, and she turned away. “He will do whatever you ask of him. He fancies you Evie.”
She made an annoyed sigh and got up to pace the floor again. Jacob walked after her and continued:
“and you love him back, sis. It is why you are so angry; you were scared you were going to lose him.”
Jacob took her arm, turned her around and pulled her into an embrace. She let him do it, her eyes closed and a pained expression on her face. Evie had always been better at bottling up her feelings, keeping her emotions in cheque. Now she was all but falling apart, her eyes brimming with tears.
“I yelled at him, Jacob,” she said, her voice muffled against his chest. “He has done nothing but help me, and I yelled at him.”
Losing control of her emotions was not like Evie. He held her tight for a little while, until she seemed to have her emotion in cheque. Then he held her out and took a good look at her.
Evie had a drawn look about her and dark circles under her eyes. He had not noticed how tiered she seemed. A concerned wrinkle spread about his brow.
“What have you been doing apart from work, lately?”
Evie looked away.
“Have you been sleeping at all?”
She clenched her teeth, a defiant look in her eyes.
“There are things that need to be done, Jacob. If the Templars...”
“You still need to sleep, Evie. You need to take care of yourself!” She shrugged her shoulders and he let go of her arms.
“I should get going.” Evie said, rubbing her forehead. “I need to retrieve those plans.”
“Not tonight, you’re not! You’re not going anywhere.”
Jacob seized her arm and started unbuckling the gauntlet on her wrist. When she tried to wring her arm from his grip he turned around, pinning her arm under his own and undid the fastenings with practiced hands, ignoring her fervent protests.
Undone, Jacob raised the gauntlet in the air, held out the other arm to fend her off and smiled at her.
“You are coming down to the dining hall, to eat and drink and have a night off, sister. You will get the blade back in the morning, when you have had a good night’s sleep.” She could have fought him, but resigned and just smacked him on the head as he walked her out of the room.
Down in the dining hall they were greeted with cheers as Jacob brought Evie with him. It was a long time since Evie had visited them socially, and it was evident the Rooks appreciated to see her there.
In the company of the Rooks, Evie’s spirit lightened; the meal, and taking some time off was doing her good.
When the Rooks started to clear parts of the floor to make room for dancing, Jacob took his sisters hand and pulled her to her feet. She protested, but Jacob would have none of it.
“Come on, Evie. It has been too long since you had any fun.”
Reluctantly she followed, but with a smile on her face, and when the music started he could see she really enjoyed herself, following his lead and letting him twirl her around. At the end of the first tune, Jacob gave her hand to John.
“Keep her dancing,” he said, with a wide grin to his sister.
“Sure, Boss!” John answered happily, taking her hand and pulling her close.
“What? Jacob!” Evie was caught aback, but being the polite sister she was, Jacob knew she would not refuse. Moreover, when she had accepted to dance with one of the lads, she would not refuse any other Rook who asked. Meeting the wide smiles and gaze of the other lads Jacob knew Evie was in for a few rounds on the dancefloor.
Jacob sat back at the table, enjoying his ale and casting occasional glances at Evie as one after the other of the lads took the opportunity to dance with his sister.
When she finally sat back down at the table, Evie was flushed and warm.
“I thought you were going to let me take a night off,” she panted as he handed her a tankard of ale. She drank thirstily, shortly emptying the contents. Jacob sat watching his sister with raised eyebrows. Evie did not drink all that often, but when she did, she had a tendency to forget how much she could handle. Jacob took her tankard and his own and got up to fill them. On his way back, he found Elisabeth by one of the tables.
Elisabeth and Evie had not formally met, and Jacob chose to cut in on the conversation.
“Elisabeth, will you join me? There is someone here I want you to meet,” he said.
Elisabeth seemed a bit flustered as she agreed and stood up. She had been acting that way around him since she kissed his cheek in the hallway, and Jacob suspected the memory of that kiss was the reason. Smiling warmly at the thought, he put a hand on her shoulder, steering her in between the tables back to Evie. He introduced her to his sister, and pulled out a chair for her at the table, before sitting down beside his sister.
Evie was the natural centre of attention, her eyes lighting up while telling a story from their childhood, making everyone laugh. However, Jacob had a sense Elisabeth was not paying attention to her narrative. Her eyes followed Evie, but she looked somewhat distant and thoughtful.
It was not the first time his sister evoked curiosity in others. Seeing a woman brought up with fighting skills such as Evie, the confidence it gave her and the self-asserted way in which she carried herself, had often left new acquaintances silent and wondering. He thought he saw some of the same wonder in Elisabeth, and yet, there was something in her eyes and the way she smiled, that he could not quite catch. A mild amusement, to which he could see no reason. It puzzled him slightly for a while until he had to get something more to drink.
Halfway through the third tankard of ale, Jacob regretted having served it to Evie. She evidently had not eaten nor slept enough of lately, and the alcohol was getting to her head. Saving her from ridicule in front of the Rooks, he pulled her to her feet, put his arm around her shoulder and escorted her out of the dining hall. Out on the stairs she looked at him with glassy eyes.
“I really blew the mission today.”
“No you did not,” he smiled at her.
“I let my personal feelings get in the way.”
“Evie.” Jacob rolled his eyes and sighed.
“You see now, Jacob, why I cannot fall in love with him?”
“A little too late for that now, isn’t it?” Jacob said, more to himself than to her, but Evie did not seem to notice. She kept on talking as they entered the office, sounding like she was trying to convince herself as much as him.
“Tomorrow I will apologize, and then I will resolve myself to be his colleague. Nothing more and nothing less.”
Jacob took her to his room. She needed a good night’s sleep, and he would take a pillow and a spare cover and sleep in the office, while Evie got his room. Jacob sat her down on the bed, and then crouched down to pull her boots off. Looking up at her, he said, “You need to tell him how you feel, Evie.”
She was sitting with her eyes closed, drunk and half-asleep.
“But father said…,” she started.
“Screw what father said. He never meant for you to live your life alone, Evie. You and Greenie just need to figure out how to do field work together. That is all.”
He lifted her feet up, tipping her onto the bed and pulled the cover over her.
“If it is that easy, how come you haven’t told Elisabeth how you feel?” her gaze was suddenly clear as she watched him through half-lidded eyes.
“That is different,” he said.
“In what way?”
Jacob stood by the bed looking down at his sister. “In every way,” he said dismally, “I nearly got her killed, Evie.”
Evie watched him in silence for a moment, before closing her eyes.
“She blushes every time you look at her,” she said, the grin spreading across her face, taunting him, was one he had not seen since they left Crawley. He could not help but smile back.
“Go to sleep, Evie,” he said, finding he wished his sister would get drunk more often.
Chapter 12: A mirror image
The next morning the men had cleared out for the day, when Evie woke up. She sat up stretching in her brother’s bed and took in her surroundings. It was uncharacteristically tidy for Jacob. A few articles of clothing lay about the room, but other than that, it was neat. A few knifes were left on his dresser, discarded once, she thought seeing the nags in the edges. Did someone clean up after him she wondered, or did he feel compelled to keep it tidy as a part of his status as the gang leader? She put her boots back on and walked into the office. A note lay pinned beneath her gauntlet on the table. Jacob had left for the day, then. She folded out the piece of paper and read.
Mrs Cutler will make you breakfast when you get up.
Hope you slept well.
When I left, you looked like that dead sheep we found when we were six, so I guess you did.
Give my regards to Henry when you see him.
She smiled at her brothers words while putting on the gauntlet, then folded up the note and stowed it away in the inside pocket of her coat. Being close to her brother was so rare these days, and mostly involved trying to make him act sensible. Las night had been a reminder of what their relationship was like, before coming to London. At least that was a comfort. She still dreaded facing Henry, later in the day. She needed to make him an apology, but somehow it felt easier now her head was clearer.
She walked into the dining hall and found the matron just finishing tidying up after breakfast, cleaning the tables and changing the burned down candles from last night.
“Ah, Miss Frye. Did you sleep well?” she asked.
“Yes, thank you,” she smiled.
“You just take a seat, and I’ll have someone bring you breakfast in a minute.” The woman walked off to the kitchen stairs as Evie sat down to wait. She had never seen the dining hall empty, and studied the room while she waited. She had to give Jacob credit for finding this place. The base was a great asset to the Rooks and with Mrs Cutler running it; it seemed to function like a well-oiled machine. Maybe the Matron was the reason for her brothers unusual tidiness, Evie mused to herself.
The door downstairs to the kitchen opened and the footsteps ascending brought a slight rumble in her stomach as the wafts breakfast emerged. Elisabeth brought her the warm meal; ham and eggs and freshly baked bread, hot from the oven.
“Thank you, Elisabeth. This looks lovely,” Evie said.
The girl smiled and her hand trailed up to stroke her fringe aside before pulling back the lock of hair hanging down to her cheek. She wore her hair in a loose braid, falling softly over her shoulder. The hair was wavy, and framed her face beautifully, but the girl did not seem to know how pretty she was. No wonder Jacob was attracted.
“Will you join me?” Evie asked, “I mean, only if you have the time and want to. I would not want to keep you if you are busy.”
Elisabeth broke into a smile.
“They encourage me to the point of nagging to take breaks,” she said gesturing towards the kitchen, “so thank you; I’d love to keep you company.” She gathered her skirt with one hand and sat down by the table.
“How are you doing?” Evie asked. “After the injury, I mean.”
“It’s coming along. I hardly ever get spells of dizziness these days,” she shot a glance towards the kitchen. “Moreover, Mrs Cutler watches me like a hawk and makes sure I don’t over work myself.”
“I do not know if Jacob told you, but I was there when they brought you back. I really feared we would lose you that night. We all did.”
Elisabeth stirred on her seat and her hands clenched.
“Mm,” she said. The thought of that night clearly made her uneasy. Evie ate, feeling the awkward silence and wondered if Elisabeth was offended.
“I did not mean to…” she began, but was interrupted when Elisabeth met her gaze and said:
“What’s it like?”
“What’s it like to be an Assassin?” she said. Her face flushed red and she fidgeted with the braid. “I mean; what’s it like to know you can defend yourself, and do the things you do?”
“It is…” Evie had never really thought to put what that meant into words before. No one had ever asked her bluntly like Elisabeth. Most people were too polite to ask her directly. Instead, their minds usually trailed away in curious wonder while she was trying to make conversation. Evie found she liked this upfront approach better.
“It feels good,” she said. “I feel like I can make a difference in this world. I get to derive strategies and directions and decide missions thereafter. It is most fulfilling work.” She paused thinking for a moment.
“Men do not always trust in my abilities, but most times I am able to gain their respect by solving their problems, or if need be, by force.”
She smiled at the thought. There was less need for forced respect these days than in the beginning when they had first arrived in London. Henry was the only one except for Jacob, who did not at least inwardly question her potential back then. The thought of Henry furrowed her brow slightly.
“Sometimes it is terrifying; when something goes wrong and things seem to spiral out of control, but when I succeed…When I get to free children from a factory or steal clues form under the Templars noses; it is the best feeling in the world.”
Elisabeth watched her, enthralled. She sat silent and waited for Evie to continue, a light of admiration in her light blue eyes.
Evie took another bite and chewed. She was not sure what more to say. With a feeling of guilt, she realized she had come to take her independence for granted. She looked at the girl in front of her and with a pang; she recognized what could have been if she had not received training. If her father had never returned from India, or decided that she was just a girl and should be brought up as one. Buying time to find something to say she took another bite of breakfast, but instead, a long buried memory surfaced in her mind.
Her arms hurts as she raises her fists and her legs feels as if there are led weights tied to them. Jacob is in front of her, just as tired, just as weighed down by fatigue as she is. She shifts to the right, trying to keep moving as she is supposed to, but her feet are all but dragging through the sawdust covering the floor of the chilly basement. She is not cold or hungry; they are fed well. She is not even thirsty just worn out beyond coherent thinking. That is no excuse, and therefore the training continues.
Jacob launches himself at her. She sidesteps, as quickly as her tired body is able to react. It’s nearly enough. His fist connects with her side, instead of her centre and he stumbles. She growls and aims a knee at his gut, but misestimates his direction and misses him completely. When she’s not able to stop the momentum of the movement, she falls to her knees on the floor.
Having found his feet again Jacob is about to throw himself on top of her, but stops when her father’s voice resounds against the vaulted ceiling.
Her muscles screams at the effort of getting back up as Ethan crosses the floor.
“Jacob; you’re leaving your side completely open and Evie; what the hell was that?”
He gestures irritated and points out their flaws, while Jacob pouts and crosses his arms over his chest.
“If we could just take a break…” she knows he will not let them, but at this point, she is so tired she is willing to beg. Her father turns his back on them and walks back out of the ring.
“There will be no breaks until you fight properly. Stop milling about!”
Despair and fatigue mixes into anger, she pushes her bottom lip out and glares at him. He turns and meets her gaze, an unflinching and unyielding stare.
“Again!” he says and there is no defying him. It is either facing Jacob, or facing him, and between the two of them, she prefers her brother any day.
She grits her teeth and takes a stance, feeling the fatigue burn in her muscles. Jacob meets her gaze just as hazy with exhaustion as her own, and suddenly she cannot do it, cannot bear to go on. Tears wells in her eyes, clouding her sight and a sob leaves her chest. Her countenance falters and her hands falls to her side as the tears rolls freely down her cheeks.
“AGAIN!” he fathers voice booms out in anger taking a step in their direction, but Jacob has had enough.
“Leave her ALONE!” he shouts, stepping in between them. Her chest surges with love for her brother, for always being there to defend her, for taking her side, even if it is just their father and a training session.
“Jacob, step aside,” Ethan orders, his voice controlled in anger.
“No!” Jacob has his fists up and his eyes fixed on their father. “Give her a break,” he demands.
Ethan eyes his son in silence. A flash of what could have been pride flutter in his eyes for a brief moment, but the children both know that it is just a pause before the confrontation. When he moves, it is like a whirl of dark material. At thirteen years of age, their fathers speed rarely surprizes them anymore, but now they are both exhausted. Jacob does his best to avoid the blow aimed at his knee, but reacts too late and hits the floor with Ethan looming over him. Lying on his back in the sawdust, he struggles against his father as he is being pinned to the ground.
“You are not protecting her this way, Jacob,” Ethan says. “She has to learn to fight through it. She has to be strong and though, and right now you’re not helping.”
There is a tone of desperation in his voice. He lets go of Jacob and rises, turning his back on them, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“Jacob, leave us. You are done, for now.”
Jacob pulls himself to his feet and shoots a devastated glance her way. They both know, protesting is to no avail, and yet Jacob remains until she waves him off.
When Ethan turns to face her, she flinches involuntarily and for a split second, she sees a flash of pain flutter over his features. Fretfully she lifts her slightly shaking fists and takes a stance once more.
She had seen that look of pain on her father’s face several times over the years, usually when she had succumbed to fatigue or failed to meet his standards. It sometimes haunted her sleep; that he was disappointed in her.
She had no energy to brood over her failure that night as her father proceeded with her training; however, sitting in the dining hall with Elisabeth, that memory took on another meaning. Suddenly she realized it was fear driving her father that night. Fear of what would happen if he did not succeed to make his daughter an assassin, fear that she would be defenceless against the Templars.
Evie’s attention returned to her surroundings and she felt as if something constricted her insides, the girl opposite the table an image of her father’s darkest fear. Furthermore, she realized Elisabeth too gazed into a mirror reversed; what could have been if her father had not died. Another life completely from what she had had so far. They both knew it as their eyes met across the table. It left Evie heartbroken.
Elisabeth noted the sadness in Evie’s eyes and pulled her gaze away.
“I’m sorry Elisabeth. I know your father did not want this life for you,” Evie said quietly.
“Your pity will not change what my life has been,” Elisabeth said and moved uneasy in her seat.
“You are right. Forgive me, Elisabeth. I did not mean to pity you.” Evie felt wretched. How was it that she was always the one to put her foot in her mouth? Jacob was the brash one, but he always seemed to know what to say in situations like these.
“There is nothing to forgive.” Elisabeth turned back to face her, and her eyes were earnest when she spoke. It eased Evie’s worries as Elisabeth continued.
“I have come to terms with my past. In some aspects, I do not regret it. It made me strong, and while I was there, I was able to make life easier for the other children. They needed someone to look out for them, and in the end, I was the only one to do so. I taught a few of them to read and write. I made sure those who needed it got a little extra food. I got really good at pinching what I could in the kitchen. They were small victories, but wherever I could oppose the management and make things better for the other orphans I would. I think that’s what kept me sane.”
Evie looked slightly amazed at Elisabeth. The girl’s positive attitude towards her past made an impression with her, and she vowed never to underrate her childhood again. There was one thing that puzzled her thought.
“How old were you when you came there? I thought you were only three or four?”
Elisabeth nodded. “I don’t know exactly how old I was, but that’s about right.”
“Then who taught you to read and write?”
The question brought a lopsided smile and a mischievous glance in Elisabeth’s gaze. She let out a short laugh and said:
“My father taught me on the voyage to England. One of the assistant nurses discovered I could read, and took it upon herself to teach me further. Reading and writing was redeemed unnecessary for the likes of orphans, and we were not supposed to learn, however, I was so young, no one suspected what was going on. In the end, it was discovered after a couple of years, and the nurse was given the slip, but I had already learned, and more with me. On the nurse’s advice, I read anything I could get my hands on and wrote with a stick in the dirt in the yard. It vexed the rest of the management greatly, which made me all the more ardent to keep going over the years.”
The story made Evie laugh and brought a smile to Elisabeth’s face.
“If I had not been there, then I would not have come here either. I can’t imagine a life without the friends that I have made here,” she said.
There was an honest smile on her lips and in her eyes, before she looked away out the window to the yard. Her gaze became more pensive then, as she continued.
“I felt like a prisoner before the injury, forced to stay here, until I understood they really cared about me and not just my father’s book. I understand now, that safety is important and I am contented to stay.” She shot a glance at her hands, and then looked back out the window.
Evie found herself doubting her words. They were spoken truly, but that contentedness would surely wear off after a while, given the girls history. If she had opposed the Templar management all her childhood, the threat of Templars would not make her stay content inside the base forever.
“Mm,” she replied, making a mental note of talking to Jacob about it.
Elisabeth sighed slightly.
“I wish this place had a garden, though,” she said and gave Evie an embarrassed smile, twisted the loose lock of hair around her finger, her focus drifting away again.
Evie had finished breakfast and put down the cutlery.
“Thank you for the lovely meal,” she said, “and for keeping me company. Please give Mrs. Cutler my regards; I have to get going now.”
They both rose to their feet and Elisabeth followed her to the door. There Evie took her hand and squeezed it.
“I hope I can call on you sometime?”
“I would be delighted if you did,” Elisabeth said.
“Then I surely will.” She gave the girl an earnest smile, happy to make her acquaintance.
Evie pulled up the hood as she entered the yard, and then blinked to have the world fade into greys. After checking the surroundings and finding no sign of Blighters, she turned at the gate to wave good-bye to Elisabeth standing in the doorway, before walking off down the street.
Elisabeth remained watching with keen interest until Evie rounded the corner. Then she walked back inside, a satisfied smile slowly spreading on her face.
Chapter 13: Temper
Dirty water trickled over her fingers as she wrung the cloth up over the bucket. The water was long since gone brown with dirt from scrubbing the floors and stairs of the main entrance. After days of rain, the muck from the streets covered the floors bringing the foul smell of the streets inside. There was nothing to do, but to start cleaning.
Elisabeth moved the bucket another step down, picked up the brush and dipped it in the water to scrub down the next step when a couple of Rooks entered the hall downstairs. They were two of Jacob’s lads she knew, Liam and Harry. Two of those he favoured hanging with and kept close by his side.
The Rooks were about to leave for some mission or fight, Elisabeth did not know witch, as the men rarely let them in on the plans. Only the activity and the bustle of the men preparing told her this was something other than the daily patrolling.
The men entered the staircase and came stomping past her upstairs, engaged in a discussion over the preparations left to organize. As they passed her on the stair, their shoes left footprints heavy with dirt behind, and Elisabeth straightened in anger and frustration.
“Oi! You dimwits! Dry off your boots next time you enter!”
She threw an angry glare after them, but they did not take notice and none of them bothered to turn. Dismally Elisabeth looked at the trail of prints they left and put down the brush. She fished out the rag from the bucket, wrung it up and started to remove the fresh dirt from the steps she had already cleaned.
Outside someone was yelling.
Harry came walking hurriedly back, running the few steps down the stairs toward Elisabeth. He did not wait for her to move, just put a hand to the railing as he leapt over her and continued downstairs. She flinched at the feeling of his boots passing through the air above her head, but before she had the notion to call after him, he was gone.
From the outside came the sound of hooves clopping against the cobbles as a cart was backed up against the door. Harry shortly returned, sprinting upstairs again, shouting for his mate.
“Liam. LIAM! We need another crate of…
Another set of muddy prints lined the stairs.
“OI! I told you to WIPE YOUR BLOODY FEET!”
Liam came out on the landing, throwing her an irritated glare.
“Oh, put a stopper in it will you! We’re in a hurry, lass,” he said.
Elisabeth stared at him, her blood boiling with anger as he turned on his heel and walked back down the hall with Harry.
Her raw hands clenched the rag, making dirty water to drip down her apron.
They would soon be gone for the day, and then she could finish the job. Soon.
Irritated, she turned back to her work, wiping away the rest of their boot prints, before continuing scrubbing where she left off.
Seething with contained irritation, she ignored the lads as they returned, carrying whatever they needed for the day, downstairs to load the cart.
Elisabeth moved the bucket down another step, stroked the hair out of her face with an arm and started scrubbing again. locks of hair kept falling out when she was working.
Downstairs the two came back inside, evidently finished with their preparations. They leaned against the doorframe, making small talk as they waited for the rest of the Rooks to get ready.
She straightened her back and let out a sigh stroking back the hair again, then wrung up the rag and wiped up the filthy water. When she moved the bucket down another step, she caught a glimpse of the two Rooks standing idle, their eyes clinging to her body as she worked. Her face flashed red, in anger as much as from embarrassment. Scrubbing on, she felt their eyes burn at her back. Their talk receded to mumbling and sly sniggers at the bottom of the stairs. She threw them a glare shooting daggers as she fished up the rag to wipe down another step.
Atop the landing, another set of heavy footfalls approached.
“Greg,” Liam said. “Did you dry your boots off? If not, get ready to get your ears warmed. This one is in a foul mood today.”
The men downstairs chuckled as Elisabeth rose to her feet, clenching the rag in her hand and seething with anger. If they only knew, what it meant keeping the base in order. If only they knew, the hard work involved keeping it all clean and tidy. However, they had no clue at all. They were men. They would most likely never touch a scrubbing brush or kneel to wash a stair in their life.
Behind her, Greg came jogging down the stairs. “This little thing?” he said. “A wee lass like her is nothing I can’t handle.”
Passing her, he raised a hand and smacked her bottom. Elisabeth yelped in surprise and the lads downstairs broke out in hollers of laughter.
The blow stung her pride more than her skin but Elisabeth exploded. Grabbing hold of the bucket, she threw the contents down the stairs. The lads scattered to avoid the downpour, yelling in surprise.
A scornful smile spread on her face at getting back at them, but lowering the bucket, a lump formed in the pit of her stomach as Greg slowly turned around. He had caught the majority of the cascade, the back of his short leather coat dripping filthy water.
Harry and Liam, the main perpetrators, glared at her from downstairs, fists clenched in anger as Greg shrugged the water off. Then a low chuckle stole their attention to the door. Jacob stood leaned against the frame, his arms folded idly over his chest, having caught the end of the encounter and now he turned his gleaming eyes at her.
“It’s good to see you’re feeling up for a fight, Elisabeth, but could you not take on all the lads at once?” he said.
She looked back at him, feeling the heat rise in her face, and wishing he had not been there to see that.
Jacob’s lopsided smile lingered as he addressed the Rooks, gesturing to the door.
“Come on lads; we’re leaving.”
Elisabeth clutched the handle of the bucket as Liam and Harry tore their angry glares away and walked outside, but Greg remained standing on the bottom step.
His eyes, still clinging to her face wore a peculiar gleam and a slight smile pulled at the corner of his mouth as he eyed her up and down, before he followed the others out the door.
Elisabeth let go her breath and pressed the back of a hand against her cheek, trying to cool down the flushed skin. She did not regret dousing Greg, but that smile was disconcerting. She wondered what it meant.
She waited until she heard the horse’s hooves clopping against the ground as the wagon drove off, and then she walked down stairs to mop up the water pooling in the dents and worn-down patches of the hallway floor. At least she could finally finish scrubbing the floors in peace.
Chapter 14: Payback
The crowd of voices died down as Jacob closed the door to the dining hall behind him. Tonight the temperature sent him outside. He needed a breath of fresh air.
In the gloom, John and Tom were already sitting next to the door. John was just finished packing his pipe and now he struck a match to light it. His hand cradled the bowl as he lowered the flame near the tobacco. Drawing air in small puffs, it shortly kindled, lighting up with orange embers and John shook out the flame. His eyes narrowed slightly as he inhaled. As he slowly exhaled, the smoke spread out like a grey, sweet-smelling haze in the warm evening air.
Jacob leaned against the doorframe, looking out at the starlit sky above. The rain had been pouring down all week, but now had finally stopped and the stars were just appearing.
An hour before I have to go, he mused, then checked his watch in the light from the hallway to confirm it.
“Where are you off to tonight, then Boss?” Tom asked as Jacob pocketed the watch and took a seat facing the door.
Jacob wondered what to tell them. I’m being blackmailed by a little old lady, didn’t sound good. That would surely be the end of him leading the Rooks. I’m taking the prime minister’s wife on a tour of the slum was little better. It would bring up the question, “why?” which in turn would lead back to the first part.
“Devil’s Acre,” he said. The lads exchanged a disquiet glance.
“Do you want company?” John asked and drew another puff from his pipe, the orange glowing embers illuminating his face in the falling light.
“No thanks’ John. I appreciate the offer, but I must conclude this business on my own.”
John and Tom were among his best men, and there were no one he would rather have at his side, however, tonight, he wanted them as far away as possible.
John nodded, blowing the smoke out his nose.
“You’ve been busy this week, Boss,” Tom said. “We’ve hardly seen you.”
There was so much to do, Jacob had scarcely been back to sleep the last few days. Tonight he had gone back to the base only for a couple of hours to get something to eat and drink before heading back out again.
“Mm, I know. Hopefully things will look up soon.”
They sat in silence for a while.
A smile tugged at the corner of John’s mouth as the orange embers lightened up his face.
“Harry’s training is coming along well,” he said and Tom threw him a crooked smile.
“He floored Liam more often than not in training today.”
“Liam won’t hear the end of that for a while, I’ll see to it,” Tom said and John chuckled. Jacob grinned at the two Rooks. Their company could always light his mood.
“Then he’ll surely knuckle down, next session,” he said serving them a wide grin knowing Liam’s competitive spirit and the blow this served to his pride. His comment was met with amused hums of agreement, the other two inwardly seeing the same.
The lads fell silent.
Inside, the sounds of the dining hall rose and fell as the door to the dining hall opened. Jacob leaned sideways to see Elisabeth approaching, looking back over her shoulder at the door as she hurried towards the exit. She did not see where she was going.
A wry smile spread on his face. Paying no attention to where she was going was a bad idea. An invite for someone to pull a trick. Jacob hid against the doorframe and signalled the lads to stay silent.
As Elisabeth stepped through the door, Jacob threw her around and pushed her up against the wall. A startled scream trailed out in the darkness and she fought against his grip, her body rigid in resistance.
Jacob leaned close, his eyes shining with mischief.
“Boo,” he said and met her gaze.
Elisabeth stopped struggling as he let her go. Tom and John were heartedly amused at her reaction and chuckled in the darkness.
“Jacob?” Elisabeth’s voice caught shrilly in her throat as her mind caught on. Then anger erupted from within her.
“You IMBESILE!” she shouted. Her face contorted in anger as she threw out a fist, punching him square in the chest with all her strength. The two Rooks sitting by the door broke out in hollers of laughter. Jacob did not bother blocking her punch and felt the crooked blow connect before toppling over laughing.
Elisabeth walked off across the yard in the direction of the kitchen.
Rubbing the sore point where she hit him, Jacob walked after her, chuckling.
She stopped a few yards away, stroking a hand over her hair and blew her breath out through pursed lips. Her right hand she kept cradled to her chest, but as he closed up on her, she shook it out, only to flinch and bring it back up.
“I’m sorry Elisabeth, I didn’t mean to scare you that bad,” he said, trying hard to stop laughing. “How is that hand of yours?”
Elisabeth looked down at her hand, and in the darkness he could barely make out her teeth barred in a in a slight frown.
“You pack quite a punch, Love,” he said rubbing a hand over his chest. “I hope you didn’t break anything?”
As in all fighting, punching was all about technique, directing the force in a straight line through the arm and into the opponent. An angle in the wrist meant the force left out the side, delivering a weaker blow, and more seriously, at the risk of injury. Elisabeth had no training; her punch was thrown in anger and it was far from clean.
“It hurts,” she answered glumly, “I’m sorry that I hit you.”
“Come on, I need more light to look at this.”
He brought her upstairs into the office and lit the oil lamp over the table, adjusting the flame until the light flooded the room in a bright, yellow sheen.
Then he turned to beckon her closer and Elisabeth stepped into the light, gingerly holding out her hand.
Jacob unbuttoned the cuff and stroke back the sleeve to reveal a swollen and bruising wrist. Clicking his tongue, he tilted his head and turned her arm over.
He had seen his share of bruises and this was a classic beginner’s mistake.
“I need you to squeeze my hand,” he said.
Elisabeth did and drew her breath sharply through gritted teeth.
“Hm…” She had not held back in the punch, but usually it took quite the effort to break your own bones.
Holding onto her fingers, he gripped her lower arm with his other. His eyes followed her face as he gently pulled apart. There was no significant reaction and Jacob reversed the direction, gently pushing instead of pulling. Again, her features remained unaltered. The bones of the arm were not broken.
“Move your fingers for me,” he said. She did as ordered, and the painless movement confirmed his hopes, the only damage was to muscle and soft tissue.
“Luckily, I don’t think anything’s broken,” he said and met her gaze, “but this will remain sore for a few days until the swelling goes down.”
He retrieved a roll of bandage from the cupboard in the corner.
“You know, I should teach you some technique if you plan on picking fights and punching people,” he said as he came back. His crooked grin drew her lips up in half a smile that did not quite reach her eyes and she did not answer.
“Hold out your arm,” he said. He fastened the end of the strip of fabric and started wrapping it in a fishbone pattern down her arm. Elisabeth’s eyes followed his work for a while and then trailed across the room to settle on the cupboard in the corner.
“Is this where you store the spare key to my room?” she asked.
Jacob paused as he shot her a cautious glance.
“Why do you want to know?” he asked as he continued.
She shrugged her shoulders minutely and stayed silent for a moment.
“I was just wondering if you carried it on your person or if it stays here.”
Again, he stopped to look at her, alarms going off inside at her choice of topic.
“It stays here,” he said, his senses now highly aware of her reaction. “How else would the guards be able to check your room if you don’t answer?”
She nodded quietly, and when she made no sign to continue, Jacob resumed making the fishbone pattern down to her wrist. There he wrapped the bandage over the back of her hand, across the palm and back around her wrist again in several layers until it nearly reached her fingers.
“Could you give the key to someone, say Mrs Cutler for instance, for safekeeping?”
Jacob froze slightly at her question, however this time he kept on dressing her arm, stalling the answer while his mind worked.
What on earth was going on? These were too fishy questions for it to be a chance subject, and he would have to find out what her agenda was.
Getting to the end of the roll, he tore the tip of the bandage in two. He then wrapped the split ends either way around her hand and tied it on her wrist, before turning his focus to her face.
At that, Elisabeth turned away. Jacob raised a hand and turned her chin to meet her gaze. There was worry in her eyes, not mischief like he thought he might find.
“The key is safe where it is,” he said. In her eyes doubt lingered like fog, closing her thoughts off from him.
Why would she doubt his word?
Then something clicked in his mind.
“You were really frightened when I grabbed you earlier. Why?”
Her eyes hardened and a frown spread on her brow.
“Anyone would be from that little act,” she said.
“No, I don’t think you would. Not like that.”
Elisabeth sighed and turned away crossing her arms over her chest.
“I thought you…” she stopped mid-sentence and waved off the rest of her answer, giving him a forced smile. Jacob felt his heart sink. He did not like the reaction he had seen, nor the anxiety shining through her smile. Her questions about the key suggested she did not feel safe, and fear would certainly explain her somewhat excessive reaction earlier.
“I think I’ll just call it a night,” she said and started walking towards the door.
In two steps, he caught up with her, grabbing hold of her arm to stop her.
“Just wait a minute! You thought … what, Love?”
She looked away across the room searching her mind for an answer to give him. With a cautious glance at the door, she shortly met his gaze.
“It’s nothing, really.” Her low tone of voice was not fooling him. She was trying to smooth things over and ease his worry, but he would have none of that. She was supposed to feel safe inside the base and if she did not, then something was wrong.
“You thought I was someone else!”
It was not a question, and she did not answer, but he knew it was the truth.
“Elisabeth, I want to know who,” he said.
She sighed. The fire crackled lazily in the fireplace, bathing her face in the flickering sheen as she turned to face him. Her eyes were stern as she met his gaze.
“Don’t bother, Jacob. Some blokes just won’t take no for an answer, it’s nothing new.”
Jacob’s jaw clenched, and the look in his eyes hardened.
“Who?” he said.
Elisabeth turned away.
“No, Jacob. You’ll only make it worse,” she said shrugging his hand off her arm. “I don’t want to be labelled a snitch and you can’t be my chaperone. Just make sure to keep that key out of the way and I’ll be all right.”
Her reasons were sensible and he hated it. Hated the fact that within his flock there were those who would try to force themselves on a woman, and that she felt obliged to keep quiet about it. For a moment, he considered making her talk, but shortly thought better of it. There were other ways to find out. He would deal with the matter, without her aid.
He felt her gaze burn on his side, quietly awaiting a response, and clearly expecting him to press her for information, her eyes gleaming in protest as he met her gaze.
“I’ll make sure the key is safe. On that you have my word,” he said. Her countenance eased somewhat.
“Thank you,” she said and gave him a faint smile.
“Shall I escort you to your room, before I leave?” he asked. Normally she would have protested, Jacob mused, but tonight she did not decline his offer. She met his gaze with eyes slightly wide with surprise, understanding that he knew her unease. After deliberating internally, she nodded shortly.
Jacob walked after her down the hall and followed her inside her room. Like a child fearing monsters under the bed, Elisabeth finally relaxed finding the room empty, and then turned slightly embarrassed at having succumbed to unfounded fear. Jacob payed no heed to her reaction, just made sure she was safe before leaving. He stopped in the doorway on his way out and found her eyes across the room.
“Sleep safely, Elisabeth,” he said before closing the door.
He heard her lock the door as he walked back to the office. There he found the key to her room in the drawer.
All the guards knew its location, and he had not considered it a risk. He trusted the men with his life; however, would he trust them with her innocence? The thought had not occurred to him before and now he was not quite sure he could answer a definite “yes”. It was a matter to sort out and he had deliberately made Elisabeth no promise to leave the problem alone.
In the dining hall, he found Charles and Rob sitting in a corner and took a seat beside them.
“I’ve got a task for you,” he said addressing Charles.
Charles and Rob eyed him surprized, noting the austere tone of his voice. They both straightened in their seats. Charles shot a glance about the room before meeting his gaze.
“Is somethin' da matter?”
“Have you noticed if anyone’s shown an interest for Elisabeth, lately?”
Charles exchanged a glance with Rob, and with a short nod, his eyes flicked across the room to the table in the corner where the lads were sitting.
“Which one of them?” Jacob said, feeling anger raise inside. What the hell were they thinking?
“Take a guess,” Rob said before drinking deep from his tankard.
Jacob looked the men over and his eyes landed on a long lean fellow, sitting with his back to him.
“Then I’d stake my money on Greg,” he said, turning back to the two former Clinkers. Charles hummed a confirmation.
Jacob found the key in his pocket. Covertly, he handed it over and Charles’ brow rose as he met his gaze.
“This is the key to her room,” he said. “Can I trust you to keep it safe?”
“It’s come ter that, ‘as it?” Charles shot a dark look across the hall towards the table where the lads were occupied in a game of whist. Turning back to Jacob his eyes wore a softness Jacob had never seen before.
“She reminds me ov’ me own daughters,” Charles said and pocketed the key. “I won’t let anythin' 'appen to 'er, Boss.”
Jacob saw the earnest in that look and knew the key was safe with Charles. Patting the man on his shoulder, Jacob rose to his feet.
He crossed the hall, weaving in between the tables, answering comments and cheers as he made his way toward the corner. The lads were just finishing the game when he walked over.
“Greg. A private word outside if I may,” he said. It was no question, and Greg threw down his cards while Tom and John exchanged a glance. They knew Jacob was heading out and that he would go alone. They were bright enough to figure out what this was about, but Jacob did not care. He met their gaze shortly as Greg rose from his seat.
Greg followed him outside without a word. In the gloom, Jacob turned to face him, a burning anger in the pit of his stomach as he saw Greg in a new light.
Greg was a handsome lad, bright blue eyes and wavy blond hair. More than a few of the women at the base would have gladly welcomed his attention, as would most other it seemed, if half the rumours about him were true, however, Greg did not stop there it seemed.
I should have seen this earlier.
“How can I help you, Boss?” Greg’s voice was carefree and easy. Jacob remained silent for a moment. When he spoke, his voice was cold and hard from repressed anger.
“You thread a very fine line, Greg, are you aware of that?”
Greg fell quiet and his eyes locked with Jacob’s, but he remained silent.
“You know how I feel about those who prey on the weak. Make no mistake, just because you have my friendship, does not grant you allowances in that regard!”
Greg looked across the yard and his jaw tightened.
“This is about Elisabeth, I guess?” he said. “What has she been telling you?”
His eyes were dark and there was defensive anger in his countenance when he turned back his gaze.
“She would not be labelled a snitch, so she has told me nothing.” Jacob barred his teeth in anger and clenched his fists. He was not letting Greg make this Elisabeth’s fault. “However, finding out the cause for her unease, wasn’t very difficult.”
“I never touched her, Frye!”
“You would not be standing here if you did.”
Greg was positively fuming, averting his gaze in anger as Jacob continued.
“From now on, you will leave her alone. Tomorrow you will treat her with the respect she deserves, or you will answer to me. And that goes for any other woman that comes in your way as well.”
Greg kept his fists clenched at his side and his jaw tight. He was taking his time to acknowledge the order, and Jacob was shortly losing patience.
“Is that clear, Greg?” he growled.
He would end this, now, before he left. Greg would either bow to his will or face the consequences.
Greg grunted. “Whatever,” he said, shrugging his shoulders and tucking his hands into his pockets. “It’s not a big deal to me, Boss.”
His countenance levelled and he finally looked back in something other than anger. Jacob held onto his gaze a few moments more, searching assurance for his word. As Greg met his gaze firmly in indifference, Jacob nodded curtly.
“Fine,” he said. “You go back to the lads and I will see you all in the morning.”
Greg inclined his head in a curt nod. They stood for a moment, watching each other in silence as if seeing the other for the first time and assessing him, and then, as if on cue, they both turned and walked away without another word.
The empty blackness enveloped Jacob as he walked off into the night on his way to take on a whole other role.
How the hell did it come to this? he mused. Jacob Frye, gang leader, able to spike fear in his enemies and make men follow his will, but forced to bow to a frail, old lady.
The Rooks had better not find out.
Chapter 15: Resolve *
So... we have finally arrived at the smutty part. Utter filth. Hope you enjoy :)
It was a warm day for doing laundry, but the work needed doing and the women base were hard at it when Jacob entered the yard. The warm sunlight played of strong arms and warm necks as they toiled with the heavy, wet fabrics. Clotheslines were crisscrossing the yard; the sheets hung up to dry making it resemble a camp of tents. Down there, in between the buildings, the air was still and stagnant, the soft breeze blowing higher up was not able to penetrate the fabric of the city. Jacob stole under the flow of water, rinsing sweat and dirt off his face. The shock of the cold water cleared his head after the trek through the city. He walked into the shade and started removing the hidden blade, unbuckling the straps securing the gauntlet to his wrist, while watching the women work.
Laundry was time consuming work, scrubbing each garment thoroughly in warm water, before carrying all to the washhouse for boiling. The doors were wide open, the heat emitting making it resemble the gates to hell. The boiled washings were carried in large washtubs from the washhouse, back into the yard, to the water post where Elisabeth was rinsing out soap and lye.
The sleeves of her shirt were rolled up, revealing her slender arms, toned by labouring all her life. Although the cold water was running down her arms, the work had her sweating. A few strands of her dark hair had escaped the braid and were clinging to her temples. The collar of her shirt was buttoned down and the sun was giving her skin a healthy taint. Even while doing the hard labour in the sun she was smiling and laughing with the other women. He felt a surge of warmth towards her. It was bliss for his heart to see her like this, healthy and strong, after nearly losing her. Her eyes met his, he had been watching her for a while, and someone had made a commented on it. The smile he sent her, gave her cheeks a pretty, red taint and brought sniggers from the other women.
Turning his attention to his own chores, Jacob found some of the blades needed sharpening and got up to collect the whetstone in his room. Back in the yard, he filled water in a small basin by the water post. Returning to the shade to sit down with his work, he felt her eyes on his back. He turned, walking backwards to the shade watching her, amused at how it made her loose focus, flustered at his attention.
Jacob sat back down in the shade. One by one, he took out the blades, checking the edges for snags, honing each one until they were gleaming and razor sharp. He was absorbed in the work, focusing on getting each edge perfect, until he noticed a change in the light. Elisabeth was standing in front of him. She had something on her mind, but was having trouble finding the right words. He continued his work, waiting for her to speak.
Finally finding the courage she needed she turned to him and said, “I want your permission to go outside.” He stopped honing for a second and watched her. He had been anticipating this for a while. When she had first arrived at the base, her focus had been to flee because she did not trust anyone. He had eventually won her trust, before that dreadful day when they were ambushed at Limehouse. When she lay injured she had sometimes slept uneasy, startled by sudden sounds outside or high voices. For a while, the base had offered the security she needed and she had been contented with staying there. Now she had found security within herself once more, and wanted to expand her horizons. The community of the base was not enough anymore.
“The others are going to the park later. I want to join them.” She looked away, across the yard to where the women were still labouring.
“You know I cannot let you,” he said squinting up, looking at her profile. The Templars were still her enemy, and she would still be in danger outside the walls of the base. He had no time to babysit her, and the best choice was to make her stay. The muscles on her neck tensed and she stood silent and thinking. He knew she would not give up that easy and waited for her to continue.
“You can’t keep me here forever,” she said and met his eyes. The flame of defiance he had seen before was back in her eyes. Her father’s journal was recovered, and she saw no reason why he could not let her go.
“It is dangerous out there for you, Elisabeth. You know it. The others are Rooks, and just a mass of people to the Blighters and the Templars. You are the daughter of an Assassin. If you are seen, they will hunt you down.”
Her eyes turned dark as he spoke. It was not what she wanted to hear. “If you do not let me leave I will go without your permission,” she said quietly and held his gaze.
Her words sparked his awareness. He let go of the whetstone and got to his feet to face up to her. “What did you say?” he asked. There had been no shift in her eyes, and he watched her attentively, concern growing inside.
Her voice was low, but her words were clear and stern. “I will leave with or without your permission. I know how.” Again, there was no shift in her eyes. She was telling the truth. A slight smile was playing on her lips, displaying her confidence. His mind raced. There was a fault in their security meaning danger to them all. Some detail he had not seen, which she had come across, and recognized as a way out.
“If there is a hole in our security, you will tell me.” The menacing tone in his voice was not mistaken. His fist clenched hard around the hilt of the knife he had been honing. The security of the base was not something he took lightly, but if she believed herself capable of forcing him to let her leave, he would have her think again.
“Let me go and I will tell you,” she said.
Damn her and her strong will! Anger welled in him. He shot a glance at the women working in the yard; no one had noticed the growing argument between them and he would rather they did not. With a flick of his wrist, he got rid of the knife, leaving it quivering in the wall. He would make her talk, but out of sight of the others. He grabbed Elisabeth’s arm and pushed her through the door, up the stairs and into the office, closing the door behind him on entering. Turning her around to face him, he seized her shoulders and pinned her to the wall.
“I cannot believe you will risk the safety of the base for a walk in the park,” he said. In her eyes, he saw a glimpse of doubt, but it was only a flash. She had made up her mind before she confronted him, and was going to follow it through.
“I am not,” she said.
“You will tell me what you know!” He was all but shouting at her, angry at her selfishness and defiance.
She was fighting him to break free. He pushed her back against the wall and held her in place. To his experience, most people would display some level of fear at facing his anger, but she did not flinch. She trusted him enough to know he would not hurt her, he reflected. Moreover, her will was as strong as his was in this, intimidation was not going to make her speak. Changing strategy, Jacob controlled his anger and willed his voice calm.
“I am not letting you go until you do,” he said watching her intently.
Anger burned in her eyes as she once more fought to break free. She was no match for him, and still she did not yield.
“We can stay here all day, Elisabeth. I will not trade your safety for the safety of the base.” The lopsided grin he gave her, only further fuelled her anger.
Again, she threw her weight against him, wrestling against his grip, to no use. To his satisfaction, he saw her anger was slowly turning to frustration. She had thought he would yield, that he would let her go to ensure the safety of the base. She clearly had anticipated a fight, but not one where he would wait her out. His strength was nothing she could match and she knew she was going nowhere. Still pinned to the wall she stomped her foot in the floor and let out a cry of frustration.
Then she gave up. She stopped struggling and looked away. “Evie is the key out,” she said.
“What?” Jacob could not see what Evie had to do with it. His sister would never go behind his back and aid Elisabeth in escaping.
“Evie’s coat. I was going to take it, next time she came, and steal out while you were busy. No one checks her face under the hood when she enters or laves.” She paused. “I would return before you noticed, though.”
He loosened his grip on her shoulders and his anger with her blew away. There was no danger to the base, and she had not risked their security for her freedom. However, she was right. Both he and Evie would come and go with the hood up, and no one would ask questions. She was the same height as his sister, and he could see her pull off the trick. The thought of it made his stomach churn. There was no risk to the base, but it would have been a dangerous venture for Elisabeth. Evie was a master Assassin, expert at stealth, hiding in plain sight, blending into crowds and staying out of sight. The Templars and the Blighters knew who she was, but she was able to move unseen through the city, and she could fight off enemies when needed. If Elisabeth had walked down the streets, dressed as Evie, in plain sight… Jacob felt sick at the thought.
Elisabeth was fighting off bitter tears, her face averted to the floor to avoid his eyes. She had hoped for a way out, and he had crushed that hope, brutal and quick. Her movement had always been restricted, both growing up in the orphanage and coming to the base. Then she had spent long days confined to the sickbed. Working in the stagnant, hot air of the yard all day was just the last drop.
“It won’t be forever, Elisabeth. The clues in the journal will help us end this, soon,” he said softly.
She met his eyes again, and he saw her desperation.
“I just feel like I can’t breathe,” she said.
He felt for her. He could only imagine how he would cope if he was grounded like this. The least he could do was try to offer some relief to her desperation.
“Come on, I have something to show you,” he said.
Jacob guided her up the stairs, all the way to the attic. It was dark and baking hot, the dry dust slowly drifting off the rafters as they passed. She followed him through the darkness towards the stair under the open skylight. It was the access to the roof, frequented by the guards, but little used by the others.
The sun was still burning, but out on the roof blew a fresh breeze. Unobstructed by the buildings of the city, it was bliss after the suffocating heat down below.
Elisabeth let him lead her by the hand to the ridge, her long skirts unsuitable for climbing roofs. Standing at the top, she held on to his hand and closed her eyes for a while, enjoying the alleviation of the fresh air, before taking in the views. To the northeast, the towers of St. Paul’s rose against the summer sky over the jumble of roofs, to the west the gap in the carpet of buildings revealed the flow of the Themes. Up on the roof there were no enclosing walls, just open air and miles of views. Jacob remained standing beside her, her hand still in his, watched her as she found relief in the open air and fell to peace.
“I know it’s not what you want”, he said, “but I need to make sure they cannot get to you, Elisabeth. If they did, I would stop at nothing to get you out, and it would endanger everything Evie and I have worked for.”
She turned her eyes to watch her feet, and her cheeks went slightly red with embarrassment. “I did not mean to endanger your work,” she said, “I would not want you to throw it all away for me.” She did not understand.
“Elisabeth, I love you,” he said quietly. She blushed heartedly and fell silent. “I don’t expect you to return my feelings, but please don’t leave. If they get to you, I will lose my mind.”
He reached out and touched her cheek, the smooth, soft skin he had not touched since her fever broke, weeks ago. He had not meant to, but could not help himself. She closed her eyes for e few seconds, savouring his touch, and then she turned her head and kissed the palm of his hand. The kiss sent lightning bolts through his body and for a few seconds his mind went blank. She met his eyes. “I love you too,” she said quietly.
There was a scuffling sound behind Jacob of someone walking up the stairs, and Mrs. Cutler emerged in the skylight. “Elisabeth, I need your assistance,” she said sharply. Elisabeth let go of his gaze and carefully walked past him. Mrs. Cutler shot Jacob a stern glance, and waited for Elisabeth to pass, before following her downstairs. When they were gone, Jacob took a minute to pull himself together, and walked back down to finish sharpening his blades.
He lay in his bed, tossing and turning, not able to find sleep. The night was hot, but the heat was not the source of his trouble. During the evening, he had kept his mind in check by keeping himself busy, but in the dark, there were no distractions.
His thoughts was stuck on Elisabeth, unable to get her out of his head. In his mind’s eye, he saw her standing in the orphanage, angry and scared as she defended the children against him and his men. He saw her face smiling and laughing, while explaining how she had tricked them all and escaped, walking right past them in the street.
He remembered the feel of her body resting against him when he carried her upstairs and her soft skin under his hands as he tended to her wound. He saw her working in the yard, her shirt buttoned down, revealing the smooth skin of her neck and the dip of her collarbone. He felt the surge through his body once more, at the thought of the kiss she had landed on his palm.
There were other scenes as well, fantasies and shards of dreams he had had of her warm skin under his hands and her straining against him in something that was not fighting. It lingered underneath the rest, pushed to the back of his mind in an effort to gain control, however, now they all resurfaced.
O, how he had wanted to kiss her and feel the struggle melt from her body when he held her against the wall.
He got up and rubbed his face. The worn wooden floor felt smooth against his bare feet as he paced back and forth, hoping the activity would help him focus. He had to get his mind in check again, had to find peace so he could sleep. He sighed exasperatedly, pressing his palms against his eyes, then stroke a hand through his hair.
Get a grip on yourself! It’s not the first time you’ve craved for a woman.
A faint movement in the air alerted him as the door opened quietly behind him, and someone entered his room. Jacob turned, expecting to see one of the Rook guards, but the figure standing in the doorway was too short, too narrow of frame. This was no guard.
What was she doing there? He wondered for a split second if something was amiss, but then he noticed she was not dressed. She was wearing his nightshirt. It reached to her knees, revealing her slender calves and bare feet. The thin cotton fabric was gathered at the neck with a drawstring tied in a bow and brushed against her gentle curves when she moved. As realization hit him, Jacob felt a heavy fog spread in his mind.
“Love…? You shouldn’t…”
She broke him off.
“If you meant what you said, you won’t reject me. I don’t care what anyone will say, I want to be with you.”
Her voice was definite, but when she had spoken, there was a pause of hesitation. She waited for his rejection.
He knew he should stop her, knew she was lonely and that it made her vulnerable, but he could not find the words. Nor could he find the will to reject her.
He wanted her! Sweet mercy, how he wanted her!
His heart was racing, the heavy buzz of the pulse pounding in his ears deafening. He fought to lift the fog clouding his thoughts as she crossed the space between them. Then she put her hands against his bare chest and stood on her toes to kiss him and all his resolve to fight against it shattered. He answered her kiss and pulled her close, as he had wanted to for so long.
She was like dewy pint of ale after a long day in the heat. All he wanted was more of her, to taste her, smell her, and touch her skin.
Jacob dug his fingers into her hair and tilted her head, stroking his tongue against her mouth. Her lips gingerly gave way and his tongue flicked against hers, testing, sensing. She answered, pulling him tight and curving into him with a moan.
His hand trailed down her neck and played along the edge of the collar, then found the bow tying it together. There was too much fabric covering her up, too little skin still exposed. Tugging the end, the garment gave way, falling down her narrow shoulders to halt at the crook of her elbows.
She drew her breath sharply, and Jacob met her gaze realizing he had been right in his first assessment of her. Despite her sense of confidence, showing up in his room in the middle of the night, she had never been with a man.
Letting his hands settle on her naked shoulders Jacob held her gaze.
“You sure this is what you want, Love?” he asked. His mouth felt dry as he savoured the heat and the feel of her smooth skin against his fingers. The memory of that silky tactility had left him sleepless many a night, and he was sure there would be more if she changed her mind.
Her eyes were hazy as she stared back at him, trying hard to collect her thoughts. Her pupils were already blown wide and he could practically see the pulse racing on her neck. Then she let her arms fall down her side and the shirt, too wide for her narrow frame fell down to pool around her feet.
“I want you, Jacob,” she said.
There was no hesitation in her voice and his mind promptly fogged over again. He leaned in, crowding her space and drew in her sent. She smelled faintly fresh of lavender and something that could only be her own sent; the sent he had learned to know while she was injured, and that he had secretly enjoyed whenever she was close. She trembled as he kissed and sucked the skin there, on the crook of her neck and trailed nibbles along her jawline. Goosebumps followed in his wake on her skin as a faint moan issued from her throat.
Her hands were fumbling along her waist. As something brushed against his legs and fell to the floor, Jacob realized she had removed the last piece of garment covering her up, that she was standing naked before him.
Heat was pooling in the pit of his stomach, the craving for her, surging at the thought of the satisfaction awaiting him.
His hand trailed down, ghosting the flesh of her modest breasts before cupping the softness in a callused hand. He grinned down at her as her breathing hitched and her nipples perked and rose. The sight of her was marvellous, her chest soon rising and falling heavily, her lips pursed and slightly parted as she panted in pleasure.
Elisabeth sought his lips, crushing her mouth to his in a fervent kiss as if his touch had awoken a dormant hunger in her. His body responded with a jolt of interest, his already hard erection jerking against her abdomen. She arched her back, pressing back against him, and Jacob let his hands trail down the curve of her narrow back to the shapely roundness of her hind.
He could feel the firm muscle there, kneading the flesh before his hand trailed further to find the plush mound of curls between her legs. Eager to feel her there, at the centre of her need he pressed down, gently rubbing back and forth. Elisabeth dug her fingers into his shoulders and let him, her mouth hungry against his own. When his finger slipped between the dark curls to find her slick and wet, she broke the kiss and keened against his shoulder.
“Oh Bloody hell, Love, you’re wet,” he murmured, a lopsided grin slowly spreading on his face.
“How long have you been dreaming of this?” his voice purred in satisfaction against her ear, knowing she too was consumed by want.
She clung to him like a drowning to a piece of wood, her breathing coming out in short bursts as she clenched her eyes shut.
“Hmm?” he persisted, amused at the way he had her raptured.
Really, it was not fair. She had never been with a man. He knew the make of her better than she knew herself. Finding her trigger points one by one, he was deliberately flooding her system, and she was barely hanging on.
The silky feel of her wetness had him hard and ready, but her arousal was a sight to savour. The fight in her had made him want her, made him fantasise of how it would feel to have her surrender and see her give in. To have her naked, unravelling in pleasure under his fingers, utterly at his mercy was better than any of those dreams.
He leaned in and found her mouth again; kissing her deeply as he coaxed her body on until she whimpered quietly and her knees seemed to give way. Then he steered her backwards against the bed. He let go of her there and met her gaze as he reached for the buttons on his drawers. Her eyes were hazy, as if she had drunk too much. She barely registered where his hands went before she cupped his cheeks and pulled him into another kiss.
His drawers undone, Jacob grabbed her behind and wrapped her legs around his waist. Then he climbed into bed and lay her down under him. She broke the kiss then, and put a hand to his chest stalling him, suddenly shy and timid.
“Jacob… I… I’ve never….” she stuttered.
He smiled back at her, a warm and gentle smile to ease her worry.
“I know, Love. Don’t worry about it,” he said. The flicker of uncertainty lingered in her eyes as he leaned on his forearms either side of her head. He kissed her cheek and drew his breath along her skin, loving the way it made her tremble.
“Just relax and trust me,” he said. “Can you do that?”
His fingers found her wetness and the uncertainty seemed to melt from her gaze as her eyelids fluttered. His hand slid back and forth, back and forth until she writhed against his hand, eager and wanton.
“You see, Love, once we get past that first push, this is all good.”
He slipped a finger inside her and her eyes clenched shut.
She felt bloody wonderful. Warm and soft like velvet. The thought of being allowed to push into that heaven had him growl, a low rumble in his throat. Elisabeth whimpered, as if the sound of his voice triggered her.
He added another finger to the game, stretching her gently, pushing in to the knuckles. Her breath grew hot and ragged against his cheek. Then he curled his fingers and brushed against the point he knew would bring her pleasure. She keened, arching into his touch, focus lost to the feelings pooling at her centre.
“God, you feel so good!” he said and stroke the point again, watching the effect it had on her, then moved to kiss the pulse on her throat.
His cock throbbed, hard and ready after weeks of heated dreams about her. She was more than wet enough for him, but Jacob still coaxed her on until he was sure her heat would bridge the initial pain to come.
Her eyes flicked open as he withdrew his hand to shift her legs around his waist. She bit her lip in apprehension as he guided his erection to her opening. Jacob leaned on his forearms, embracing her under him and graced her cheek with his thumb.
“Trust me,” he said. She answered in a short nod.
Jacob pushed inside. His mind nearly whited out by the sensation of the tight fit. He might have lost it then, had it not been for the way she drew her breath, sharp and ragged as pain flooded her system. It took all of his willpower to keep perfectly still as he found her swollen clit and circled it gently, helping her get her past the initial sting.
“I’m sorry, Love,” he said, his voice throaty and forced.
She just shook her head in reply.
“I’m fine” she breathed.
She was gorgeously flushed, her tits perked and brushing against him. The urge to move was suddenly overwhelming.
Bloody hell, he had to focus.
Nibbling the skin of her jaw, Jacob lured her body on, mixing pleasure into the pain as he got her heat back up. Her breathing changed as her body slowly relaxed. Soon she cupped his cheeks and turned his head to find his mouth. The hunger in her was flaring and Jacob took it as a sign that she was ready. He slowly started moving.
She was deliciously wet, warm and smooth around him. Sliding back and forth was divine. His nerves were set on fire, but still he held back. He wanted her to enjoy every bit of this first time, and for that, he would have to take it slow.
The level of self-control was agony and pleasure, testing him, teasing him, bringing him close to madness. Restraint was heightening his senses and her muffled sighs and moans did little to help.
When she moved against him and urged him on, Jacob greeted it with a sense of relief. He thrusted with less reserve as she adjusted. Soon there was no reason to hold back. She closed her eyes, enjoying every push and shove he granted.
Jacob watched the beauty underneath him, her fists digging into the sheets above her head. Her moans were growing slightly desperate, and Jacob dug a hand under her back, raising her hips off the bed. Testily he pushed deeper still, prodding her until she took his full length.
He seemed to reach another sweet spot inside her then, her voice changing ragged and pleading in moans with every push. He explored her face, her plush lips, parted in a gasp and her brow raised as if troubled. If he knew anything about the make of a woman, she was brimming.
“Jacob...” She was lost in the sensation, his name the only coherent word she could form as he was hitting that sweet spot, deep inside her over and over again.
“Yes?” His lips drew in a wide knowing smile, feeling her grow tighter and wetter around him. He let go his last reserve and allowed himself to claim her then, to take her as he wanted, pushing in to the hilt in rapid strokes.
“Jaah…”she gasped as her inner muscles started fluttering.
“Told you, didn’t I?” he said, knowing what would come as he plunged her, driving her over the edge.
She threw her head back in a soft wail as ecstasy unravelled her, her muscles pulsating around him.
Bloody fucking hell!
It felt like she was milking him. So wet. So soft and tight. So fucking perfectly mewling under him, clenching around his length each time he drove into her. A surge of hot pleasure pooled at his centre, filling him, consuming him until his world consisted only of her sweet voice keening out her pleasure and that perfect friction of their union. He wanted it to last forever as the feeling built and grew into an overwhelming surge.
He pulled out just as ecstasy crashed down on him, blindingly and all-consuming, an eruption of pleasure exploding through every nerve of his body. He growled, a feral sound deep in his throat as he spilled on the blanket between her legs, and then all but collapsed against the crook of her neck.
Savouring the aftermath of release, he lay there, breathing against her skin until his heartrate came down and he could once more think. Then he took the weight off her, leaning on his forearms and found her gaze. Her eyes were dark, her pupils wide still wide with pleasure. To make her come her first time was more than he had hoped for, and Jacob was rather pleased with himself.
“How was it, Love?” he asked with a wide grin plastered across his face. She flushed deeply and a bashful, happy smile graced her lips. He chuckled at her twinkling eyes.
“Well,” he said, leisurely caressing her cheek, “I think that was bloody perfect.”
They lay talking for a while, kissing and caressing until her eyelids grew heavy. She fell asleep in the curl of his arm, her head resting on his shoulder, safe and contented. He lay awake a little longer, feeling her chest rise and fall in deep, regular breaths of sleep, his mind once more composed and at ease.
He loved her. She was not afraid of him, ready to fight him for her own opinion, his equal in strength, of will and heart, though not in the physical sense. He needed her, as much as she needed him.
Some might not approve of the way he had taken her, but Jacob did not care. He was not religious of nature and his way of life was too uncertain to delay living.
He was drifting off to sleep when a short knock on the door stirred him and someone entered.
“Boss!” the agitated voice trailing quietly through the darkness belonged to Tom. “There is no answer from Liz’s room.”
Tom was on guard duty tonight. They were still checking on Elisabeth every night, as Jacob had ordered. Tom had gotten no reply and now he was ready to aid Jacob in mounting a search for her.
Jacob grit his teeth, but saw no reason to conceal her whereabouts; the base would find out what had happened soon, anyway. Nonetheless, he was thankful for the darkness, concealing his face when he answered.
“I know, Tom,” he said quietly. “She is here.”
Tom fell silent in surprise.
“Oh… Well, you have a good night then, Boss,” he said and Jacob could hear the wide grin he wore, before the door closed behind him.
He held around the sleeping girl and kissed her hair. In the morning, the whole base would know, and the story would be the source of everyone’s amusement. As he fell asleep, curled up against her Jacob found it was a torment he could easily endure.
Chapter 16: Daylight
I wanted to portray another side of these two caracters and the New dynamic of their relationship. It will evolve and change during the course of the tale.
Thank you for taking the time Reading my story. It is the first thing I have written and published. I find that I love writing, and want to improve and learn more.
I would therefore love to hear from you if you have thoughts on my work.
for now I hope you enjoy.
He woke the next morning, a calm silence inside, as he studied the sleeping form of the girl beside him. She rested in his arms, her wavy hair a dark halo around her head against the pillow, her breath drawn calmly through slightly parted lips. She looked the image of innocence, he thought, and yet, she was not so innocent anymore.
The memory of the night resonated through him, sending a tingle down his spine at the thought. He had been on the verge of desperation, contemplating a run of the roofs in the black of night to clear his head. As his door had creaked open, he had nearly hoped for some emergency to take his mind of her. Instead, she had entered the room. Half-naked, she had stood there and asked him not to reject her as she offered herself to him. It was an offer neither his heart nor his body could resist.
He smiled and closed his eyes nuzzling his nose against her neck pulling her close. Elisabeth stirred and woke.
“Good morning, Love,” he said, his voice coarse from sleeping.
A glowing smile flickered over her face when her eyes opened, a faint rosy taint spreading on her cheeks as she wriggled around within his embrace to face him.
“How are you feeling? Any regrets?” he asked.
Answering his question, she shook her head decisively. “No,” she said, “I don’t regret anything.”
His hand stroke a lock of hair from her chin and moved to caress the skin of her neck, speckled in dark bruises where he had marked her last night. Marks on her skin of his making, marks of hunger and passion, of fulfilment. Marks letting anyone know she was his. He liked the thought.
“Good,” he said, feeling reassured. He knew what awaited downstairs; at least, regret was not a concern.
The morning was already well under way, the sounds outside dying down as the Rooks made their way inside the dining hall for breakfast. His day was packed, he knew that he would have to leave shortly after breakfast, but Jacob ignored it. He wanted to make the most of this first morning with her and the limited time they had before they would have to face everyone.
Hefting himself up on one elbow, he drew her under him and kissed her gently. She stretched like a contented cat, arching her back against him and curled her fingers in his hair. The kiss was slow and tender, rid of the fervent hunger possessing them both the night before.
Unfortunately it could not last. Elisabeth had noted the time too, and now she broke the kiss.
“I have to get up,” she said grudgingly, “I was supposed to be in the kitchen an hour ago. They will be wondering where I am.”
She nudged him aside and sat up, clutching the covers tightly to her chest, a bit more modest in the bright morning light, than under the cower of darkness. Jacob curled against her back and trailed kisses along her arm and shoulder.
“Mhm...,” he leisurely purred against her skin. “And what will you be wearing?” He watched in amusement as her gaze shifted to the floor where the nightshirt lay discarded in a bundle, and then turned to him, wide eyed.
“Oh,” she said. “I have nothing to wear.” Jacob gave her a wide grin.
“I don’t mind, Love,” he said ghosting the pale skin of her back with his hand. “You could just stay here, like this for today.”
At that, she scoffed, making him chuckle at her irritated expression.
“I’ll fetch your things,” he said as he got up. He pulled on his clothes, internally amused at her reaction as she realized her clothes were left in her room down the hall. Her decision last night was made on impulse he mused, casting a glance at her slender form. She was still a bit too thin, but the strength residing in her reminded him of a twig of willow; strong and pliant for its size.
She sat on the edge of his bed wrapped in the cover, combing through her hair with her fingers as he finished dressing, drawing on his boots, then exited and walked down the hall to Elisabeth’s room. He found her clothes lying neatly folded on her chair. The shirt he bought her as a replacement for the one he tore, her undergarments and the tattered grey skirt she always wore. The fabric was worn thin, patched in several places and the edges frayed with use. She needs something new, he thought as he walked back.
He waited in the office while she dressed, going over the supplies and noting down what he needed to restock later in the day. At the back of his mind, he wondered what had come of her father’s assets when he died. Whatever he brought with him from India was probably long gone; stolen and sold all those years ago, but he must have had a bank account. Surely, someone within the order would know. A matter to take up with Greenie, it was.
When she entered a few minutes later, she looked the way she usually did, her wavy hair pulled back in a loose braid and coiled on her neck, the clean white shirt tucked into her skirt at her narrow waist. However, the tightfitting collar could not conceal the marks he had made on her neck, no matter how modest it was. She felt his gaze linger there on her neck, and noticed the faint smile ghosting his lips.
“What?” she said and turned to face the mirror before he could say anything. As she saw the dark bruises, she knew what they were. Abashed, she turned to him and covered her mouth with both hands.
“Oh, God!” she said faintly. “Jacob, everyone will know.”
Jacob crossed the space between them and pulled her into his arms, chuckling at her nervousness.
“I’m afraid they already do, Love,” he said and kissed her hair. “You see; you weren’t in your room, last night when the guard knocked your door, and Tom came here to mount a search for you… I’m sure he let the rest of the lads know what he found in my room.”
Nothing travelled as fast as good gossip within the base, and seedy information like this was like wildfire.
“Oh, God!” she said again pressing her hands against her burning cheeks, but as she met his twinkling gaze, a smile sprouted on her lips and then she broke into a fit of giggles.
“Oh, Jacob! What are we going to do?”
“We are going to go downstairs for breakfast,” he said, putting his arm around her reassuringly as he led her out the door.
Outside the dining hall, he put his hand on the small of her back and was about to open the door when she stalled.
“Wait. Just give me a minute,” she said and put her hands to her cheeks, trying to cool down the red roses blooming there, then closed her eyes and breathed out through pursed lips.
“That won’t be much help,” he thought to himself while biting down a smile. He knew the Rooks; they were in for a few laughs and cheers before the day was over and another blush would soon return.
He opened the door and they entered, the buzz of the crowd greeting them with familiarity. People were in the middle of the meal, and most did not notice them, yet. However, the lads had been keeping an eye out for him, and now they all turned their heads in their direction.
“I’ll be leaving with the Rooks just after breakfast and be gone until late in the evening,” he said. Faint whistles trailed from the table where the lads were sitting, the sound tugging a smile across his lips. He knew they were adamant to irk and unsettle him. At the sound, Elisabeth’s eyes flicked past him to the table, prompting wolf-whistles and chuckles from the lads and Elisabeth turned bright red.
“Oh, the insolence...” he said his gaze fleeting to the floor, attention directed at the lads behind him. “Bloody wankers!” He shook his head and lifted his gaze back to her. “I don’t think they’ll be easily ignored, though. Go find your friends, Elisabeth and I’ll see you afterwards.”
She nodded, relieved, he could see, to escape the prospect of dining in the company of the lads. He lifted her hand to his mouth in a chaste kiss, raising more whistles from the table. Then he turned to go and face the waiting pack.
He took a seat at the middle of the table grabbing an empty plate and helping himself from the trays, fried bread, sausages and baked beans.
The lads were quietly waiting, eying him, exchanging glances and looking expectantly to Tom sitting across the table from him.
Jacob kept a level appearance as he poured himself a cup of tea. Then he lifted his gaze to face the circus. Tom’s eyes were twinkling amused and a grin pulled at the corner of his mouth.
“So, Boss,” he started tentatively, clearing his voice before continuing. “I checked Elisabeth’s room last night and there was no answer.” He paused theatrically, raising wide grins from the rest. Jacob started eating. He knew the drill, the lads would do what they could to dishevel him, and he would do what he could to stay impassive.
Tom glanced about the table and continued.
“I was ready to raise the whole base when I told you she was gone. Imagine my surprise when you had already found her.”
“Bloody efficient of you, Frye,” John said in mock praise.
“E ‘as a second sight that one,” Charles commented.
“Was she running away again?” Liam asked, “Was that why you chose to tether her to your bed?”
Oh, bloody hell.
The lads were all smirks and cheeky grins and Jacob felt a smile threateningly tug at the corner of his mouth. He lifted the cup, taking a large gulp of the lukewarm tea to conceal it while he gathered his composure. He would not let them throw him that easily, although their efforts were unyielding, some a bit too bold he mused. He would see Liam in the ring next training session he decided, setting the teacup down, once more composed and controlled.
The lads were all chuckling by now, and Jacob wondered how much he would have to give away to make them leave the topic of Elisabeth alone. While he ate, the laughter came down again, and Tom turned serious.
“I thought you said you’d never take a Rook for lover again,” he said accusingly. Jacob knew he was out to burn him, and that he was not concerned, really, however the parable was not lost on him.
Months ago, he had made a mistake. One even he acknowledged. During a night of heavy celebration after taking another Blighter stronghold, he had pursued a female Rook, a girl with golden hair who shot him hungry glances whenever he was around. Hot kisses and fervent groping in the back of the pub had led to the alley behind the bar where he had fucked her against the wall. After that, he had gone back for more, always while drinking, always in the heat of the moment, finding a vacant back room or a dark corner to satisfy a basic need. She did not mind the public places, and he found that alluring, her hunger and her liberal attitude.
Their time together had been brief. It was fun and exciting for a while, problem only was; she got the idea that being his girl should grant her a higher position within the Rooks. She pushed other under her heels, extorted and threatened to gain favours and coin. She had nearly cost him the gang. When he found out, there was uproar brewing among the Rooks and Jacob had been furious. He gave her 24 hours to get out of London. She had tried to persuade him otherwise with all her womanly charms, but the spell she held over him was already broken. She left, fuming, and he had never looked back. Tom had been there to witness it all, as Jacob swore in anger that day. He would never take another Rook to bed.
To this accusation at least, he had an answer.
He met Tom’s gaze.
“Elisabeth’s not a Rook,” he said firmly.
He tore into his food again and chewed.
Tom bowed his head, acknowledging his statement. She was not a Rook. She had not joined them for the cause, but was kept here for her own safety. However, that didn’t mean Tom was thrown off. The grin he wore widened as he lifted his gaze back up.
“That doesn’t explain how she ended up in your bed, though,” he said.
“Yeah, how come?”
The lads broke out in another round of chuckles and Jacob was glad Elisabeth was sitting at the other end of the hall.
The laughter died down and Greg met his gaze.
“We thought she was forbidden fruit, Boss. But evidently that didn’t apply to you.”
This was another issue, entirely. Greg’s tone was as light as the others, but the light in his eyes bore another quality. A sharpness that had nothing to do with the other quips. He had anticipated that. Jacob cleared his voice and looked Greg straight in the eyes.
“I would have sanctioned it if she chose you,” he said.
Greg’s smile faltered. Smiles washed off the lads’ faces in surprise.
“Wait… what?” Liam said, glancing at Jacob, then to Elisabeth across the room. “She chose you? What do you…?” His eyes flicked back to Jacob. “She came to you? Like in the middle of the night, came to your room?”
“She chose me, lads. Let’s just leave it at that,” Jacob said and put down his knife and fork.
“Wait… wait… was she naked?” Liam.
Jacob turned his gaze and bored his eyes into the lad, silencing him in a second, while the others hollered in laughter.
Liam was going to feel the repercussions for that last comment next trainingsession.
Elisabeth walked through the dining hall carrying a pile of dishes back down to the kitchen. She could not wait to get downstairs and escape the stares and cheeky grins of the Rooks.
The good-natured torment of her friends she could handle. The women had giggled and thrown comments as soon as she sat down at the table. Liz! You’re awfully late this morning. Didn’t you sleep well? Was something keeping you awake.
That was part of the normal tone amongst the girls, and she had given just as good before, as what she was receiving, now.
With the men, it was worse. Wherever she went, heads turned in her direction and she felt their gazes at her back. They meant no harm, she knew that, but her face was burning with embarrassment all the same. They were so many, and she knew barely half of them, but now they all seemed to know her.
The kitchen was as usual buzzing with activity. She put the pile of dishes down on the counter and cooled her cheeks with the back of her hand, throwing a glance about the room. There were more dishes to be collected upstairs, but for once she allowed herself to stall a couple of minutes before she went back, hoping that the men would exit, getting to the chores of the day while she waited.
As she stood there, leaning against the kitchen counter the Matron came from the cellars. She had already caught sight of Elisabeth and came walking over. Elisabeth dreaded the conversation to follow. The Matron had watched over her like a hawk, taken on the role of chaperone ever since her injury. Liz both liked it and hated it. Liked it for the genuine concern Mrs. Cutler showed, hated the feeling of being watched; being under control.
Mrs. Cutler would have wanted her to wait, make Jacob court her and then make sure there was a ring on her finger before she gave herself away. Elisabeth just could not wait that long.
She felt the Matron’s eyes boring into her, and before the woman could say anything, the words lingering on her tongue slipped out:
“I’m not sorry.”
Her voice came out a bit sterner than she intended. The Matron sighed and took her hand.
“Liz,” she said, “I’m not going to judge you.” Her eyes were earnest and filled with concern. It took Elisabeth aback. She had expected some sort of lecture, but the Matron just gave her hand a good squeeze. “I just hope you know what you’re doing, lass,” she said before the she turned her attention to the bustle of the kitchen.
Elisabeth walked back upstairs to the dining hall. The room was all but empty as she took a turn about the tables, collecting the last items of dishes discarded. By the door to the hallway, one of the girls, Mary, stood in the doorway talking to her fiancé. Mary was a few years older than Elisabeth, and her fiancé was one of the Rooks who had been there that day in the orphanage. Tom, his name was she recalled and realized with a jolt; he was the one who had checked her room. They were talking intimately and Elisabeth had made a point of ignoring them, letting them have a few stolen moments of privacy. However, now her eyes flicked over to the pair just to see Tom studying her with a glint in his eye, then trying to conceal the mischievous grin he gave Mary.
Elisabeth felt her cheeks heat up as she hurriedly gathered the last items and made it for the safety of the kitchen. God! She could not wait for this day to be over. Behind her, she heard Mary giggle before her footsteps followed in Elisabeth’s wake.
Finally, downstairs she felt relieved. She had a ton of dishes to do, and before she were done, the men would most likely have left for the day. Then she could sneak back to her room, and maybe avoid facing another Rook the rest of the day. If she took her dinner in the kitchen, she would not have to see anyone until the next day, and by then this would hopefully, have blown over.
Elisabeth didn’t take heed to the covert whispers around the room, nor the concealed smiles, until she went to fill the basin with warm water.
The large kettle on the stove was empty. For a moment, she was puzzled as she went to find the water bucket to refill the kettle. Only when she found the buckets empty did it dawn on her. They set her up.
There was always water on the heat, always fresh water kept in the kitchen. Whoever emptied a container of water were responsible for filling them back up. Someone, or more correctly all the women, by the giggles around the room, had deliberately left both empty, knowing Elisabeth would need water for the dishes.
Her shoulders dropped at the thought of going out in the yard to fetch the water.
“Go on, Liz,” the Matron said. “Better get it over with.”
All the Rooks were in activity outside, making preparations for the day, packing the wagons with crates of explosives to be transported to other bases throughout the city.
She gripped the buckets and walked to the stairs, steeling her mind as she kept her head bowed low, hoping no one would notice her as she crossed the yard to fill the buckets.
It was a futile hope. She got halfway there, before the faint whistling began, and she felt their eyes turn in her direction. Activity seemed to grind to a halt around her as the Rooks settled down, leaning against the walls and sitting down all around the yard.
She drew water, feeling her cheeks burn and wondering what on earth was going on. She threw a quick glance towards the kitchen stairs and saw the women gathering there, wide smiles and giggles all around.
Something was brewing. Her hand stilled on the arm of the pump as she realized she was alone in the middle of the yard. Then all of a sudden, the few faint whistles grew into a chorus. She looked around the yard until her eyes landed on Jacob standing in the doorway, cane and top hat in hand, wearing his leather coat and the austere Assassin mask that still made her uneasy. He took one glance at the scene before him and the gleam in his eye changed before his gaze settled on her. Her heart dropped to the pit of her stomach, rapturing into butterflies under the weight of the look. Jacob twirled the top hat once over and placed it firmly on his head, then crossed the yard in determined strides.
Elisabeth dried her hands on her skirt and straightened as he came over. Her face was burning, red hot like the mid-day sun as he collected her hands and drew her close to his chest. The whistling picked up.
“Ignore them, Love,” Jacob murmured, his voice so low, only she could hear him as he tipped her chin up.
She met his gaze, the warm gleam of amusement filling his hazel eyes did little to clam the fluttering feeling inside her. The yard around them erupted into shouts and cheers.
He threw a glance around the yard.
“So this is what you want?” he yelled, his voice booming over the crowd of voices.
The crowd started chanting in reply. Kiss! Kiss! Kiss! Kiss! His smile widened. Unlike her, he seemed to enjoy this, feeding off the energy of the boisterous crowd and being at the centre of attention.
Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!
He leaned close
“Nail her, Boss!” someone yelled just as his face was inches from hers, and everyone started laughing. Jacob’s features twitched in a scowl.
“Bloody bastard!” he hissed against her mouth, and then pressed his lips to her.
His kiss was demanding, seductively sweet and slow and overpowering as his tongue stroke against her mouth. She parted her lips in a faint moan as his fingers tangled in her hair, cradling the base of her neck. For a few moments, the crowd seemed to disappear, her world revolving only around this man and how he made her feel; her stomach a tight coil of anticipation and her knees weak. She felt punch drunk as he let her lips go, still cradling her neck. She faintly heard the crowd jeering and applauding, but all she could feel was the racing of her heart, his forehead touching hers and his breath on her skin as she tried to collect herself. She opened her eyes to meet his warm gaze shining playfully back at her.
A slightly devilish smile lifted the corner of his mouth as his thumb stroke against her cheek.
“I love this colour on you,” he said, and she knew he was thinking of their night together.
The cheering was finally dying down around them and Jacob surveyed the yard. The activity was picking up, people returning to the busy day, finally leaving them alone.
“Move your things to my room, Love,” he said. “We can’t have this bloody circus every day.” With a peck on her forehead, he threw her another beaming smile, then walked away with all the confidence in the world in his stride.
Chapter 17: Training the Rooks
The sun was low in the sky, the heat of the day finally receding and reaching a temperature where training was bearable. Yet, sweat was gleaming of the bare skin of the men training in the yard. Jacob was leaning against the edge of a table studying them where they went against each other in pairs, practising fist fighting. The Rooks had come a long way. He could see the technique was setting in, they were blocking and countering efficiently, not just circling each other and throwing stray punches as they had in the beginning. Jacob watched with satisfaction as John broke off a pair of newcomers, pointing out the errors they had made, improving the stance of one and showing the other how to follow through in the punch. Training was much easier when not all was relying on him to make corrections.
Tom was fighting a new recruit, a long, lean fellow about the same age as Jacob. He was making himself noticed, quick in reflexes and light on the foot, making him hard to tackle. The lad knew it, took pride in being the better fighter. However, Jacob had noted how he selected his opponents, casually trying to pick men he knew he could defeat. No wonder he had a reputation from the fighting pits. He was a proud lad, and a bad looser. Facing Tom, he found himself the underdog his eyes flashing dangerously, in jealousy, more than in anger. Jacob did not like it. The lad could be a great asset, a great fighter, but Jacob was unsure if he was reliable. He did not seem to respect anyone but himself. Jacob found himself watching the Rooks glowing green in front of him and realized he was checking the lad in eagle vision, making sure his intentions were clean. Jacob averted his eyes to the ground. Was he that unsure about the lad?
Sam was his name. He had come along one evening, walking up to the gate alone, wearing his red Blighter coat, and asked to talk to the boss of the Rooks. When Jacob had come outside, he had stood in the middle of the yard, surrounded by a hostile bunch of Rooks, waiting calmly and ignoring the crowd gathered around. Then he had pledged his allegiance to the Rooks and thrown off his red coat. It was not an unusual occurrence, Blighters changing their coats, but most did it after losing a gang war or having their stronghold conquered. There was something shifty about a man turning his coat that way, choosing to leave the Blighters for no particular reason but his own interest.
His trail of thoughts were interrupted as Ed and Greg, beckoned him to join in the training, Jacob had already gone a round, besting Liam for his impertinent remarks a few days prior, nevertheless he didn’t mind another round at all. The lads were starting to become acquainted with his style of fighting, and as they learned, fighting them became more challenging, giving him the training he needed as well.
In the beginning after coming to London, Jacob had visited the fighting pits for training. Evie was still able to provide him with real resistance in the ring, but he could not rely on her to make time to keep his skills honed. Therefore, he had sought out other options, and had revelled in the fighting clubs. It had given him a nice income as well in the early days, before the Rooks operations started to generate a steady flow of cash.
Jacob shed his vest and shirt and walked into the ring to meet his opponents. The men’s eyes gleamed in anticipation, both adamant to take Jacob down. In training, the rounds were won when the opponent was down, both shoulders touching the ground. It was a competition amongst the men, getting Jacob down on his back in the ring, the reward being respect from the gang and a reputation as one of his best men. The two Rook’s devilish smiles mirrored Jacob’s own as they circled him, eager to take him down. Jacob stood still, his senses on high alert, waiting for them to make the first move. The training around them ground to a halt, this fight drawing the attention and interest of the others. The crowd gathering around intently studying the three in action and wagering bets on who would win this time.
The two men struck simultaneously, Ed aiming a low kick at Jacob’s legs to unsettle him, Greg throwing a punch at his face. Jacob avoided the kick and deflected Greg’s fist. Following through the motion, he grabbed the outstretched arm, ramming down on his shoulder bringing him to his knees. Shifting his attention back to Ed, Jacob received a punch to the side, before blocking a series of blows, and striking him in the gut, winding him.
In a training session, they held back on the force of the blows to avoid inflicting serious damage. Still, the fighting left marks. The blows were painful enough to make one want to avoid them and spiking the senses into alertness. However, it meant his opponents were not stunned as long as in a real fight, leaving him shorter time to react.
Jacob turned his attention around yet again, and ducked a fist swinging at his head. Greg received a punch to his side and let out a groan of pain, but stood his ground.
Ed would soon be back in the fight. To keep them at bay, Jacob knew he should face them one at the time, keeping one incapacitated, while fighting the other, or get both of them in front of him. The Lads had learned that lesson as well, and were trying to get to him from separate angles at the same time. Jacob would have to take one of them out soon, or risk losing.
Jacob feigned a punch at Greg’s head, making him lift his arms in a block. Then he kicked the back of his knee and shoved him to the ground. The Rooks betting on Jacob cheered loudly. One down, one to go. Greg left the ring to watch the remainder of the match and received a clap on the shoulder by John and Liam, while Jacob turned to face the remaining opponent.
Ed was slightly more apprehensive, facing Jacob alone, but still determined not to lose. Jacob swung a punch at his head. The blow was efficiently blocked with a forearm, without exposing the rest of the body. Jacob nodded approvingly, and aimed a series of low and high punches. Some of them, Ed was able to block, but a few hit the target. Jacob smiled satisfied. The results of a year of training and fighting was becoming evident in his men. A year ago, none of the Rooks had been able to hold their ground against him, not even a bit. It was fulfilling to see the work he put down giving results. Nevertheless, he was not going to let Ed win.
Jacob dove low, grabbing the man’s ankle, yanking his feet from under him, sending him to the ground. A wide grin spread across his face as Ed acknowledged defeat, hitting the dirt with his balled fists, before smiling back at him, shaking his head. No new glory today.
Jacob rose to his feet drying sweat from his face with the back of his hand, when another man entered the ring.
“Give me a go, Mr. Frye!”
He turned and saw Sam in the ring taking a stance, his fists up and ready for a fight. Jacob let his arms fall down his sides, watching him as he walked closer. The men usually allowed for a pause between rounds, out of curtesy. Not that it mattered to Jacob, but it struck a nerve in him that this fellow didn’t abide to it. Jacob suspected it was intentional. Sam thought it would give him an advantage and increase his chances to defeat Jacob. Jacob decided to prove him wrong and put him in his place.
Raising his fists, loosely tucking the fingers in, he rolled his shpulders and took a stance.
“Go on then, give us your best shot,” he said smiling at the lad.
Sam threw a punch that Jacob ducked to avoid. The two circled silently, Jacob awaiting his attack and taking measure of the lad. Sam threw another punch, this time at his centre. Jacob turned sideways, easily avoiding the blow, still sizing him up. He had potential, this one. Sam’s eyes lit up in anger and threw a series of punches. Jacob deflected and blocked them, one after the other. Still he had not made a move against him. It was infuriating Sam. Jacob smiled a lopsided smile. He was fast, and he threw a good punch, but the lad didn’t mind his balance. When Sam swung at him again, Jacob ducked the blow, grabbed his leg and yanked him off his feet, pummelling him into the ground. One hand pressing down on Sam’s chest Jacob met his eyes.
“You’re not ready,” he said before getting up to walk out of the ring.
He had not taken two steps away before he was tackled, Sam throwing his full weight onto his back. Jacob’s training kicked in as he threw an elbow back, hitting Sam in the ribs. This time there was no holding back, and Sam was thrown off, winded by the blow. Jacob got to his feet, grinding his teeth, anger raising inside. The Rooks around the ring muttered in contempt of foul play.
“Who are you to say I’m not ready?!” Sam said jeering as he got back up. “I took you down.”
“You just earned yourself the pleasure of another round, Sam,” he answered darkly, containing the with clenched fists.
Sam let out a short, snide laugh and resumed fighting position.
The first attack was instant. Jacob kicked Sam’s feet from underneath him and plunged him into the ground, before he had time to react. Jacob stood back up, his senses alert when turning his back on the lad.
“Get up!” he growled, and heard Sam stir behind him.
Sam got to his feet, red faced and furious he plunged forward, aiming to floor Jacob. Jacob sidestepped, grabbing his arm, yanking him out of balance, and shoved him down.
Spitting dirt Sam got back on his feet, once more taking a stance, mirroring Jacob. Anger fuelled him and made him oblivious to anything other than his hurt pride. Jacob was adamant to see him yield, not only say the words, but truly yield in mind as well. The lad’s loyalty was questionable and with this display, Jacob wanted a definite conclusion.
Sam was taking a slightly more defensive role, circling and awaiting Jacob’s next move. Jacob threw a feign punch, exposing himself to draw him in. Sam recognized the chance and fell for the trick. Jacob spun away, kicked the back of his knee and struck him over the neck. Again, Sam was on the ground spitting dirt. Jacob walked in a circle around him as Sam got up, a little less agile this time. He was clearly feeling the beating by now, but the anger burned just as fresh.
Jacob continued to bring him down, changing his tactics slightly each time. As fatigue started to set in, the fire in Sam’s eyes slowly subsided and getting back up was taking him a little longer each time. Jacob was starting to feel the strain as well, however showing it was not an option. Unwavering he circled Sam and made sure to bring him down resolutely.
Sam was on his back in the dirt closing his eyes and taking an opportunity to rest.
“Get up!” Jacob was not going to let him take time to rest.
“I yield Mr. Frye.”
Jacob walked closer, and met his gaze.
“We are not done,” he said, “get up!”
The reaction in Sam’s eyes was as expected, at first surprise and hesitation, and then resolve set inside. He found new strength, swinging at Jacob with renewed ferocity; however, the anger was not there anymore. Jacob blocked and countered the punches, drawing out the fight, letting the man spend the energy, before flooring him once more.
Sam got back up without a word. Jacob repeated the drill, his face set in a mask of determination, showing no signs of the strain he was starting to feel. Sam however, was tiring, his movements slower and less accurate by each punch, losing his footing and getting easier to throw off balance. It was time to make a final statement.
Sam barely got to his feet before Jacob kicked his feet from under him, sending him flat on his back in a second. Sam closed his eyes and got back up, the effort now evident on his movements.
He took a stance once more, but Jacob could see he was hardly putting up a fight. The weakness was becoming prominent, Jacob had made his point, and it was time to finish. Jacob leapt forward, grabbing hold of Sam’s elbow, forcing the arm up and backwards. With his footing unsettled and no strength left to withstand the force, pushing his arm back further was all it took to bring him down. Jacob pinned him to the ground with one arm as he locked gaze with Sam. Comprehension had set in. Sam knew he had gone too far, knew he was beat and that he would keep losing until Jacob was done with him. He was just waiting for it to end. Jacob was satisfied.
“Now we’re done,” he said and released the grip. Sam closed his eyes and remained lying.
Jacob stood up and walked to the edge of the ring. The Rooks surrounding the ring were excitedly discussing the fight, all except the seasoned men, standing at the edge of the ring, where they had gravely watched the fight in silence. The gang was dependent on a firm leader, one that would enforce leadership and meet any question to it firmly. One by one, the former Clinkers, Ed, Rob and Charles met his gaze and gave him a slight nod in acknowledgment of what he had done. Sam’s challenge was met in a way that would discourage anyone else to try the same, without killing or injuring the man.
Jacob put on his shirt and threw the west over his shoulder. Sam was still on the ground, collecting himself from the fight. Jacob decided to take the edge off his defeat and walked back to his side.
“Come on, Sam. We need a drink after this,” he said. Sam met his eyes again, a smile slowly spreading across his face.
“Yes, Frye, we most certainly do,” Jacob reached out a hand and pulled him to his feet.
For now, he had put Sam in his place and reinforced his hold on the Rooks. However, he was sure this would not be the last challenge he met from him. The man was a sly opportunist, and given some time, he might decide to make another try at Jacob. Jacob knew it, and made a mental note to keep an eye on the lad as they all filed into the dining hall, where the fumes of dinner greeted the hungry men.
Come afternoon, the London streets were teeming with people. Evie made her way weaving through the crowds of a busy market street. Maids hurried along, carrying baskets of wares home to cook dinner while the more privileged women still sauntered idly from shop to shop, stopping at stalls and window exhibits to discuss fashion and gossip or how to throw away their money. Not having to worry over household chores, they strived to make time pass until the next party or meal came along.
Two separate worlds woven so closely together in this great city, and still so far apart.
Evie turned from her contemplation. For once, she found herself as the latter; bored, unoccupied and without a task. Clara had not shown up for the meeting, the urchin sent in her place passing on an excuse, and time for the new appointment next day. Thus this unexpected free time.
As she walked along her mind registered a sound, too constant and unceasing in the bustle of the street. Once aware, she knew the footsteps had been there for a while, following in her wake.
It might just be coincidental. She walked on unfazed.
She could not handle idleness, the anticlimax of nothing to do making her itchy and irritated. Now she continued walking through the city without direction or purpose, the only uplifting prospect of the day a meeting with Henry after dinner.
She made a turn around a corner, then another at the next crossroads, honing her hearing in on the steady stomps following a few yards behind. They kept a steady pace in her wake.
Chafed, Evie concluded she was followed. She huffed a nettled sigh. At least, dealing with the problem gave her something to do.
Snapping into alertness she kept on walking, her gait sure and unwavering. Carefully maintaining the same pace as not to give away her knowledge, she scanned the passing stores. Soon, she found what she wanted; a small tailor shop a short distance away, the entrance a recess with windows either side at an angle to the street. Behind the windows were immaculately tailored suits and dresses with frills and lace galore, though they were of little interest to her. The reflection in the glass, however, gave her a fleeting glance of her pursuers as she passed. Concealed behind the edge of her hood, her eyes lingered only a few seconds, and to them it only seemed as if she was assessing the merchandise inside.
In reality, she was gauging her enemy.
Two men walked side by side behind her, both wearing Blighter coats. The split second glance in the shop window played over in her mind as she continued on her stroll.
They were both large and burly, one kept his hand inside his coat, possibly with a keen grip on a gun of some sorts. The other wore a long dagger on his hip, the sharp gleam of metal visible for a brief moment behind the coat as he moved. Their eyes scanned the surrounding casually, their gaze occasionally grazing her back, but she was not fooling herself to believe they were uninterested. They were following the crowd around, biding their time and waiting for a quiet spot before they pounced.
She assessed the situation. They would avoid making a move on her in the crowded street. That carried too great a risk. The crowd were likely to intervene or alert the police if they attacked a respectable young woman, and their numbers meant protection. However, the crowds were thinning as the shops gave way to residential areas up ahead.
Her options were limited. Turning back would only bring on the attack; that was not an alternative with the added peril of civilians getting hurt. There was a dubious looking alley up ahead to the left; not the brightest of prospects either. Then there was walking on down the street. That was only delaying the problem; the Blighters would only bide their time until the street was empty. If she were to gain the advantage of surprise, although just minutely, it would have to be the alley.
She could, of course use the grappling hook and escape the situation all together, but who was she kidding? She wanted something to do. Adrenaline rose, sending the pulse pounding through her veins. It was a good feeling, the rush a gratification, like the universe falling into place. She slipped down the narrow passage, and as soon as she was out of sight, she sprinted a few yards to gain a semblance of distance. The alley was dank and dreary, the narrow gap between buildings leaving little light to reach the ground. The putrid smell of rotting waist soon filled her nose. Unsheathing a throwing knife, Evie turned and took a stance.
She heard their footsteps, the Blighters gait heavy in hurry when they came into view. Rounding the corner, the first Blighter drew his gun, but her aim was unwavering and true. The knife was embedded in his throat before he could properly aim. The gun never fired as he crumbled to the ground at his comrade’s feet. The second Blighter cast a surprised glance down at him before turning toward her with a sneer.
“Nowhere to run, now little rabbit,” he jeered, as his hand clenched the hilt of his dagger. The Blighters sneer widened in a terrible grin as another couple of men came out of the shadows further up the alley behind her.
She coolly shifted her stance, gazing at the approaching newcomers. The kukri was in her hand, her grip steady and sure. Slowly, she unsheathed another throwing knife.
The Blighters came to a halt a few yards away. The men eying her up and down, laughing quietly and scornfully.
“What a pretty little thing we have ourselves here!” one said casting a glance at his mates before turning back to her.
“Hey lass, lay down your arms and we will treat you nicely,” his mate jeered
Evie coolly turned back to the first man, seeing his eyes rake over her figure, before meeting her gaze.
“Yeah,” he said, devouring her with his eyes. “We’ll treat you real nice!”
Anger seethed within her. Always this; lust contesting bloodthirst. They wanted to end her life, and still had the audacity to suggest fucking her first. The insult was worn out and should not matter, however, she knew there were hundreds of women who had been stuck in a similar predicament with no way to defend themselves, and that always brought anger to her heart.
She would make them regret those words.
Time to show some fangs, she decided, distract Ignorant and Stupid and then dispatch Snide.
The jeering laugh ended when she let another throwing knife tumble through the air. The two newcomers scattered to avoid it, as she went for in for the kill.
Snide let out a roar of anger. Considerably larger and stronger than she was, Evie knew her advantage lay in precision and speed. He relied on his size, swinging the dagger down towards her in a stabbing arch. As the knife approached, she spun under his arm and stabbed once, severing the large blood vessels in his center, then shoved him stumbling forward. He howled in pain and collapsed in a heap against the wall. He would not get back up, although it would take him some time to bleed out.
She turned her attention back along the alley as his two mates joined the fight. The throwing knife was aimed to intimidate, not kill and had missed them both. Now she had little time to think before they were upon her. Instinctively her hidden blade engaged and blocked a knife, before she slashed at the extended arm with her kukri. The blade bit into flesh, the Blighter growled in pain and snapped a few paces back. She continued to move, ducking to avoid the blade of the other by a hairs breadth. Roaring of adrenaline, she fought back, deflecting a blow and hammering her fist in his face. His eyes went wide, momentarily dazed by the punch. Evie grabbed his arm and yanked him forward, planting the Kukri in his chest. The third man fell limply at her feet.
She had left the last Blighter out of her sight for too long. Her back prickled with unease and instinctively she threw herself sideways. The blade intended on severing her throat caught her in the arm as she threw herself away, tearing through the leather of her sleeve. She followed with a swipe of the blade, and the Blighter took a step back. Circling her slowly, his gauging eyes never left her. Then he suddenly pounced.
Evie countered the staggering blow, feeling sweat trickle down her back. She ducked a lash, then threw herself back as the man tried to snatch a hold of her arm. She lashed out with the hidden blade, catching only air, then avoided another assault from the man’s blade.
He was skilled, she realized with trepidation. This one would be harder to dispatch than the casual Blighter. She ducked a blow, and lashed out again, this time nicking a gash across his jaw.
The man swiped the back of his hand against his cheek. Seeing the blood, he sneered at her as he paused and with a glint of murder in his eyes, he pursed his lips in a whistle. The sharp sound rung through the narrow alley and carried far.
The last thing she needed was more Blighters. With renewed fervor, she fought back, slicing and countering his blows. He held his ground, deftly blocking her every attempt. Urgency crept up her spine. The sound of feet pelting to pavement reaching her in the distance. The hairs on her neck stood on end. They were many.
Her continued effort would have been sufficient if she had more time. He was tiring; however, not nearly fast enough to rely on wearing him down, now there were enforcements arriving. As she dodged another blow, she came to a decision. They had gained a sort of rhythm, countering each other’s blows. She knew the step by now. There was a way to gain a chance, but it meant having to take a blow. Yet, it would be worth it to eliminate this one, before another band of thugs arrived.
The footsteps pelting towards them in the distance were closing rapidly. Dodging his fist, she steeled her mind, countered his blade and then, as his fist came flying, she did not dodge. Instead, she stepped close and drove the kukri up and under his ribcage. His blow was weakened, but nonetheless connected painfully in her side. Evie crumbled from the blow. Her grip on the kukri sipped as the Blighter collapsed.
A gunshot rung down the street and a bullet tore into the wall to her left.
She knew she was in a tight spot. They were too many. She fought the instinctive urge to blindly flee; the situation had to be assessed first. She unsheathed a throwing knife and straightened with a hiss of pain to take in the oncoming surge, ready to grapple to the roof if necessary.
Then the all too familiar din of fighting greeted her. Surprise and a measure of relief washed over her as she saw greens mingle in between the mass of red coats. Closest to her, at the center of the fray was the back of an all too familiar leather coat and tattered top hat. She clutched the knife in her hand and breathed hard.
The redcoats advance was shortly abandoned as they met unexpected resistance. With roars of anger, the Blighters took off down the alley.
She saw Jacob straightening and his shoulders draw back as his muscles relaxed from the defensive stance of fighting.
“That’s right! Scamper off to whatever hellhole you came from!” he bellowed after them, and the Rooks around him cheered.
Lord! She rolled her eyes and bent down to retrieve the kukri from the body at her feet. The last thing Jacob needed was someone to fuel his ego further.
As she straightened, Jacob came stomping over, wearing a thunderous expression.
“What the hell was that?”
“What??” his anger was a surprise. She had been on the verge of thanking him, a quip of his keen sense for finding carnage on her tongue, but the words froze in her throat.
“You are lucky Tom heard that whistle and we decided to investigate!”
Behind him, the Rooks sheathed their blades and idly watched. Jacob was wholeheartedly ignorant to their presence as he scolded her. Her eyes snapped back at him. She dried off the blade on the Blighters coat.
“I would have been fine…”she started to argue, but he would not hear it.
“I saw you, Evie,” he said. “You just let the bastard get a strike in!”
In that moment, he was the spitting image of her father, looming over her in training; the burning fervor in his eyes and the way he kept his fists balled at his sides. Her heart clenched at the memory and she had to clear her throat to find her voice.
“It was calculated, Jacob.” Irritated anger was rising fast inside.
“That’s why I’m angry. You of all know better than to do that!” His eyes scanned the alley behind her, noting the Blighter lying further away, before his attention snapped back to her.
Evie was growing more than a little annoyed by this point, feeling the assessing looks of the men waiting in the background.
He raised a glowed hand to her temple, and Evie felt the sting and the warm wetness as his fingers swiped across her skin. How did that happen? She swatted his hand aside.
His jaw clenched as his eyes raked over her, searching, grabbing hold of her wrist in order to inspect the gash along her lower arm. She shifted on her feet and jerked her arm back from his grasp.
“You’re hurt,” he stated plaintively.
“It’s nothing. Just scratches,” she said drawing a clean handkerchief from a pocket to dry the blood of her face. The gash could not be big, the sting only minutely and the blood was already clotting.
“Those wounds need tending,” he said. “You’re coming back to the base with us.”
Anger suddenly flared in her. There was no need. She could tend to it later. Moreover, the men behind him was starting to look at her in a way she did not appreciate. Worry, concern and annoyance crossed their faces. She could read their thoughts a mile away. The last thing she needed was for the Rooks to brand her fragile and vulnerable. She had worked too hard to gain respect. Now Jacob was tearing it all apart by treating her as if she were some little girl.
“Jacob!” Her gritted teeth and the threat in her voice was meant to make him stop fussing. He did not take the hint.
“By God, Evie!” he growled and pointed an angry finger to her chest. “You’re coming back to the base if I have to haul you there myself!”
Her insides were boiling as she weighed her options. She did not put it past him to carry out the threat. She could best him or try to outrun him, but she knew his resolve. He had put his mind to this and he would not pack in. The spectacle would only serve in her disfavor.
She sent him a look glaring daggers, gritted her teeth and balled her fists. He met her gaze with determination, knowing he had already won, that she would not chance the scene and cocked his head in the direction of the Rooks.
“The wagon is that way. Start walking.”
The ride to the base was spent in silence, her thunderous mood enough to silence the men around her. The crooking of smiles on their faces, however, only served to blacken her mood.
Jacob was going to pay for this.
They arrived at the base, the cart halting at the gate. She jumped down of the carriage, disregarding the hand offered to her from one of the men, and walked briskly into the base, feeling her brothers eyes burn a hole in her back. She did not care. Bristling with anger, she ignored the greetings from the Rooks training in the yard and stomped through the doors and up the stairs into the office. Once there she waited impatiently, pacing back and forth.
When Jacob finally entered, she had worked herself into a fit.
“Don’t you EVER do that again!” she shouted.
Her outburst was expected. Jacob flung the top hat to the table and stalked across the floor. Drawing on his height, he squared his shoulders and fixed her in a searing gaze.
“Get you out of a sticky place, you mean? Save your arse when you are up to your neck in Blighters?”
In another setting, his attempt at intimidation might have brought a smile to her face. Now she was furious and blind to anything but his insult.
“That’s NOT what I meant, Jacob and you know it!”
“I saw the blow you took. I can’t believe you would do something so stupid!”
Breaking off her retort, Jacob crossed his arms over his chest and fixed her with an unyielding stare.
“I want to see what that bastard did to you.”
Now, that was unexpected.
“I…” Her words failed her in surprise. He was joking. She felt her cheek heat up in indignation and embarrassment.
His jaw clenched.
“Stop fretting, you’re my sister. Now strip!” There was no wavering in his tone.
Bristling with fury, she could only gape. The nerve of this man! Evie decided she had had more than enough. This folly was stopping right now! Furiously she started unbuckling the gauntlet while crossing over to the cabinet in the corner. She flung the gauntlet on the table on the way and shed her coat.
“Oh, I’ll strip all right,” she seethed and watched with scathing satisfaction a flicker of surprise in his eyes.
“I’ll strip, and then I’ll beat your ass in that ring outside!”
He rolled his eyes.
“I’m not going to fight you now you are injured, Evie.”
“You just showed everyone plainly that you think I need protection; that I am weak. A bloody damsel in distress! What the hell were you thinking?!”
She threw the coat on a chair, the vest and shirt following suit, then retrieved bandages in the cupboard and started wrapping her fists.
“If you think…” he started, but Evie broke him off.
“I’m giving you two minutes, Jacob. If you are not in the ring by then I’ll start telling your Lads the story of how you got that scar on your brow; you know, the true one.” Her voice was silky sweet and pure venom.
Uncertainty flickered over his eyes again as he stood very still, watching and gauging her threat.
“Yes, Jacob; I know. Mary told me how you drunkenly managed to climb through her window, then fell on your face handing her the crushed tulips you had picked in her mother’s garden. She also told med how her father herd the ruckus of your clumsy ass and chased you from the house with a broom. Bloody fine moment for an Assassin!”
His ears were turning bright crimson in a way she had not seen in years. He clearly had thought no one knew, and Evie was pleased she had saved the story for just such a moment, rather than taunt him right away, more than a year prior.
“You wouldn’t…!” he said as he stared at her in alarm.
“Wouldn’t I?” she drawled and saw his jaw clench.
The feline smile drawing the corner of her lips up sparked something in his eyes. She could always count on that smile to tip the scales. He was angry all right.
Just the way she wanted it. Now she was sure he would not hold back. She secured the wrapping on her forearm and shot him a stubborn, challenging glance over her shoulder as she walked out the door.
“Two minutes, Jacob.”
She heard him growl lowly and the unmistakable sound of his gauntlet clattering against the table as he threw it away, much the same way hers just had.
She was crossing the yard as he caught up with her, busy wrapping his fists while he stomped in the direction of the training ring set up for the day.
“Clear the ring!” he shouted, and the two Rooks who had been fighting broke it off and stepped away, mildly surprised and with a sense of trepidation as to what was going on.
One of the lads from the wagon eyed Evie up and down, and then looked at Jacob with raising alarm.
“Boss,” he said. “Do you really think this is a good...”
Evie was in his face before he could finish the sentence.
“This is between my brother and me. Lay off!”
No way was she going to let anyone talk him out of this fight. The expression of surprise on his face was deeply satisfying, as was the grin stretching across Jacobs face in the lad’s direction.
She walked to the center of the ring and raised her fist in a fighting stance. Jacob stepped up, mirroring her own position. It was a long time since she had fought him and she noticed he had grown; his shoulders wider and muscles larger, more defined.
He noted the assessing gaze, and his smile widened.
“Gained a few pounds,” he said cockily. “A few skills as well.”
“Oh, shut up, Jacob. I’ll still beat you.”
Haughty laughter and comments of disbelief trailed around the crowd. It was high time, it seemed, she showed them Jacob could be bested.
Suddenly, Jacob launched. She caught the slight shift in his eyes before he moved; giving her the split second she needed to react. Bringing her arm up, she deftly deflected the blow and punched him in the stomach, then spun away before he could counter.
There was a murmur and some cheering from the crowd. Evie blocked it form her conscience, focusing only on her brother and the seething anger inside.
“You gained speed,” he said and the corners of her lips drew up.
“Maybe you just grew slow.”
That sparked a dangerous light in his eyes and she knew he would be more focused in his next attempt.
When he pounced she was ready for the punch, but this time it was a feint, and he latched onto her arm, drew her in and jabbed her in the side once, tentatively. Pain tore through her already abused flesh and a growl escaped her lips. Instinct told her to move out of the position, just as he jabbed again, harder this time. She spun away, breaking his hold on her arm in the process and kicked at the back of his leg. His knee gave way and her hand was on his shoulder, forcing him down, but the resistance in him suddenly gave way. He had caught on to her intent and used her push to shoot forward, roll over and get back up again. She let go in order to stay on her feet.
She did not have the brute force he did, and he had weight on his side. To best him she had to use his weak points and her speed to gain leverage. As he rose, she was on him aiming to clobber him before he could get up. What she had not expected, was his hand around her ankle, yanking her straight off her feet. The fall winded her as she landed flat on her back. Before she was able to roll away, his weight was pinning her down, and his smug face in front of her.
Indeed, he had gained strength. However, she had learned a few tricks as well.
He was about to call victory, but the smile faltered as her legs wrapped around his neck and chest, yanking him off and rolling away. Dust billowed around them, and the dryness of it clinging to her skin and at the back of her mouth.
She vaguely registered the Rooks enthusiasm had grown as she jumped up, the tone turned boisterous and rowdy as the fight had progressed. They no longer feared for her welfare, but enjoyed the match. She allowed herself a fleeting grin before shutting out the sound.
The fight was starting to take a toll, sweat covering her skin and running down her back. He was stronger than she remembered; his punches packed more force, demanding more of her to fend him off. Fighting with bare fists, she had the disadvantage of both size and strength. Attacking him outright was futile; he would deflect her blows easily, a tough pill she had had to swallow when he grew into a man a few years ago until she learned to work around the problem. She would have to focus, find a gap in his defense.
Determined, she waited for the next assault. Jacob obliged, raining a series of blows against her. She dodged and deflected, forcing the strikes away. When the opening came, she punched him in the gut.
He had foreseen it. His arm all but wrapped around her, aimed to bring her into a headlock. Evie ducked and spun away, slipping out of the trap within an inch of it clasping shut. He stretched to gain a grip on her, but his fingers slipped and she was free.
He gave her no time to rest as the fight resumed. This would not do. She had to get behind him to gain the advantage she needed.
With a punch flying at her face, she was set. It was now or never. She ducked and spun underneath his arm, clasping his wrist as she moved, then kicked the back of his knees. She caught both knees this time, and they buckled underneath him. Finishing the turn, she brought his arm in a wrench against his back, and then forced him flat on the ground with her knee pressed to the junction between his shoulders.
“Yield!” she demanded.
He tried to shift his weight and push off the ground, but she easily twisted his arm to pin him down. A growl escaped him through clenched teeth.
“Yield!” she repeated, wringing his arm just a little further.
“All right, all right, I yield.”
She let go and got to her feet, knowing fully well he would demand another round.
The crowd was cheering loudly and applauding her victory. Satisfaction spread through her veins. She slipped back into a fighting stance as he got up. The fight had worn her anger down; his as well it seemed as he met her gaze. His eyes drifted behind her, scanning over the men watching the fight at the edge of the ring, and then connected with her own gaze. The light playing in his eyes shone of pure mischief and Evie knew she was in trouble.
She had no forewarning as he outright tackled her, foregoing the fighting stance to throw his whole weight forward. An undignified groan escaped her lips as he latched onto her and drove her into the ground. She furiously tried to wriggle free, throw him off and get out. He used his weight to keep her pinned down while grabbing her wrists in a tight hold before sitting up, keeping his weight on her legs.
“Tables tend to turn around rather fast, don’t they?” He grinned cockily, and punctuated every word as he leaned over. “Do you yield?”
She bucked against him, but there was no point. He had her securely locked down. The smug expression on his face at her futile effort made her roll her eyes.
“Yes, I yield.”
He just had to even out the scales when it came to fighting her. She did not mind; it was rather cute that he still cared, and her point towards the Rooks was made. She knew the fight had made an imprint; now their looks returned respect and interest, rather than concern and care. It had cost, though. The pain in her side throbbed with the pulse of her heartbeat.
Jacob let go her arms and huffed, shaking his head in disbelief.
“Stubborn mule,” he said as a reluctant grin spread on his face. “You conned me into fighting.”
“Stupid oaf, of course I did.”
The training was slowly resuming around them, the seasoned Rooks instructing the new recruits. Jacob took his weight off her and got up. Really, it was a relief, her bruising side complaining under the pressure. He grabbed her arm and drew her to her feet. She made to dust herself off, when his grip on her arm tightened.
“Told you, that needed stiches,” he said and flicked a finger against the wrapping where blood seeped through the fabric. “Wash up and I’ll see to it.”
She was about to object, when he met her gaze.
“Don’t even bother protesting. There is dinner in a little while, you can leave once you have eaten. It’s not like you’ll be working, anyway,” he said with a grin.
No, likely not. She was aching everywhere. She dusted herself off and felt the muscle tremble in exertion. She was hungry… famished, really, come to think of it and dinner sounded lovely.
“All right… I’ll stay,” she said.
He would have got away with it, had it not been for the flicker in his eyes. At that, realization hit her, the light of triumph playing there, could only mean one thing; he was not the only one who had been conned.
“You!” she said in disbelief, her words failing at the sneaky bastard’s effective cajole.
“Got you to stay, didn’t I?” he said smugly. “Sorry about your side, but at least I was able to make sure none of your bones were broken.” With the wide grin stretching across his face, she could not help but laugh.
“God! You’re relentless, Jacob!”
He might be infuriating at times, and cocky and rash, but he was also caring. She could have done a lot worse, she thought smiling, as she went to wash the sweat and grit off her skin.
Sorry for the long silence. November and the start of Desember was murder at work. Come Christmas i finally had time to spare, but no Words came to me. I think the dry-spell has finally worn off, new ideas popping up now, as I write. It's a big relief, really as I don't want to leave the story unfinished.
I cannot promise you another update soon, but know that there is more to come.
Leave a coment if you please. It is most welcome.
Chapter 19: Keeping peace *
Elisabeth settles a score, but gets a litte more than she bargined for. No one makes a mockery of the Rooks.
Warnings: Dominant Jacob. Porn without much plot. It is what it is.
The mood around the breakfast tables in the dining hall was sour. There had been a misunderstanding in the kitchen about who tended the pots and pans, and the porridge was charred. There was no throwing away the food, and more than one of the Rooks were complaining. It turned into a two-sided argument where the women defended the work done in the kitchen, against the men’s complaints. It soon spiralled out of proportions.
“No one is perfect,” a woman said
“Our work, safeguarding this compound is perfect,” a Rook claimed.
“Our only demand is that the food comes close to what we deserve,” another added jeering.
“The food you are served is usually better than you deserve,” a woman retorted.
“If we preformed less than perfect, how come Liz was not able to escape when she wanted to?”
“Not even a mouse could get in and out of this base, without us knowing about it.”
The two sides parted grumbling to tend to the chores of the day, but the mood of the Base remained sour. The heat did nothing to soothe hot tempers and bantering continued throughout the day. By dinnertime, Elisabeth had had enough.
The women worked hard to keep the base running smoothly, put in long hours to keep dirt and grit at bay and to put food on the table on time for every meal. Mishaps were rare. When they did happen, the least the men could do was suffer silently and eat with a sense of gratitude that usually the food was good. No reason to goad and complain. No reason to talk down the work done by the women. The Rooks deserved a lesson. By making her a part of the argument, she knew she were the one to provide it and when Evie came around for dinner, it was almost too perfect.
The yard was crowded, the men busy moving tables and benches outside after dinner for the night’s social gathering. Impatient to enjoy a bit of leisure-time and drinking, the men toiled with the heavy furniture issuing short commands and instructions between them as they manhandled each item around tight corners and through narrow doorways.
Were it not for the morning’s insults, she might have enjoyed the show; strong and defined muscles playing under sun-kissed skin of buttoned down shirts and rolled- up sleeves. But not today.
Elisabeth watched the activity from the darkness behind the hallway stairs. She had donned the old pair of trousers, and was acutely aware the carefully planned hoax would be spoiled if anyone saw her. All she needed now, was Evie’s coat, and her disguise was complete. Well, she was still short of a gauntlet and weapons, but she hoped the coat was enough to pull off the illusion.
The coat was hanging on a peg by the door. Acquiring it was going to be a test of patience and sneaky talent. Biding her time, she waited for the men to take a short breather, her heart fluttering nervously in her chest.
Another table was hauled sideways through the door and into the yard. The furniture was of the solid, sturdy type, able to withstand just about anything and only movable if the hands were plenty and arms strong enough.
There were no sounds coming from the dining-hall. Elisabeth cast a glance up the stairs; all quiet. It was now or never. She crossed the distance in light steps, lifted the coat from the peg and retreated silently behind the stairs, pressing her back against the wall. No sooner were she out of sight, before the men came back inside for another load.
Mutely, she celebrated her small triumph, clutching the coat in hand. Just a few feet away, the last bulky loads were carried through the door, but no one noticed her as she slid the garment on, briefly admiring the soft texture of the leather before turning her attention towards the outside.
She knew the women were already waiting. Mary would have made sure they were gathered there by now and waiting for her. Time had come to pay the Rooks back for their disrespect!
The memory of the heated exchange prickled her pride once more. The Rooks were going to eat their own words.
The indignation somewhat stalled the butterflies that were fluttering insistently in her stomach. Pulling up the hood, she made sure to smooth back her hair so no stray locks would give her away. Closing her eyes, she breathed out through pursed lips. Evie vas nothing if not calm and self-assured. In her mind’s eye, she saw Evie walk through the gates, back straight and arms swinging loosely, walking with purpose, her gait steady and unwavering. Mentally keeping that image, she mirrored Evie’s posture, keeping shoulders relaxed and hands unclenched. She had to project Evie’s confidence, or else this would not work. She would keep walking, no matter what happened, she decided. With a final steadying breath, she left her place of hiding.
The yard lay bathed in the last rays of sunlight. The women were gathered by the kitchen stairs, emptying the dishwashing basins and chatting. The Rooks were littering the yard, gathered by the tables, tinkering with guns and honing blades in the shade.
Elisabeth set out with false confidence, her pulse hammering in her ears and her throat dry with giddy trepidation. Every muscle in her body screamed for flight, keeping the gait steady was a battle.
They are bound to notice, she thought. Why did I ever think this would work?
They were going to stop her. She knew they were going to stop her.
Oh, God…what will happen if they stop me?
She cut that trail of thoughts short and pressed on, walking into the middle of the yard. Her eyes graced the crowd from behind the hood. No one seemed to detect her charade. Was it really going to work? Half way to the gate, she actually thought it might; that she would pull it off, when a couple of Rooks looked straight at her. Schooling her expression into calm indifference took every ounce of selfcontrol she had.
Keep walking. For God’s sake don’t freeze. She tipped her head in their direction, and to her disbelief, the lads returned her gesture, then turned back to their discussion. She batted down the grin pulling at her mouth as she continued. She dared not even throw a glance in the direction of the kitchen fearing any sort of humorous distraction would shatter her fragile composure.
The gravel crunched under her boots. The fluttering in her chest grew jubilant and gleeful. She was at the gate, crossing through it and no one payed her any heed. She walked on a few paces.
I did it! I really did it. I walked right past them and they are none the wiser.
Elisabeth stopped. Slowly she turned around and let the hood fall back.
The guard at the gate froze and his eyes went wide with realization. The two Rooks keeping him company whipped around in search of imminent disaster, only to see Elisabeth saunter back through the gates. Laughter and applause broke out by the kitchen stairs as an angry cry from the guard caught the attention of the Rooks in the yard. The men were on their feet in an instant as they realized they had been played for fools.
Elisabeth basked in the cheers and laughter as the women came to greet her. Gleefully they watched the sour expressions spreading among the men as word of the incident travelled through the crowd.
“Serves them right,” Mary mumbled to her side. Catching the eye of Tom, she hurriedly covered her grin in an attempt to conceal her amusement, though by the dark expression rolling over his eyes she had little success.
“Washed the grin off their faces; that did!” “Well done Liz.” Another couple of girls stated, making a point of talking overly loud and earning themselves dirty looks from the men who heard.
Elisabeth chuckled. Revenge was sweet. Apparently, the Rooks found it hard to stomach. Gathering on one side of the yard, the men shot angry glances at the gloating women, the rumour of the joke going around irking new arrivals to the core. The mood had turned positively thunderous, making the whole deal utterly hilarious. Who knew the Rooks were such sore losers. Elisabeth tried to swallow down laughter, but it was futile. The looks of the men broke her friends into a fit of giggles, their infectious laughter spreading until Elisabeth’s eyes were watering.
Across the yard, the front door opened, and Jacob exited with Evie in tow. Elisabeth felt a little guilty at the curious expression Evie gave her, wearing her coat. The bubbling merriment died down somewhat. Elisabeth pulled the garment off and folded it neatly over her arm as she walked over.
“I’m sorry for taking your coat without asking, Evie,” she said handing it over, “but when I saw it hanging in the hall, I couldn’t resist the chance to shut them up.” Evie took the coat with a gracious smile and shrug of her shoulders. Elisabeth shot another glance around, fighting back amusement as provocation spread among the gathered men. “You see, the Rooks boasted that their vigilance was infallible. I just had to prove them wrong.”
The cautious glance Evie threw Jacob was lost on Elisabeth as her gaze scanned the Rooks standing nearby. Jacob shrugged dismissively; he could handle this. As Elisabeth turned back, the siblings exchanged a few words of business, before Elisabeth bade Evie goodbye and watched her go. She remained by the door, admiring Evie’s self-assured step and grinning widely with a sense of achievement as Evie pulled the hood over her head before exiting the yard.
That guard’s expression was priceless, Elisabeth mused to herself and fought back the grin pulling at her lips as her eyes raked the ranks of ruffled Rooks.
She cast a glance in the direction of the kitchen in search of her partners in crime. The joke on the Rooks was in their honour, a restoration of their wounded pride for the men’s ungrateful complaints and sour mood after breakfast. She briefly caught Mary’s eyes, sparkling in laughter from across the yard. The girl was still sniggering behind a hand under the gaze of the men standing beside her. Then the crowd shifted and Elisabeth lost sight of her behind a band of Rooks.
Intent on joining her friends and celebrate the small victory, she started weaving her way through the crowd, when Jacob called her back.
The authoritative tone rolled easily over the hum of irritated mutters, prickling her skin in foreboding and halting her steps. He was standing a few yards away, thumbs tucked into his belt and wearing a sombre expression. The gaze fixed on her, was callous and unwavering. A little unnerving it was and mirth bubbled treacherously inside. Her gaze flickered away in an attempt of controlling it. The men at his side stood tall, their arms crossed over their chests, dark eyes and rankled mood. It tugged a smile across her face, tightlipped and impish as she fought to hold it back. Her gaze fell back on Jacob, finding herself still under his scrutiny. When he spoke, his words were carefully calculated.
“Are you mocking my Rooks, Elisabeth?” The yard fell eerie silent save for scattered giggles among the women.
Elisabeth straightened her back.
“Not at all,” she answered, going for a nonchalant and complacent posture. She had just payed the men back for their insolence, and they deserved every bit of it. The whole situation was laughable, first the Rooks anger and now Jacob’s grave tone. Mirth rose inside, threatening to spill over into laughter. She swallowed it down, clenching her jaw tightly to keep her composure, sensing though she found this funny, Jacob might not appreciate her laughter at that moment. By the shift in his gaze, turning slightly dark and ominous, he had no trouble registering the merriment in her eyes, though.
“Oh, I believe you are…” he drawled. The slight menace in that sound and those dark eyes fixing her in a calculating stare made her stomach somersault.
Hey now, hold on a minute!
She shook her head and was just about to voice a fervent protest when the lads around him cut in and she found herself overrun and overruled. Tom, John, Harry; one after the other the lads were suddenly backing up their leader.
“I’d say so, Boss.”
“Insolent, she is!
“Should be put in her place, that one.”
Mutters of confirmation travelled through the crowd behind her, the sound making her turn in slight trepidation. Throwing a glance around, she found herself surrounded. In the middle of the pack of Rooks, glaring daggers and shards of glass her way.
Oh, shit! This was not part of the plan.
She was in trouble. They were not going to let her get away with this prank. Nervous flutters mixed with the bubbling mirth. Whatever they were planning, she knew she was going to be the butt of the joke. Fighting down nerves and amusement, she could not seem to find a steady voice. She gave up and shed an exasperated grin. There was no hiding her mirth from any of them.
“Can’t have that, now can we, Boss?” John said. He caught eyes with Jacob for a brief moment, and when they turned back, there was something thoroughly devilish in Jacob’s eyes. Something feral and dark, making her heart skip a beat.
The Rooks followed up.
“No one pokes fun at the Rooks.”
“Not without consequence!”
The boosting statements rippled through the ranks of men like rings on water. Every Rook around the yard drew themselves up, squared their shoulders and ruffled their feathers. It was like a thrum of energy rippling through the crowd. It was what they did before a fight, backing up Jacob and each other. The effect was menacing. The parliament of Rooks was turning on her, and Elisabeth suddenly felt very exposed.
By Jacob’s side, John shifted on his feet and cleared his voice.
“I believe she was making a run for it, Boss,” John said, his feral grin shining in malice, quirking Jacobs lip.
Oh, no! She sensed her situation had just turned from bad to worse, understanding where the joke was going.
Elisabeth’s eyes darted from one to the other, searching the crowd for support, her friends, any sort of shelter, turning up empty-handed. The men’s faces lighted up in wry smiles. Chuckles and derisive laughter flowed between them. Evidently, her look of wide-eyed alarm made for good entertainment. Frozen to the spot, heart hammering against her ribs and blood pounding in her ears the urge to flee was rising fast. Exhilarated, she knew her only chance to escape the repercussion of her hoax, was to seek shelter between the women. Whether she would get there, was another question. Turning back, she found herself fixed in a predatory gaze. Elisabeth wasted no more time and bolted.
“Get her, Boss!”
Shouts rung out as Elisabeth fled with a shriek, a mix of mirth and thrill lacing her voice. She darted in between the Rooks, pushing them aside in a frantic attempt of escape. They let her flee, chuckling and roaring their glee. She tried to keep the men between her and Jacob; to little avail. The bastards of course parted for him, running to catch her.
The crunch of his boots hitting gravel always three paces behind made the hairs on her neck stand on end, fuelling the panic so cleverly induced by the menacing crowd. He was much faster than she was and she knew she would not hold him off for long. The Rooks never gave her a chance to find cover though, closing her escape and driving her in the direction of the open yard.
Soon, the only escape was down the stairs to the kitchen. She made no conscious decision, just ran as fast as her feet could carry her into the house, all but stumbling in her own feet down the stairs and slamming into the frame of the door on the way. She felt him grasp empty air a split second behind her and bolted inside in a fit of frantic laughter, turning to avoid the table in the middle of the room.
The laughter hit something in him - challenging his pride or taunting the predator inside. He growled in provocation, a low, feral sound that settled somewhere south in her belly. She was given no time to process it as a flurry of dark material in the corner of her eye came skidding across the table. Before she could grasp what happened, large, callused hands gripped her firmly, all but lifting her off her feet as the momentum of her flight carried her into his solid frame. She let out another breathless shriek and his solid weight pinned her against the wall.
A memory flashed through her mind of that day in the alley, when he cornered her after her near escape. She had been terrified; scared out of her wits that day. This however, was very, very different.
Feeling that strength, that potent power in him sent the nervous flutters to pool very low in her stomach. They only grew in intensity as he tilted her head back to meet her gaze.
“You,” he said, “are in big trouble!” The deep timbre of his voice rumbled quietly in the empty room. An ominous sound, but it only served to make heat shot up in her cheeks and her breath to catch in her throat. The reaction didn’t escape his attention. She knew he read her like an open book when his lips quirked in a devilish smile.
“You just made a mockery of my Rooks,” he said. She drew her breath to protest, but before she could voice it, his lips were on hers, soft yet demanding. His hand on her throat, somewhere between caressing and forcing her chin up was creating wonderful flutters in her chest.
“You question their aptitude and you broke your oath to stay!” Again, her protests were drowned under a tantalizingly demanding kiss. It fogged up any thought she had of verbal retorts. Those kisses were just too good, and his hand splayed possessively against her neck, too distracting. She stopped bothering to protest. He was not going to let her voice a defence anyway.
“…and by doing so you challenge me. Now what am I to do with you? The Rooks demand punishment for your insolence.”
Her heart was hammering in her chest. She had an idea of where his mind was going. Insubordination among the men was usually settled in the training ring. That was not an option, but there were other ways to make a show of dominance. She did not really care what punishment he dealt, as long as it involved his hands on her body.
He stroke a thumb across her lips, his eyes never leaving her face, never breaking that ever-vigilant scrutiny of what his touch did to her. He revelled in it, she suddenly realised, revelled in sending her blood razing and chattering her composure. She could not leave it at that.
“When the shoe fits…” he cut off her retort, his fist wrapping tightly in her hair, bordering on painful, yet strangely soothing. She swallowed hard.
“I see I have my work cut out for me.” The corner of his mouth lifted in a crooked grin, before he grabbed her behind and unceremoniously set her upon the table.
“I do enjoy a challenge, though.” He settled between her legs, his fist buried tighly in her hair, keeping her chin tilted up and bearing the vulnerable skin of her neck. He eyed her down and up again, drinking in the sight of her form in tight pants, before settling on her gaze.
“As I was saying: Insolence is not tolerated. You will learn.” Her senses were reeling, his tone and demeanour and the tight pull on her scalp making her will go limp. Somewhere at the back of her mind she wondered how he knew to do this, but that did not matter for now. His sent filled her senses with a strange reassurance as he leaned close and drew breath along her skin, the scrape of is unshaved chin against her neck quickening her breath. Then he leaned close and kissed her again.
His kiss was intoxicating, her heart pounding until the pulse reverberated through her whole body, clouding her mind, pooling hotly in her centre and pounding against her eardrums with deafening sound. He was stealing her senses, and very much succeeding at it, however, when she noticed his hand at her neck busy unbuttoning the collar she snapped out of it.
Breaking the kiss, she covered the collar with a hand, effectively stopping his progress. Jacob let go and rested his hands on the table top either side of her, amusement and mischief playing in his eyes as she glanced at the doors to the yard and the dining hall.
Swallowing hard to clear her voice, uncertainty batting down rising want, she met his waiting gaze.
“Should we not go somewhere else?”
His thumbs grazed her thighs, a distracting sensation to the doubt lingering in her mind. He held her gaze unwavering.
“Why, Love? All I need is right here.” Another devious smile quirked his lips. An exasperated sigh escaped her lips. The implication and his intent was clear, but he was disregarding a crucial point, to her at least.
“But Jacob, someone might come!”
He merely smiled at that, grin widening and a dark gleam in his eye. He caught her wrist and gently but firmly brought her hand down.
“No, they won’t. They wouldn’t dare enter this kitchen right now.”
His confidence was reassuring, but the doubt lingered in her bones none the less, and he knew as he continued.
“You see love,” he said and lifted a finger to trail the sensitive skin on her neck down toward the collar, “unlike you, they understand how this works.” His hand tentatively trailed down her neck, eliciting sparkles of excitement to shoot up and down her spine. His gaze roamed her skin before settling on her face again.
“That is what you will learn,” he said, “trust my judgement, relinquish control and follow my lead.”
He gave no explanation to what exactly that meant, before his lips were back, crushing against her own and then moving to cover her skin in kisses, sending tingling sensations through her and promptly fogging her mind.
Man, he was good at this. Their location still had her on edge, but when he continued buttoning down her shirt, she did not stop him. The scrape of his scruff edged down as her shirt was opened, spreading a need for touch in her skin. She let out a breathy moan and wrapped her hands in his hair, coaxing him closer and arching her back, hoping he would move on to the tingling mounds behind the chemise waiting for his attention. She felt his grin against her skin, before he straightened as the shirt was buttoned open. He pulled it free from her pants, slowly and meticulously, relishing in her flushed skin and heaving breath. Impatiently, she shrugged her shoulders to remove the garment as he leaned close for another tantalizing kiss, making her melt and stealing her senses.
All of a sudden, her arms were drawn together behind her back. Surprised, she broke the kiss, finding her arms wrapped tightly within the shirt and the tie tightening before she had a notion to react.
Alarmed she struggled against the tie, trying to pry her arms apart. When that didn’t work she wriggled fervently and tried to wring her hands free, only to find herself securely tethered. Realizing there was no way out of the bind, she turned her alarmed gaze at Jacob. He had resumed the position leaning on his hands against the table, thumbs grazing her thighs and watching attentively.
“Jacob…,” her voice tailed off, insecure and hesitant to his plans and not sure, she wanted to play along. His eyes held calm determination as if he planned this all along and foresaw her trepidation.
“Do you trust me, Love?”
She could not seem to find her voice, but after a few lengthy seconds nodded her head once in response. He seemed to accept the confirmation as he too nodded.
“Good,” he said. “Then you know I would never hurt you?”
She answered with another reluctant nod. Yes. She knew that he would never hurt her, never bring her harm, but having her arms tied behind her back still made her feel vulnerable and uneasy and… She met his eyes and knew he read all of her insecurities in that gaze. In his eyes though, she found calm confidence.
Realization hit home. He could do to her whatever he wanted. And what he wanted was her pleasure. Like wind to embers, desire flared bright and hot.
“I’ll never do anything to you that you do not want, Love, but tonight I’ll have you begging for release. With your display just now, you will voice your surrender.”
She felt like her muscles were going liquid, strength melting into tingling flutters of want and desire in anticipation of promised torture. Her legs were practically trembling underneath his hands as they settled just above her knees, his thumbs idly brushing the insides of her thighs, sending jolts of electricity up her body with each stroke. She wondered briefly what he meant by “voicing her surrender” but that was soon lost with his hands roaming her body, building the tension in her core.
He was toying with her, gracing up her thighs, trailing closer and closer towards a core of need reacting to every stroke with throbs of pleasure, however, just as he reached the point where she wanted him the most, his fingers disappeared, just to start anew somewhere else.
Her chemise was soon pooling around her waist, his hand cupping the soft flesh of a breast, kneading and caressing ever closer to her nipples, while his mouth trailed soft feather kisses down her throat. Then, just as she was quivering to feel his mouth envelope the peaking nipple, the touch disappeared and left her skin tingling. She moaned in displeasure, just to have that moan turn wanton and pleading as his lips claimed her mouth, his tongue demanding access and swallowing every sound she made. She arched into him, desperate for touch, more stimulation, more of his hands, more of him.
When he broke the kiss, she tried to gather her thoughts, her mind swirling as if drunk on the sensation.
“Please,” she breathed, “please, Jacob, I need you.”
He chuckled darkly to himself, leaned in breathing against her skin and sending shivers running up and down her spine.
“Not. Nearly. Good. Enough,” he said.
She let out a disappointed moan and wriggled against him, wrapping her legs around him and forcing him closer to her centre.
His grip on her thighs tightened, effectively stopping her movement and then his thumb graced lightly against her mound. It was just one grazing stroke, but it sent a shock of satisfaction through her.
“Patience,” he said, “patience, and I might decide to give you more.”
She swallowed hard and held perfectly still, her head rolling back and panting out breaths while her hands clenched within the ties in an effort to resist moving. His thumb was so close; any movement would grant the touch she needed and the friction her body sought. Holding still was an internal battle, and she could not contain a whimper of despair. An agonizing minute of waiting passed before Jacob shifted on his feet and…
Oh holy god!
… his thumb settled against her mound, rubbing gentle circles through the rough fabric of her pants.
She almost cried out, but snapped her mouth shut, stifling the sound as his caress sent throbbing want pulsing in her core with the attention. Then his mouth latched onto her nipple and a small squeak of delight escaped her anyway.
There were sparks of pleasure jolting straight from her breast to her core, creating a need for more.
“Jacob, pl-…” His tongue swirled over her nipple in a most distracting way, leaving her breathless and panting out in pleasure.
Forming a coherent thought was hard, if not voice a request. It was just too much and still not nearly enough.
His mouth withdrew and his hands cupped her cheeks as she found his face in front of her.
“P-please,” she breathed and his face lighted up in a wry smile.
“Oh no, Love. We aren’t nearly there yet.”
What? She was more than ready, her body singing for relief. How far was he planning to take this? Then she remembered the weight he had put on one word, begging he had said. Being Jacob, he was going to take this far and her core clenched at the realization; drawing her eyes shut and making her head fall against his chest in a whimper. He chuckled lowly, and cupped her cheeks to find her eyes. His voice was serious when he spoke again.
“Love. Do you want me to stop? Say the word, and we’ll leave it as is.”
Oh God no! She definitely did not want him to stop; leaving her dangling with no release would be true torture. She looked into his eyes, wide in want like her own and shook her head decisively. The grin stretched back across his face and the light playing in his eyes of hungry want was all Jacob, deliciously cocky and devilish. She snapped forth and caught his mouth, kissing him hungrily and feeling his breath quicken against her skin. It was a small return of his torment. With her hands tied, she could do little but receive, however, even this small payback was denied her. Jacob broke the kiss and guided her to lie back on the table.
Her boots thumped to the floor as he flung them away, before his fingers deftly picked open her pants and undergarments. Then he dug his fingers into the lining of both, and with a solid thug, he ripped the garments down to her thighs and pulled them off.
Lying bare and hogtied across the kitchen table in the middle of the evening was not something she had considered before. He gave her little time for self-conscious doubt, though as his hand palmed the flat planes of her stomach.
“God, you’re gorgeous,” he murmured, before gathering her legs across one shoulder and shifting her close to the edge. It was a bit awkward, lying on her tied arms, but that too was all forgotten as his fingers slipped into her folds. His fingers trailed lightly back and forth through the slick, eliciting a spectacular feeling inside. His touch was torment. She wanted him inside, not this endless teasing, and she tried to wriggle in his grip to get him closer. That was wrong she soon discovered, as his hold around her legs tightened and he stopped. Remembering the last time, she stopped wriggling at once. His rumbling laughter at her prompt compliance filled the room.
“Good girl,” he said and she knew there was a reward coming as his fingers slipped ever so slowly toward her throbbing core.
Pushing both fingers in to the knuckles, the noise coming from her mouth was too loud, ringing against the vaulted ceiling and her lips snapped shut in embarrassment. The feeling, though was pure pleasure after all the teasing, his fingers filing her and stroking insistently against the right spot inside, until she was quivering on the brink of release, biting down on her cheek to keep from screaming.
Then he stopped.
She let out a frustrated growl, then a pleading sigh when he made no sign to move. She was about to voice a real protest, when he pushed the fingers back and circled the sensitive nob with his thumb. Caught off guard and on the verge of speaking, another pleading wail rang through the room. She caught a sight of Jacobs face, beyond the hunger in his eyes and the obvious arousal there was the calculating gaze locked calmly on her face. Suddenly she knew how he wanted her to “voice her surrender”. He was intent on making her scream her release. Irritation mixed into her determination to keep quiet, or at least moderately so, as she clenched her jaw shut. There was no way she would let herself do that.
However, as he stubbornly brought her closer to release again, keeping quiet was a challenge. She threw her head back, keeping her lips tight line between her teeth and breathed through her nose. Little moans and whimpers sneaked past anyway. She was so close, so close, feeling the ripples of release building.
Then once again, he stopped. She growled in frustration, as the feeling ebbed away, replaced by a roaring need.
“You’re holding back, Love. Can’t have that.”
She wriggled furiously against his hand, but she was already too far away. He chuckled darkly, and curled his fingers, instantly bringing the sweet feeling back and melting the fight in her. It was infuriating, but somehow she could not find the resolve to be angry under his expert touch.
Stifling her moans, edging toward a peeking bliss was torturously sweet, hoping that he would let her come, hoping that she would spill over in orgasm anyway, but he knew her too well, and as the third high was denied her, her resolve was crumbling. Her core was thrumming, a tight coil of unreleased tension. Jacob was stubborn, and he looked like he could keep this going, endlessly bring her up just to deny her at the very edge. Just the thought of it was enough to shatter her will. Ecstasy was worth more to her at this point, than any self-conscious reason to keep quiet. Being denied the finish was torture, and she would do anything right now to reach that high.
As his fingers continued the perfected dance, she threw back her head in a quiet wail.
“Please Jacob, please just fuck me and let me come!”
She really, really wanted to part her legs and feel him grind against her, but at this point, she did not care as long as he would allow her to come. He made no reply, just kept on teasing. The feeling inside was building back up, stronger than before, more intense, as if her body too wanted this more than anything. She had given up holding back, her voice ringing in her ears unnaturally high and shrill, though she didn’t care. All she wanted was that final finish line, and it was soon within reach.
When he pulled away, she all but sobbed in disappointment.
“Just a second, Love. We’ll get you there.” There was the slip of leather against a belt buckle, and sound of buttons being undone. Then something hard and warm graced her entrance. She tilted her hips and he slipped past her opening with a gasp.
Oh God, Yes. This was what she needed. Her core was fluttering around the delicious intrusion.
His hands gripped her hips and he thrusted in to the hilt in one fluid move. She threw back her head, back arching off the table and keened.
“God, Love. Your’e… uh!” His voice faltered as she tilted her hips and pushed further down on him.
“Shit that’s tight…” he growled and his fingers dug into her hips.
She had no capacity left for reflexion, just revelled in the way he filled and stretched her, the perfect friction of skin against skin with each glorious thrust.
He set a brutal pace pounding into her flesh with fervour. Heat pooled in her abdomen, building into a swell, growing and growing. The fluttering foreboding of release rippled through her, core quivering on the brink for what seemed like ever, not able to spill over, as if the denials had somehow made it impossible.
She thought it would never end and heard the desperation in her own voice ringing in the empty space. Her body was a tight spring, every fibre hovering on the brink, when Jacob took pity on her and rubbed circles on her clit.
Ecstasy rippled through her like an explosion, sending sparks shooting up her spine with sensous relief. She knew the scream ringing in the room was her own, but there was no holding back this feeling. Jacob’s movements turned erratic as her core pulsed and clenched, each thrust setting off another spark of pleasure. He cursed incoherencies, feeling her come, his movements turned erratic and rough before he stilled with a growl.
Breathing hard, he collapsed on his forearms and turned his face to the skin of her neck.
“Bloody hell, Elisabeth!” he exclaimed, bringing colour to her already flushed face and a soft laughter from her throat. That was the most intense feeling ever. Kissing the curve of her smile Jacob pushed away and got up.
Elisabeth closed her eyes and remained lying on the table, trying to gather her senses while Jacob sorted out his clothing. Her body was sated and she was not sure her legs would hold her weight just yet, but her arms were starting to hurt and self-consciousness was creeping back in. Jacob helped her down from the table, steadying her until she found her footing and then untied her hands. Red marks littered her arms where the fabric had dug into her skin. Jacob inspected the damage and rubbed blood back in her hands. Come morning, there would be bruises, but she didn't particularly care.
Jacob leaned against the table, arms crossed idly over his chest watching her with half a smile while she got dressed, pulling on her trousers and buttoning the shirt. She was a mess; her hair all tangled and her shirt a bunch of creases and wrinkles, not to speak of the telling rosy flush covering her skin. There was no disguising what had happened. Elisabeth remade the braid and coiled it on the back of her neck before looking dismally down her crumpled attire. Then she met Jacob’s grinning face.
“You needed a lesson, Love. Don’t ever ridicule my Rooks,” he said collecting her into an embrace and kissing her brow. “Come on, let’s go out and face them.”
Self-conscious and abashed, she dreaded facing the Rooks, and he knew. He wrapped an arm securely around her shoulders, looking down at her reassuringly. She met his gaze and her nervousness broke into a small smile before they walked to the door.
Outside, the rest of the household were gathered around the tables, enjoying their ale and the usual humorous stories. The sour mood from earlier was gone; Elisabeth’s flight had sought to that, and the ale had done the rest to restore the good-natured atmosphere.
Jacob and Elisabeth were greeted with cheers and wolf whistling from the Rooks as they walked up the stairs from the kitchen.
“Boss! Did you just chastise your woman?” Liam shouted.
“Yea, we heard somebody scream,” Greg continued, his eyes boring into her skin. The yard spilled out into laughter.
Elisabeth turned a bright crimson red and hid her flushed face against Jacob’s chest. He laughed heartedly and put his arms around her, a secure shield from the crowd. At least they were in this together.
“What the hell did you do to her, Boss?” Liam said, chuckling.
Jacob looked down to meet Elisabeth’s smiling face.
“A gentleman never tells, Lads. A gentleman never tells.”
Chapter 20: Trails
Trails might lead to something or nothing at all. Only way to know, is by sticking to it, no matter how frustrating it is.
The Lamb was a dingy little pub in a quiet back street of the Strand, a small and forgotten establishment overlooked by even the working-class. To call it a novelty was an understatement. It was a hole, deemed sufficient solely among the lost souls at the bottom of society, and only to a certain extent. A place so deprived, even the Blighters stayed clear. Perfect for a meeting when on Blighter turf.
Jacob pushed the door open and stepped over the threshold, squinting to get a bearing. The low-lofted room was dim, what little light reached between the buildings hardly filtered through the dirty windows. The only source of lights were the candles on the occupied tables and a lone gaslight by the bar. The corners lay draped in shadow. Most likely that was a blessing, the stale smell drifting in the room spoke volumes of the dirt and grime beneath his boots. He spared it no heed as he found Tom and John already seated at a table at the back, leaning together over a couple of pints.
Tom had his back turned, John on the opposite side kept quiet surveillance following the crowd out of the corner of his eye. He muttered something before taking a drink from his tankard and Tom casually turned his head, nodding shortly in greeting as Jacob approached the table. Sitting down, John slid a pint front of him. Jacob hummed a muttered “thanks” and took a grateful drink.
The ale was definitely not the best he had had. Swallowing it down, he frowned, and Tom’s mouth lifted slightly in mirth.
“Tastes like piss, doesn’t it?” he muttered.
Jacob hummed in agreement, and took another large gulp of the drink. After trekking through London all morning, he did not really care. Sitting down was a blessing, and at least the ale was cold. John’s gaze flitted across the room. The few other guests were old regulars, drunks and long-since fallen women, milling about their own business and of little concern, but John as always kept a keen eye trained to the surroundings. He seemed contented no one payed their little gathering any heed. As Jacob cleared his voice, he found John’s gaze across the table. Jacob kept his voice little above a murmur, making sure their business stayed private just in case someone around had big ears.
“So, Lads. What news do you have?”
Tom huffed in irritation and exchanged a glance with John.
“There’s nothing, Boss.” John sighed. “Not a bloody rumour or whisper of anything.”
John shook his head slowly and Tom drained the last of the content in his mug.
“What about you? Had any luck, Boss?”
“Not a damned thing.”
John’s eyes flickered back over the room in thought.
“We were right though,” Tom said. He eyed the mug of ale in Jacobs hand with disputable longing as he leaned back on his chair. “The Blighters are definitely receiving firearms from somewhere. There are more guns among those bastards than before.”
The troubling feeling that had lingered at the back of his mind the last a couple of days had bloomed into genuine concern over the last hours. It had been like a bad dream; alarm raising and wanting to wake up, only to realize this was real. It was raising the hairs on the back of his neck. The Blighters had somehow obtained more guns, and not a whisper of the foreboding disaster had been heard.
“I know,” he said glumly. “We have to find and stop the deliveries.”
The day they found Evie in the middle of an ambush was the first time they had noticed the unusual number of guns among the Blighters. Evie had taken down one gunman, Jacob another, but still among the ten who ran from there were at least one more. Three out of fourteen men. That had sparked his attention, as well as that of the seasoned men who were with him.
It was bad news.
Knifes and daggers and clubs were the Blighters common tools. Among Templars was another story. They were prone to possess more firepower, both carrying guns themselves and keeping guards with shotguns around their strongholds and houses. Occasionally there had been Blighters who bore guns and firearms, however, now it seemed the numbers were increasing. Fortunately, the Blighters were lousy shots, but that would not last. Once they grew accustomed to the weapon, their skills would increase.
Guns could easily tip the scales in the wrong direction.
“There must be something we have overlooked. None of the shipments we’ve been intercepting…” - John fell suddenly silent as a somewhat haggard-looking barmaid came over. Giving them a look over, she dried her hands on her dirty apron and gave them a toothless grin, noting the empty mugs sitting on the table.
“Wha’ can I bring ya’, lads?” she crowed expectantly, knowing their purse gave ample room for business. That was a rare occurrence in this establishment, and she was intent on making another transaction. The easy way to get rid of her was to comply, even if the ale was horrid. Tom ordered another couple of pints, and the barmaid went to fetch the drinks.
The conversation stalled while she was gone, the lads patiently waiting for the return of uninterrupted privacy. The barmaid returned to put the mugs on the table between them and collected the empty once. Watching her back retreat towards the kitchen, John finally continued.
“None of the shipments we intercepted lately contained guns. There were explosives, but no munitions or firearms.”
“Mm. They must be getting them in somewhere. The docks are many, we are not covering all.”
The men both settled their eyes on him, quietly waiting for him to make a decision what to do next. The network of Rooks had come up empty handed. It was unnerving how the Templars were able to arm their gangs with no forewarning, no whisper of such an important shipment. They usually meant a heightened security, more Blighters massing in an area. This time; there had been nothing.
He would have to use other resources, and warn Evie and Henry of the added danger.
“I’ll have to go talk to my sister about this. Maybe she has come across something to put us on a trail.”
Jacob fished the watch out from the pocket and flipped the lid open, checking the time and then polished off the last of the contents in his mug.
“Get a word out to the strongholds to keep an eye on the docks. If there’s even a whisper of gun shipments or Blighters gathering in an area; I want to know!”
The lads nonverbally committed to the order. Jacob flicked out the top hat and rose to his feet.
“I have a train to catch. I’ll see you Lads back at the base later.”
Having a train hideout was a real asset. Outsiders bearing ill intent were not able to reach them there without figuring out the timetable. Downside to having a train hideout was, he too had to find the train to get aboard.
To keep the hideout secret, the train was on the move most of the day, travelling across London in an alternating pattern to throw off anyone who were not intended to board and keeping a written tab of the times was a bad idea. Scraps of paper were easily lost, and mishaps had a hang of turning out in the worst possible way. Evie had forbidden to keep any sort of physical account, opting for fixing the route week by week and memorizing the times instead. Jacob had nearly thrown a fit at the thought and was seriously debating discarding the hideout all together when Evie presented Agnes with her suggestion. A rancorously laughing Agnes though, had proved to possess a clever mind and a nifty solution to their problem. She would have never struck Jacob as the bookish sort of type, nor someone vastly acquainted with numbers and calculations, however, hearing of their problem, she had provided a way to keep track of arrival times and routes, assigning lines and starting points to different days. According to Agnes, all they needed, apart from the first line and the order of the rotation, was a set of calculations and everything was set. The intricate pattern was a tangled mess, leaving Jacob stranded and frustrated on several occasions until he got the hang of it and saw the pattern. It was more than enough to confuse those few he had trusted with the knowledge, let alone throw off outsiders.
Trouble was; just to make sure Agnes occasionally made changes.
Jacob had not been back to the train for quite a while. Now he entered Charing Cross railway station hoping that the pattern had not been altered. If not, the train should be there, and ready to depart shortly.
Craning his neck, he gazed the vast hall, looking over the sea of hats and heads to spot a well-known chimney sporting black and gold trimmings over a dark green body, at the far end of the hall. Pleased, he made his way to the platform, nudging through the throng and avoiding the few Blighters milling about within the crowd.
The trains whistle sounded in a shrill cry, signalling imminent departure. Billows of steam and smoke released as the steel beast shuddered, wheels slipping a little against wet rails until friction provided grip and the big body was coerced into moving with a moan from the engine. It rolled slowly forward, hesitant under the drag of the weight, though with surprisingly gentle grace for hundreds of tons setting into motion.
Gaining a semblance of speed still took time and getting aboard was but a small effort, a few hastened steps along the side, then a short leap to get onto the footboard and up the landing in-between sections. As the train rolled out of the station, huffing its effort in short bursts, Jacob flipped the top hat off and ducked through the coach door entering the train.
The coach was tepid, nights were getting colder and no one had lit a fire yet. He hung his top hat on a peg and left the cane leaning against the wall. The train smelled of Evie; a curious mix of rosewater and leather; sweet, feminine and assertive, distinctly befitting her character he mused as he went in search of her.
Evie was in the next compartment sat at the table, legs crossed at the ankle leaning over a small, leather wrapped book. He instantly recognized it as the one Elisabeth’s father had hidden away. Her brow was kitted in concentration as she poured over the minute writing filling each page, but the expression turned more into a scowl of frustration as he pulled up a chair taking a seat across the table.
“Is the book giving you resistance?” he said
Evie let out a frustrated growl, and pushed the book away.
“This thing truly is a nuisance,” she said. Jacob raised an eyebrow at her outburst. A smirk drew across his lips.
“Never thought I’d hear your reproach of a book, sister.”
“Jacob, I’m not in the mood for your antics.”
“Come now, what has gotten you this riled up?”
Her jaw clenched as she shot him a glare across the table. By the look in her eyes, and the way she drew her breath, he was quite sure she was about to tell him off. He was curious to her troubles though, and kept a keen eye on her, shrouded under a face of indifference. She halted her hastened reply and closed her mouth, eying him with a calculating expression. Her hand rested on the table, one finger tapping agitatedly against the tablecloth as she bit her lip, thinking.
“I just can’t make any sense of it,” she said, flinging a hand in the direction of the book without dignifying it with a second glance. In Evie’s world, that was as good as admitting defeat. Bested by a book; her home turf.
Jacob waited for her to continue.
“I was so sure; there would be something in there… I mean why risk everything, the journey, his daughter, and his own life if there wasn’t anything in there?”
Evie stared at the book with contempt. Jacob reached for it and flipped it open in his hand. The scribbles were in a minute and untidy hand, the letters bunched together and overlapping. He flipped through it and inspected the binding. All edges neat and even, no signs of it having been tampered with. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. If the book were hiding a secret, it would be within the text. He closed it and placed it back on the table.
“I’m sure you’ll find something-“
“I’ve been through it three times, Jacob.” Her finger started tapping the table top again. She pointedly avoided meeting his gaze. Shrugging her shoulders, she sighed exasperatedly. “It’s just so excruciatingly slow,” she looked at the book and frowned in distaste, “…and badly written; I mean listen to this.” She snatched the book and read aloud:
“These object come to us for ages, and we have an obligation to secur futur genrations also have opportun to study, as we do now. – It’s a nightmare!”
Evie took pleasure in a well-written piece, the fluent language of an experienced writer. This text littered with errors was stinging her ears. He held his tongue until he trusted his voice to hold no trace of mirth before he spoke.
“Topic seems dead on, though. He’s talking about artefacts isn’t he?”
“The entire book is about artefacts, or mostly at least; finding them, their preservation, the copying of them. The man was some kind of archaeologist or curator at a museum.” Evie rubbed her eyes. “There’s nothing about the shroud, though, or of cloth or textile of any kind.”
She fell silent, and Jacob mulled the information ower. If she had poured through the text three times, surely she would have found it, if the clue were there.
“Then why continue?” Jacob was wary. Wary she was chasing wild geese, leaving him to deal with London.
“It might be something else entirely; another Eden fragment. There is something in there. I’m sure there is!” Fervent will laced her voice, as if threatening the book for its hidden meaning to show itself. He watched her scowl towards the book and the determined set of her jaw. Her belief could not come merely from faith in Elisabeth’s father. The fact that she was not sharing just meant that whatever evidence she had, was threadbare.
“And how is that? How do you ‘know’?”
She threw him a glance, measuring his interest and weighing her options. His patience with research was in short supply and she was clearly calculating whether confiding in him the straw of evidence she was clutching was worth sharing or if he would see it as a reason to quit the trail.
“There’s this one section…,” she said. Her eyes met his, a challenging glare, willing him to dispute her conviction. She reached for the book, flipping through the first few pages, then turned it around and splayed it out before him, pointing to the text.
The page was different from the others. It started with a large “A” in abundant calligraphy in the corner, like the illuminated bibles and ancient Holy Scriptures. The book itself though, was not that old. He looked to where Evie was pointing in the text.
‘What are the basic skills we should teach our childeren? To know right from wrong, to follow the teachings of the good Lord in all our strife, to reed and write…’. The text went on lecturing, and Jacob did not see it holding any grater meaning. He frowned. If that was her only clue, then she was surely wasting their time.
Lifting his gaze back up, Evie was staring at him intently.
“Before you say anything, look at the calligraphy,” she said.
Irritation was spreading like an itch through his veins, but he held his tongue and looked back at the text. The ‘A’ was wrought in elaborate swirls crossing and interlacing in a willowy pattern of thin, measured lines, bearing every sign of an educated hand. The lines came together at the bottom, joining the legs of the letter in an arch. He knew what she was aiming at. The resemblance to the Assassins symbol was there, he had to admit, however it could just as well have been a quirk of the artist. He rifled through the book again. There were a few more calligraphies throughout the book, though no more A’s. Nothing to compare it to.
Well. That’s enlightening, he thought. And this is what she bases her search on. He was not impressed.
“Do you see it?” The glare he sent in her direction convinced her he did not. She sighed again, impatiently.
“What are the basic skills we teach our children?” Jacob was at the end of his patience. There were matters more urgent than deciphering the rantings of a pious archaeologist. Evie looked at him expectantly, but he was in no mood to humour her.
“Hide in plain sight, Jacob. He is basically telling us it’s right before us. We just have to see it.”
“This is what you base a search on? Clues that could mean anything or nothing at all. For all you know, Elisabeth’s father might have been wrong! And while you waste your time, the Templars are scheming.”
“Just forget it, Jacob. I knew I should never have involved you.”
“I’m glad you did; you convinced me it’s useless. Now put that thing away, and find something more productive to do!”
She looked back at him, cold and measuring. Her finger that had been tapping against the table, stopped as she flipped open her watch.
“I have an appointment with Clara. I should go.”
She rose from her seat, picked up the book and placed it back on the shelves. Then she crossed over to the dresser to stock her tool belt.
Jacob was seething. His eyes were burning holes in Evie’s back, but she ignored him. Typically Evie. She gave no promise to leave the book and the search for the Eden fragments alone. She would pick up where she left off when he was gone. And he would be left to deal with the Blighters alone.
Blighters… guns… Suddenly he remembered why he was there. Evie was in the corner, putting on her coat and strapping on her gear in sharp movements. Buckling on the gauntlet, she was nearly ready, when he spoke.
The look she shot him was not hostile, though held its weight, letting him know she had no intention of being bullied around.
His jaw clenched involuntarily at the challenge in her glare, before he got a grip on himself again. This was more important than their squabbles.
“The Blighters are obtaining firearms. The number of guns amongst them are growing. Rapidly,” he said. The defiance in her eyes gave way to concern, then shrewd interest.
“You haven’t picked up rumours of it? Shipments, or transports or anything?”
He shook his head, and Evie frowned.
“That’s odd,” she said. “Transports like that are usually heavily guarded.” Her eyes turned to him. “When did you learn of it?”
“Your ambush, the other day; that’s when I first noticed.”
She searched her mind’s eye; looking past the memory of their fight witch had stolen her attention that day and realised he was right.
“Me and the Lads have talked to Rooks throughout the boroughs today. It’s the same everywhere. The Bighters are arming themselves. Have you heard anything, Evie? Rumours or talk of guns?”
She shook her head slowly, then decisively.
“No,” she said. “Nothing that sticks out comes to mind.”
He knew she understood the severity of the situation. They had to get to the bottom of it quickly, or risk losing territory to the Blighters.
“Why don’t you join me? We’ll ask Clara if any of the urchins have heard anything.”
They got off at the next station and walked through the streets in silence, Evie always half a step in front. He preferred it that way, having her back and an overview of their surroundings. Her straight back held a proud, reassured posture. Combined with her unusual attire, she stood out in the crowd, drawing the eyes of passers by, the men specifically. She had learned to ignore it, or maybe she just failed to notice, too long acquainted with the feeling. He never would, though, and meeting the gaze of the men ogling his sister, they shortly withdrew their eyes receiving his sinister glare.
Evie flicked a gaze over her shoulder.
“Will you stop that!” she breathed through clenched teeth.
“What?” He of course knew what she aimed at.
“Stop it Jacob. They might ogle, but then forget they have ever seen me. You’re making sure the impression sticks in their minds.”
Jacob huffed. He never liked the way society reacted to Evie, but of course, she was right. Grumbling, his eyes flicked ahead, ignoring the stares and walking on in silence.
Clara was at her usual spot in Babylon alley, and came over as soon as she saw the assassins approaching.
“Miss Frye, Mr Frye, how may I be of service?” she asked, tilting her head slightly. Her eyes shone bright and the gaze fixed on Evie was that of an old soul; shrewd and alert, too mature for a child her age. From what little Evie had managed to gather, Clara had had to fend for herself from a very young age. Now, at ten she took care of others as well.
“Always ready to serve, aren’t you, Clara?” Jacob held her unwavering gaze, smiling.
“For my most important business partners? Always.” There was no note of teasing in her voice.
Jacob’s smile stretched into a grin. Some business, he thought. Clara and her urchins served the Assassins with information; in return, they freed children from factories who kept them enslaved or on odd occasions payed her coin.
Evie cleared her voice.
“Clara, there is a Templar I need to find. He has most likely gone underground, somewhere in the city. Can you keep an ear out for me? Find out where he is staying?”
“Certainly. I will tell my associates if you will give me a name?”
“His name is Louis Blake, but Clara, only listen. I do not want anyone near him; he is dangerous.”
Moreover, if he is startled, he’ll be even harder to find. Jacob thought.
“Miss Frye is not to worry. My associates know what to do. Now... as for the price.” The girl spoke in seriousness, but Jacob had to contain a smile. This little person was a fierce negotiator for her size. He had tried to haggle with her before, feeling the added toll of another set of missions were a deviation to their goal. That had turned out to be futile; the girl knew her own worth. She would not sell herself short and Jacob would not stoop so low as to intimidate a little girl. After discovering the conditions the children were working under, though, he regretted ever having put up an argument. He would have done the missions anyway. It was not child labour; it was slavery, pure and simple. In any case, Jacob stopped haggling the price.
Even so, Clara always made a separate deal with every job. She portrayed the statue of a serious businesswoman.
“There is a brewery in City of London; he Wolfshead Brewing Company. There are children there working long hours without any other pay than a few scant meals. Free the children, and we will provide the information you need.” She tilted her head, fixing Evie in her gaze and extended a hand.
“Do we have a deal?” she said.
“I will see to it at once, Clara.”
Jacob watched the girl’s face break into a smile for a second, her features softening and her eyes beaming. Those momentary smiles of achievement were the only times she ever looked her own age. Then her business mask came back on and she turned her attention to Jacob. Slightly more reserved she awaited his request. It seemed she never would relinquish the memory of their first encounter.
Schooling his face in serious folds, he addressed the girl.
“I’m I need of your assistance as well. There’s a new threat looming. The Blighters are receiving guns from somewhere, and we don’t know where. Have you heard anything?”
There was a curious twinkle in her eyes.
“None of your little black birds heard anything?” she said and tilted her head again. There was a nerve in this girl unlike anything he had ever seen. Evie might have come close when she was of that age, but he sensed another sort of will in Clara. A smug grin pulled across her mouth as her gaze lowered, before she looked back up at him from under her lashes.
“No wonder,” she said. “Grownups never really listen, nor do they notice. I know you have been through the boroughs today.”
By the satisfaction in Clara’s eyes, his face must have shown evidence of the surprize he felt. He registered Evie’s snort of amusement at his side and clenched his jaw in indignation. This girl should not be able to catch him off guard, nor keep a track of the Rooks business the way she did.
His gaze lay heavily on her face, irritation rolling off him in waves. The girl relented her teasing.
“Relax Mr. Frye. Grownups never pay us urchins any heed. Your secrets are safe with us.”
It had better be, he thought. If the Templars even had an inkling to what Clara knew, she would be in grave danger.
“As to your question, Mr. Frye, I have no leads to give you, but my associates are already working at it.”
That was the advantage to the girl’s proficiency; she wasted no time getting to work. Jacob inclined his head.
“Thank you, Clara. How can I repay you?”
She eyed him with a twinkling, calculating gaze.
“Right now, there is nothing I need your help with. I will settle with the promise of your aid for another time.”
An unusual request form Clara. He held back a frown. Knowing there was no haggling on the price, he accepted with a nod.
“My aid will be yours.”
“That’s settled then. My associates know how to find you.”
Jacob rolled his eyes. Of course.
“…when we know something, so will you.”
Good day to you Miss Frye, Mr. Frye!”
Chapter 21: Trails II: the urchin's lead
He expected Clara would need a few days to dig up information. He expected it would require eavesdropping and sneaking around. After all, the Rooks had turned up with nothing.
Thank you for sticking with this story, for kudos and comments and following and sorry for the long wait. Shay got into my head, and I couldn't see past him. Now he is out of the way, and I'm back writing Jacob. A really long chapter this time, a compensation for Your patience. Hope you enjoy!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
John’s fingers, curled around a half-empty tankard of ale was slowly tapping an irregular beat, his head turned and eyes drawn to the sound of the kitchen door opening downstairs. Jacob watched the reluctant smile crossing his face at seeing Charles straightening in his chair by the kitchen stairs, only to slump back against his seat again when one of the younger women emerged up the stairs, the way he had already done nearly a dozen times. John turned back and found Jacob’s gaze.
“Poor sod,” he mumbled, his eyes filled with mirth and pity in equal measures.
“Mm,” Jacob conceded. “He has certainly fallen hard.” Amusement pulled at the corner of his mouth and he swallowed it down with a mouthful of ale as Charles gaze raked ignorantly over the crowd in their direction.
“Do you think she will ever give in?” John’s lopsided grin widened a fraction as Jacob re-emerged.
Jacob shrugged, but his voice was laced with humour as he answered. “With her; who can tell?” he said, and John huffed a quiet laugh into his tankard.
It was late evening, the warmth of a good meal set in his stomach and the familiar buzz of Rooks enjoying ale and leisure time pleasantly relaxing. Elisabeth had already gone to bed, knackered after a gruelling day of laundry and Jacob had half a mind to join her, however there was still ale in his tankard and he opted to stay. By his side, John leaned back on his seat and propped his legs upon the table with a contented sigh.
Just then, the entrance door was thrown open and a guard came trudging through the room, weaving his way between the tables. In front of him was a rather intimidated looking boy, forced along by the scruff of his neck. Both were soaked to the skin. The light summer drizzle had been falling steadily all afternoon, and seemed intent on continuing well into the night. The temperature seemed placidly enough and the guard did not seem bothered, but the boy was shivering in his boots, though possibly not due to cold.
“Boss,” the guard said and pushed the lad forward. “This insolent rascal was caught sneakin’ through the gate. Says ‘e ‘as a message for ya’.”
Jacob turned in his seat to face the boy, a scrawny figure in a jacket too long and trousers that were tattered and dirty. His hands fidgeted nervously with a cap, clutched tightly in his hands as he took in the intimidating crowd with wide eyes.
“I- I’m sorry, Mr. Frye. I meant no disrespect,” he said flicking a glance toward the guard. “S-she said to deliver the message in person.”
The guard sneered and the boy swallowed hard and snapped his eyes back to his hands. Jacob’s lip quirked.
Evie sometimes sent messages through urchins, and finding the Rooks untrustworthy, she insisted on direct contact. It wasn’t the first time a guard caught an urchin trying to sneak in. So far, none had managed the feat of entering undetected and that did keep the guards on their toes.
Evie’s messages usually meant a disruption of a night with the lads though, and he was slightly peeved. He set the tankard down on the table, rested forearms on knees and leaned forward to catch the boy’s attention.
“What does she want, lad?” he said in a slightly disgruntled tone.
The boy’s gaze flickered bewildered and his anxiety dissipated in surprise.
“You did want to know of guns didn’t you?” he blurted and Jacob’s heart altogether skipped a beat. He had expected Clara would need a few days to dig up information. He expected it would require eavesdropping and sneaking around. After all, the Rooks had turned up with nothing. Yet it had not been more than a few hours, and here was a boy talking of guns.
Beside him, John’s feet slammed onto the floor as he straightened in his seat. Eyes locked on the boy, he quietly put his half-empty tankard down. Jacob’s gaze lingered on the boy a second longer, before he tilted his head and addressed the guard standing alert behind him.
“Thanks, Gary,” he said quietly. “I’ll take it from here.”
The guard nodded and shot a final glare at the boy before returning to his post outside. Jacob polished off the rest of the ale with no further ado. John was already on his feet and scanning the crowd. Whistling sharply between his teeth, he caught Tom’s attention across the hall and signalled to follow with a flick of an arm. The boy’s gaze flickered between the men, anxiety returning tenfold with the abrupt reaction.
“I-I thought…” he started, but Jacob broke him off.
“Not here,” he said quietly.
Intelligence and news were for a few select ears only until its significance was assessed and measures could be plotted. Raising to his feet Jacob put a firm hand on the boy’s shoulder and steered him towards the kitchen stairs.
Mrs. Cutler was just finishing up in the kitchen when they entered. She eyed the fretting boy without a change of expression, keeping whatever surprise she felt to herself.
“I-I’m sorry, Mr. Frye, I really didn’t mean no disrespect!” the boy plead, trying to shirk out of his firm grip. He had completely lost his bottle, mistaking Jacob’s reaction as offended and panicking at what consequence would follow. He probably regretted ever setting foot on the base. Even if Jacob and the Rooks had a favourable reputation among the urchins, there were other stories going around as well, rumours of what happened between Rooks and Blighters and the urchins were bound to pick them up. Jacob recognized the rising panic in the boy and moved to interfere.
Turning him around, he lowered to one knee, meeting his gaze at eyelevel.
“Calm down,” he said. “No one is going to hurt you.” He seemed to settle a bit at that, though continued to fidget with the cap as Jacob steered him toward the end of the kitchen table where the kitchen range reached with soothing warmth.
Tom walked into the room in long hastened strides. He regarded the urchin shortly and tossed a questioning glance in Jacob’s direction. “This one of Clara’s kids, then?” he said.
“Yup” John said as he drew out a chair. “That woman sure as hell’s efficient.”
Tom sat down next to John and Jacob turned a chair, sitting down back to front on the other side. Three sets of eyes on the child, he cringed and seemed to shrink as Jacob addressed him.
“What’s your name, lad?” he said.
“Benjamin Smith, sir.” The boy’s voice was a mumble, his neck bent in relent and staring into the table, still expecting punishment for impertinence.
Questioning him in that state of mind would do no good. Urchins were fickle, most had had to lie their way out of a tight spot more than once and could, if threatened concoct a mix half-truths and fantasy and real intelligence with ease. Picking out worthwhile information would be a nightmare.
Jacob’s gaze flitted across the room in grim consideration. Mrs. Cutler had finally finished for the night, but was quietly waiting and watching from across the room. A small smile broke on his lips as the solution appeared in his mind.
“Mrs. Cutler,” he said, addressing the woman in an unusually formal tone. “Do we have some dinner for our guest?”
That was her que, it seemed; what she had been awaiting. Her eyes twinkled good-naturedly as she answered in the same sombre seriousness.
“I believe we do, Mr. Frye. And some bread, maybe?”
The effect the interaction had on the boy was formidable. His chin shot up, his eyes flicking between Jacob and Mrs Cutler, his eyes wide and hopeful at the prospect of food.
“Perfect,” Jacob said, catching the suppressed grins from John and Tom. “And some ale, Mrs Cutler, if you please.”
“So,” he said and turned his gaze to the boy. “Clara sent you?”
Ben nodded sharply.
“Clara told me to come here. I meant no offence to your guard, Mr Frye, but Clara told me to bring you the message in person.”
Jacob’s eyes twinkled, and the two Rook’s mouths drew up in crooked grins at the abrupt change into eager and forthcoming. Jacob waved him off as Mrs Cutler put tankards of ale on the table and returned to her chore.
“Don’t worry about Gary, lad. Clara was right. Now, what news do you have for me?”
“You wanted to know about guns…”, he started and his gaze flitted between the men and his cheeks turned slightly pink. “I mean… I’m not sure it is what you want to know,” he said, casting another gaze between the men before turning it to his hands, clutching the cap. “… but I found it strange, and Clara said it was probably…”
Tom coughed, and the boy halted the incoherent story, his eyes grazing his company with apprehension as his mouth snapped shut. He swallowed hard.
Intimidation was a great tool in the right setting, and a big hurdle in others. Clearing his voice, Jacob caught the boys gaze.
“Ben,” he said, “just tell us everything you know. Let us worry over the importance.”
“Sorry Mr. Frye. I’ll start at the beginning.” The boy sighed, gathering his thoughts.
“Do you know the former Colt factory? The one at Bessborough Place?” Ben started.
Jacob nodded quietly. He knew the general history of the place. The factory set up by colonel Colt in the early 50’es, a model factory with prime working conditions and solid wages, even for the unskilled workers. It had run up until the time when Jacob’s father had returned to England, when the end of the Crimean war and a favour of ‘flying the flag’ halted the sales, and Colt took the business back to America. After that, there had been only one arms manufacturer left in London, the London Armour, but that too had gone bankrupt a couple of years back.
“I usually sleep there, by an air outlet where the warm air exits. The heat is enough to fend off the morning cold. It’s a good spot, and I have it all to myself.”
Jacob nodded, acknowledging the quality it represented. A secluded spot on high ground meant security and the warmth was an added trait. The place probably offered a nice overview of his surroundings as well and Jacob wondered if that was the reason why he had come; that he had seen something.
“I thought I would lose the spot, once, when the foreman found me,” Ben continued, “but instead he gave me a piece of bread and let me stay.”
The smell of food warming on the stove was slowly growing in the room and the boys eyes were drawn away.
“The Armour has been my home ever since,” he finished absentmindedly.
Something ticked in Jacobs mind and he frowned.
“The Armour?” he said. “I thought you were talking about the old Colt factory?”
Ben’s ears went slightly pink as he turned back.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, “It’s called the London Small Arms Company, but the workers just call it the Armour. You see, most of them came from the London Armour, and founded the small Arms company when the London Armour went out of business.”
Jacob’s senses seemed to sharpen.
“There’s still an arms factory in London?” he said, sensing Tom and John were sitting on the edge of their seats awaiting the answer. Three sets of eyes were now keenly trained on the boy.
Meeting the lads gaze across the table, Jacob knew they were just as struck by dread and urgency as himself. This was the key piece to their puzzle. The scales weren’t just tipping in the wrong direction, they were about to topple all together. The Templars were acquiring a bloody arms factory. A desperate plea filled his soul, that they weren’t too late, that the scale’s movement could still be stopped and turned.
“It’s a small business,” the boy offered matter-of-factly, as he seemed to miss the silent exchange between the men. “Since they lost the army contracts they mostly cater posh guns for the toffs.”
Jacob clenched the tankard in his hand lifting it to his mouth. The factory was outside primary gang territory, neither Blighters nor Rooks ruled there, and the reason why there had been no forewarning suddenly made sense. Placed within the city, there was no need for shipping the guns. Watching the docks would have never given a forewarning because the weapons were likely transported by carriage.
“It is still a model factory, owned by the workers,” Ben said. He lifted his head again in search for Jacob’s eyes, “but the last couple of weeks something’s been off.”
Jacob held the boys gaze above the rim of his tankard. ‘Two weeks. How many guns were made in that amount of time? How many guns had the Blighters obtained?’ he thought and noted Tom and John were equally stiff in anticipation across the table.
“What do you mean, ‘off’?” he asked, a neutral tone coaxing the boy on.
Bens gaze suddenly turned wavering and unsure, and the pink flush spread back across his cheeks.
“The workers… they never smile anymore, they stopped talking, too. It’s like all the joy has gone from their work.”
He watched Jacob, searching his face for confirmation of understanding.
“I think they are afraid.” His face turned pink again. It was the explanation of a child, frantically trying to convey his worry and frightfully aware grownups rarely heeded such.
Jacob needed no convincing. This was the best clue they had to how the Blighters were able to acquire the guns undetected. The boy worried his explanation would not be enough, though, and fidgeted with the cap sitting in his lap.
“I believe you Ben,” he said. “Is there anything else you can tell me?”
“The boy shook his head. “I’m not sure what else there is, Mr. Frye.”
What he really wanted to know, was when the Blighters got their next delivery, how many guns they had already acquired. The boy knew something was off at the factory, but he had not seen the extent of his information and Jacob did not want him too either, not yet at least.
“What do you know of their routines? When does the deliveries leave the factory grounds?”
“Monday mornings, Sir. The carts are loaded Saturday, at the end of the shift, though…” the boy paused, his brows coming together in a frown as he pondered something. “A fortnight ago, there was a cart leaving in the middle of the night,” he said, “and then again Saturday, last.” His voice trailed off as his attention was drawn away by the waft of the warming meal again and he swallowed eyes wide with hunger.
“Saturday, today, too,” John mumbled, his words casual, but the intent gaze he crossed with Jacob and Tom held urgency. Jacob pulled out his watch. It was a couple of hours until midnight. They might still have a chance to stop a third delivery.
“Think we’ll have to pay the Armour a visit, lads,” Jacob said. “Get the others ready, mind you, none of the inebriated, and none of the recruits. Harry is staying here as well.”
Ben’s attention shot to Jacob with rising trepidation as the two Rooks rose to their feet and exited, haste quickening their steps.
“Thank you, Ben, for letting us know,” Jacob said and caught the boy’s gaze. “You have been most helpful. Now I just like to know the name of the foreman, before I go.”
The urchin paled, swallowing hard.
“H-he is a good man Mr. Frye,” he stuttered. “I’m sure he would never…” his jaw clenched and his eyes acquired a defiant glow. “He is my friend,” he stated.
Jacob sensed he was getting cold feet, starting to get a grip on what he had set in motion. Jacob shook his head in an attempt to level the boy’s concern and put a hand back on his shoulder. From what the boy had told him, Jacob was reasonably sure the gun-maker’s involvement in the sordid mess was forced. A factory owned by the workforce had little to gain from consorting with Templars. He knew the Templars way of controlling people and the toll it took on those unfortunate souls.
The reassuring grip of his shoulder tightened as the boy moved to stand, keeping him securely seated.
“It’s all right, Ben,” Jacob said. “We’re going to help him.”
The matron chose just that moment to put the warm meal in front of the boy. His eyes flitted to the bowl and back to Jacob. “Y-you swear!” he blurted, then snapped his mouth shut in surprise at the demanding tone. When he continued his voice turning pleading. “Swear you will help him, and that he will not be harmed?” he said.
“By everything I hold true,” Jacob said, not an ounce of mirth in his voice, “I swear I will do anything I can to help them.”
Ben regarded him seriously for a moment, clearly deliberating, then sighed. “His name is Ebsworth,” he said and all resistance seemed to melt from his body. His eyes locked onto the meal and with an encouraging signal from the Matron, the boy was lost in his food.
Jacob signalled the Matron for a private word. “Make sure to keep him here until we return,” he said quietly. “I don’t want his cold feet trailing after us.” Then he hurried out the door.
It was late when Evie neared Babylon alley to report a successful mission to Clara. The job had taken longer than she had expected, all due to snags and misfortune. Firstly, the long trek across the boroughs, dodging Blighters that seemed to constantly cross her path, then logging the number of guards just before a change of shifts and doing it all over to make sure the new ones followed the same routines. Then, when the mission was over, the kids were uneasy, rattled by the appearance of the band of Rooks, there to lead them away.
She could have just left it at that, assured them all was well and left, but somehow their unease and wide frightened eyes gnawed at her conscience, and she ended up following them all the way to the orphanage where they would stay from now on.
Her stomach growled lowly, reminding her of the overdue dinner waiting back at the train.
The light was already falling, stolen away by grey curtains of rain hung from the grey sky above. She half-expected to find the alley deserted at that hour, all the children retreated to whatever shelter they had for the night. Really, the only reason she went there at all, was because it was on the way back to the train, but when she rounded the corner, Clara was still there, pacing back and forth and watching the lengths of the alley. Her face lit up in relief when she spotted Evie, and a sense of urgency crept up Evie’s back.
“Miss Frye! How glad I am to see you!” she exclaimed closing the distance between them in a hurry.
“Clara, Is anything amiss?”
“We found him, Miss! There is to be a meeting in the Strand tonight, end he is going to be there but I’m afraid you are running out of time,” she said.
“He has indeed gone underground,” she said, a cheerful twinkle in her eyes. “The meeting is in the sewers beneath the National Gallery. They were supposed to meet at sundown.”
All sense of hunger and fatigue were forgotten at the surge of purpose coursed through her veins. Finally! The search for the Templar had been a fruitless endeavour stretching back a fortnight. Evie was determined not to lose this oppertunity.
“Thank you Clara!” she said already backing away and breaking into a sprint.
“Say Boss… When are you going to introduce us to this ‘Clara’ of yours?” Liam was leaning against the side of the cart, arm relaxed against his sides as he fidgeted with a throwing knife.
The wagon rattled steadily through quiet streets toward Vauxhall Bridge and Bessborough Place. The Rooks were prepared for battle. They were finished going over arms and munitions, and now they could only wait while the horses brought them to the scene. Fighting off thoughts of the oncoming battle, they drew on a returning topic for distraction and entertainment.
Jacob’s lips quirked.
“You could at least give us a description, Boss. What’s she like?” another Rook said.
Jacob chewed on it for a bit, feeling the anticipating scrutiny of the lads under his gaze. The crock of his mouth drew up.
“I guess you’d say she’s pretty,” he said, “her hair is dark and her skin is fair, but she’s not really my type.”
“Ah, come on!” the exasperated expressions of Liam sitting across from him made Jacob chuckle under his breath.
“All right, all right! She has the face of an angle and a tongue as sharp as a whip. She will cut you in half if you try anything.”
“Never knew you to back down from a challenge, Frye,” Greg chided.
“Ah, come on! You know I don’t. As I said, she’s not my type.” Greg wasn’t going to coerce him into revealing further details. The wide grin stretching across his features stated the fact, and another one of the Rooks spoke up.
“Then why not let one of us have a chance at her?” he said.
Jacob eyed him up and down.
“I’m pretty sure you’re not her type.”
“She’s married, then?” the Rook said.
The conversation generally went this way when Clara was brought up. Jacob fed them morsels of information, and they voiced theories for him to deny.
Tom’s face lit up in glee.
“I know!” he said throwing a sidelong glance at the expectant faces turned his way. “She’s a noble lady with her heart set on charity. Boss has charmed her nickers off with his rough and ready ways.”
General sniggers travelled around the benches. Jacob chuckled.
“Not it,” he said.
It was a game to pass time, a distraction from foreboding nerves and thoughts of danger. So far, none of them had come close to who and what Clara really was, but Jacob was prepared to give the same humoured reaction if they did. Clara’s identity was safer when he and Evie were the only ones who knew.
“A madam of a ‘disorderly house’, then,” John stated.
“Oh God, no!”
Darkness had fallen and the street lights were already lit as Evie entered the Stand.
She approached the National Gallery from high ground, cautiously surveying the surroundings. A short distance away, the sense of danger alerted her to a guard, flashing bright crimson in her mind like the blood they wanted to shed, his shotgun slung over his shoulder as he lazily patrolled the roof. Her side prickled, drawing her attention along the row of houses across the square to another gunman patrolling there. She halted her approach, staying absolutely still while she scanned the rest of the roof, making sure she had not missed anyone. There were no more rooftop guards and when both men were retreating, she crept to the edge of the roof. Resting on her hunches, she surveyed the ground below, counting. One, two, three… four men. Four Templar guards patrolling the grounds.
That should be easy enough.
She checked the position of the rooftop guards before turning the attention back below, studying the routs the guards moved, searched for the entrance to the sewers. It wasn’t hard to spot, her interest drawn there like a magnet. That was where the meeting would be, somewhere below ground level. She stretched her senses further, reaching to feel direction and distance, trying to get a bearing of the target. She sensed the cool air and musty smell of the channels, the enclosed space… and then the feeling dwindled. She frowned as her grip on the second sense slipped. The light summer rain drizzled from the dark sky, distractingly chilling the garments against her skin. Evie threw another cautious glance at the rooftop guards and reached again. Furrowing her brow, she closed her eyes and felt the positions of the blighters ping in her mind, before the clammy feeling of sewer tunnels enveloped her. Squinting in concentration the sense of direction and purpose nevertheless soon faltered.
With a sigh, she let go the sense, pinching the bridge of her nose against an oncoming headache. It had been a long day. Her reach was a little more limited than usual, it seemed.
Biting the inside of her cheek, Evie mulled the situation over in her mind. It was an unfortunate disadvantage, making her less prepared. Should she abort? The meeting was apparently still undergoing, considering the guards patrolling the otherwise uninteresting spot. The mouth of the sewers gaped at her from across the square, as if raucously laughing and goading her. She had been on his trail a fortnight, and now she was so close, was she just going to let the chance slip? Let the Templar get away once again?
Her insides bristled with frustration. Definitely not! No reason to let the chance slip. Reaching her decision, she quickly formed a plan.
Well. Dispatch the snipers first, I guess.
The summer rain was still falling as the wagon halted in a narrow alley near Vauxhall Bridge and heavy boots thumped against the cobbled street as the Rooks dismounted. The horses were teetered to a water post in a backstreet while Jacob scaled a nearby building with an overview the factory. Tom and John followed at his heels, grunting in effort as they hauled themselves up on the roof before crouching silently at Jacob’s side at the top. The streets below lay deserted and everything seemed quiet.
The Armour was shut down for the night, no smoke rising from the chimneys high above the roof. Apparently, there was no nightshift, however, at the far end of the building, there was a faint glow of light shining through the windows and someone was still there.
Jacob concentrated and opened his mind, searching the location.
The factory was silent in his mind. The place felt quiet and unthreatening like the deserted streets below. There was movement there, the dull grey of a few workers shifting, and a golden glow of interest, the foreman Mr. Ebsworth. He searched the rest of the building, but felt no Blighter presence there, nor in the nearby area. He frowned, searching the area once more to make sure nothing had escaped him and Tom sent him a sidelong glance.
He had never explicitly told the Rooks of his abilities, but Jacob suspected that at least some of the lads closest to him guessed. They never asked, though, and Jacob saw no reason to explain himself.
The light in the factory wavered slightly before resuming its faint orange glow.
“Seems we are on time, Lads. The workers are gathered inside,” he said. “There are no Blighters there, but I have a feeling we’ll be seeing them before long. Let’s move.”
They scaled down the side of the building, John and Tom following nimbly using a drainpipe and dropping down on the crates stacked along the wall in their decent.
“The workers are alone, for now,” Jacob said. “When we enter, no one speaks but me. Is that clear?”
“Yes, Boss.” Various confirmations were muttered through the crowd.
“Remember where we are. These workers are not our enemies, but they are armed and they are wary. No matter what happens, I want all your weapons sheathed and holstered until I tell you otherwise.”
The men gathered around in the darkness were all reliable and seasoned men. Tom and John had understood his request to bring only seasoned men who would not make stupid mistakes out of nervousness. The men all silently complied, tilting their heads and raising hands, before Jacob turned and set off across the street, the Rooks following at his back.
The large factory door swung smoothly open on well-oiled hinges. It made no sound until the iron bar clanged against the wall. It resonated through the vast space of the main hall as Jacob and the Rooks filed in, boots clicking against the tiled floor. The room was draped in darkness, the wheels of large steam engines looming in on both sides of the central isle. At the end, a main stair lead up to another floor and a mezzanine running along the length of the hall. Light emanated from somewhere up the stairs. It flickered and grew as someone approached, bringing along the lamp. On the mezzanine above, steps rustled quietly along within the darkness. Jacob gave a quiet sign to halt their progress.
The warm glow flickered about the hall, but left the edges draped in shadow.
Half way down the stairs, the man carrying the lamp halted. Uncertainty lined his brow and he shifted on his feet to shoot a glance toward another worker following a few feet behind.
The man regained his resolution.
“Who are you?” the man demanded. “You have no business here!” The man spoke with authority, fronting the factory’s interests, suggesting he was Ebsworth, the foreman.
“Rumour is you’re in a pickle,” Jacob said and tilted his chin, regarding the man under the brim of his hat. “We are here to get you out.”
The proclamation was met with stern disinterest as the man regarded the Rooks covering his back. Noting the green uniforms and yellow sashes, the man frowned in recognition.
“I know who you are,” he said, shifting his gaze back to Jacob. “We do not require your help.”
“I’m afraid you have no say.” Jacob held his gaze unwavering, his hands resting atop the pommel of his cane in front of him. “We cannot chance the Templars taking control of this factory.”
“No one will be taking control here, but us,” Mr. Ebsworth said. On the mezzanine above, guns were suddenly cocked.
The sound was an undisputable threat, underlining the statement, and John’s hand twitched beside him as his gaze flicked upward.
Jacob stared unflinchingly on.
The workers were prepared to fight for what was theirs. Jacob was pleased. He had expected as much, but to find the confirmation was reassuring. A feral smile pulled at his lip. They knew not what they were up against, and though prepared, they weren’t ready.
“You were expecting someone else tonight, weren’t you?” he said. “The Blighters are coming to collect a share of your profit.”
The man shifted on his feet, but remained silent.
“I wonder what they charge?” he continued. “Money? Guns?”
“They wanted guns,” a voice from the darkness up above shot in, “we had to give them someth-
“Quiet!” the man behind the foreman bellowed and the hall fell deathly silent.
“And what will it be next?” Jacob asked quietly. His voice still filled the room, voicing the dread of the workers strewn about in the darkness. “Your profits? Your wages? … Your livelihood?”
“We are well aware of what they are,” the foreman replied dismissive, “and we are prepared to deal with it.”
Jacob regarded him with cool consideration. He had counted the men lining the mezzanine in the dark. They were ten, twelve when counting the two at the top of the stairs. Though they did not bear weapons on display, Jacob was sure they were armed. Still they were nowhere near the numbers needed to take on the Blighters.
“Twelve is cutting it a little short, don’t you think?” he said quietly.
The man froze.
“How ...” he gasped before stopping himself short, his gaze darkening. His hand stole to his back and in one fluid move; he produced a gun and aimed it at Jacob. The hand held the gun unwavering and true. The man was a practised shot.
“We are offering you our assistance,” Jacob growled, irritation starting to rise with the level of distrust shown. Ebsworth seemed unfazed, though as he answered just as hostilly.
“Why would we accept? To exchange one heel for another? A different boot is still a boot.” Freedom was a valuable thing, even more so when acquired by hard work. Again Jacobs mouth crocked with a satisfied grin.
“We have no interest in your business Mr. Ebsworth, nor will we interfere in the future, however, you are right. Our aid comes at a price. I do have two conditions.”
The gaze locked on him darkened and the hand holding the gun did not drop an inch.
Jacob regarded him with quiet confidence. The man was a business man, not a killer. He would refrain from violence if possible, and Jacob was adamant to give him that chance.
“Firstly, you will swear to decline any future business with the Blighters and known members of the Templar order; I will provide a list.” The man gaze remained flintily locked on him, no reaction giving away the thoughts in his mind.
“Secondly,” he continued and the man shifted on his feet, brisling with contained anger.
“Secondly, you will take Ben Smith as your apprentice.”
The foreman’s jaw clenched, and his colleague grumbled something under his breath.
“And who exactly is Mr. Smith?” irritation was rolling off the men in waves.
“Ben is the urchin you let stay under your factory roof.”
The angry stance faltered as surprise flitted through the foreman’s eyes.
“The street urchin??” Cautiously he exchanged a glance with the man next to him. “What is the kid to you?”
“He is the reason I know of this threat, the reason why we’re here. For that information, I owe him a debt, and when we are done here tonight, so will you.” The gun was still held aloft and pointing in his direction, but the man behind it was no longer angry.
“I know you to be a decent man, Mr. Ebsworth. If you agree to these terms, we will leave you and this factory alone. Now I need an answer; do we have a deal?”
Ebsworth shared a glance with his next man, a conversation bearing no words exchanged between them before he turned back, regarding Jacob with wary consideration, before signalling affirmation with a curt nod.
The silent interaction changed the mood in the room. In the darkness above, guns were uncocked and by Jacob’s side, the Rooks relaxed and let go the defensive stances.
“Well played, Frye,” Tom muttered.
Jacob hummed, casting Tom a sidelong glance, before approaching the two workers now descending the stairs.
Eight Blighters were not much of a guard. The Templars confidence in keeping the meeting a secret was slightly affronting, if not unnerving. Were there other meetings the Assassins had missed, gatherings going on, despite their surveillance? Evie hoped not, but the lack of guards made her uncertain.
She scanned her surroundings again, feeling the proximity of the remaining Blighters as she crouched behind a corner. The rain drizzled steadily on, making the puddles of blood behind her indistinguishable from drenched dirt in the darkness. The bodies of the dispatched guards were well hidden, and soon, there would be little trace of the deed committed.
The Blighter posted just outside the entrance shifted quietly in the darkness. He pulled out a pocket watch and held it close, studying it in the faint light before flicking it shut strolling off as scheduled. Evie watched his back retreat and then snuck across the yard down the entrance to the sewers.
The rank smell soon filled her nose, making her want to gag. Evie breathed through her mouth and forced herself to focus, opening her mind and searching the path ahead.
There was danger down here. She felt it with every fibre of her being, Blighters patrolling the tunnels in the dark. However, the target was there as well. She felt him a distance away, purpose and direction flowing through her veins and urging her forward.
The tunnel was some sort of main pipe. Off it ran several branches in different directions, every few yards. She felt the presence of more Blighters somewhere in the dark down a tunnel leading south, but their attention was turned away, out towards a non-existent threat from the outside. The Templar presence, however, was drawing her further along the main.
She pressed on, making sure to stay out of the water running along the bottom of the tunnel. Though stealth demanded silence, the noise stepping through water made was less of a reason to stay clear than the unspeakable matter floating in the murky water.
Another tunnel branched off to the left, this one closed off with metal bars. The darkness there was empty and quiet, and Evie payed it no heed as she silently stepped forward, slowly closing in on the target.
There was a faint glow in the distance. Another couple of turns, and she would be there. Evie stopped a second and felt the surroundings again. Up ahead, there was another branch, leading off to her right, just before the main tunnel turned right and widened into a room. Something told her to choose the branch leading left. There usually were several entrances to these underground chambers to ensure water could flow freely during floods.
Her skin prickled slightly with unease. Being underground, confined to passageways with no exits was not a favoured situation. She shrugged it off and concentrated on what lay ahead instead.
Her target seemed to be alone. Again she stopped, extending her senses and feeling her surroundings. There was only one presence in the room ahead. Evie frowned.
Why was he alone? He had come here for a meeting, then why was there no one with him? She cast a cautious glance back whence she came in thought. None of the guards had seemed perturbed. Maybe the other Templar was running late, the fortunate reason why her target were still there?
If that was the case, they could be arriving soon.
Better move things along.
Jacob stood with his Rooks at his back, waiting as sounds drew near, metal-rimmed wheels rolling over cobbled streets and horses gait slowing to a halt outside the doors. The workers had taken positions in the darkness above. Now they shifted in nervousness, the rustling of clothes and agitated shuffle of feet giving them away. John threw the sound a glance and shared a wicked grin with Jacob. When push came to shove, the workers were probably grateful for the Rooks assistance, however initially resented.
There was a pause of silence as the arrivals outside disembarked carts and wagons before the door was thrown open, and Blighters came filing into the hall. The ranks of men wearing red halted inside the door and parted to each side straightening in attention as a couple of Templars approached between the ranks, one following just a step behind the other signalling the formers higher rank.
The Templar regarded the dark corners of the mezzanine with distaste before his eyes landed on Jacob and the Rooks. His gait faltered somewhat and his accomplice stopped; surprise evident on both faces.
Jacob’s mouth stretched in a feral grin. They had turned up in numbers matching that of the Rooks, clearly anticipating resistance, though not like this, not a mass of Rooks and their leader there to greet them.
The Templar leader halted his steps, his face a stony mask of haughty indifference.
He turned his head to the upper floor and addressed the workers.
“So this is your answer, then Mr Ebsworth? You claim independence, and here we find you allied with the worst riff-raff London has to offer.” His words were of little consequence. What Jacob noted tough, was the face of the man at his back, lighting up in reproachful glee. Unease settled in his gut. Anger or irritation he could fathom, but glee… The light tap of the older Templars cane to the younger’s shin, equally chilling. Something was at work, and it could not bode well. Jacob blinked and reached out to his surroundings, searching for an ambush, certain that he would find one, but the darkness outside was silent and empty.
“Your business here has ended, Templar,” Mr. Ebsworth growled. “Any red coat or cross that dares enter these factory grounds again will find himself facing the barrel of a gun.”
The empty blackness outside did little to settle the churning feeling inside, but there was no time to ponder it as the Blighters drew their arms and barrelled forward.
Evie crept through the tunnel toward the expanse of light before her. She had just turned around the bend outside the expanding room and was approaching another branch-off opening into the room where her target was waiting. He had his back turned, standing with his arms clasped behind his back and bouncing slightly on the balls of his feet.
Suddenly, somewhere behind her in the dark, someone started whistling. It was an off-tune, melancholic melody, slowly rising and falling, fleeting through the tunnels in an ominous sound. It raised the hairs on her neck, partly by the threatening presence sounding suddenly close as the tones resonated between the walls, but mostly for the way it murdered the tune.
Evidently, the Templar was also unnerved by the sound. He froze, his muscles tensing, before turning his head and bellowing down the hall.
“Enough! Enough, already!!”
The whistling down the tunnels stopped immediately, however, the ominous feeling it had brought, remained. The skin on her neck prickled unnervingly, and Evie turned her attention the way she came. There were Blighters there; probably the ones she felt in the branches at the start off the tunnel, however, now they were shifting around, their positions moving. The entrance behind her was blocked.
Evie cursed in her mind. She would have to find another way out.
She extended her search, feeling the passageways around her. Across the expanding room, there was a tunnel that felt right. It was another way out, though, the metal bar door closing it off, was probably locked.
No matter. The set of lock-picks in her pocket fit any lock. No closed doors were to hold her down.
The fight had ended, Blighters fleeing head over heal at the first sign that the fight was lost.
Three Rooks were dead, lying sprawled on the factory floor, a worker injured on the floor above. The older Templar dead as well, a master shot having dropped him to the floor just as the fight started, reminding Jacob that the gunsmiths were not to be trifled with. They knew their craftsmanship and how to handle and evaluate the merchandise. Moreover, from now on, they would not hold back against the Blighters. The factory would be safe, for the time being, and Jacob’s attention was turned to the gnawing feeling of foreboding in his gut. Something was not right, and he was adamant to find out what, as he leaned over the second Templar.
The man was lying glassy eyed and panting, blood seeping from a deadly wound in his thigh. Jacob grabbed his lapels, raising him off the ground. The man groaned in pain, but finding Jacob’s face before him a sneering laughter bubbled up his throat.
“You bloody eel,” he sneered, “slippery bastards the lot of you Assassins.”
“What is it?” Jacob growled, “What do you know?”
The man blinked. Deliberating, he wet his lips and swallowed.
“Your sister is an eel too,” he said, “but even eels can be caught, if you just set the trap right.”
Jacob felt as if his heart stopped as the man cackled in laughter.
“Where!” he growled, but the Templar just continued laughing at his own clever joke. Liquid rage filled his very being, burning in his chest and bringing clear focus to his mind. He would find her, no matter what. He didn’t feel an ounce of remorse for the dying man as he pressed fingers into the wound on the Templar's leg and the laughter turned into a howl of pain. His heart was racing, panic creeping up his spine fuelling the desperate anger inside, feeling as if time was running through his fingers, trickling away like the Templars blood.
“Where!” he repeated, barred teeth an inch form the man’s face and his grip tightening.
“It doesn’t matter, Frye,” the man gasped, his voice somewhere between a cry of pain and a hiccupping laugh. “Your sister will be dead before you get there, beneath the National Gallery with the other rats.”
Evie! Oh please, Evie, get the hell out of there!
His fingers snatched the cane from the floor as he rose, grasping it in a deathly grip; an anchor of reassurance as he turned and bolted.
Fact: The Colt factory, the London Armour and the London Small Arms Company all really existed and Colt's factory really was a model factory in its time, located at Bessborough Place. In the London map of 1868, the factory is labelled Small Arms Manufactury; The London Small Arms Company founded by the workes and located at Colt's old factory 1866-1935.
I hope to finish the next chapter within a month, hopefully sooner, then I'll start uploading already written chapters, previously posted on FF, but taken down for a brush-over. There is a lot more to come. I promise!
Chapter 22: Seconds
One second can change everything. One second a life claimed, one second an advantage lost. If you never stop fighting, never give up, every second counts.
I thought this would be one chapter, before continuing with previously posted chapters. I was wrong. This is a short one. Dark, but short and there will soon be too more. It takes on a life of it’s own once I start writing and I like to follow and see where it takes me. Thank you for sticking with this story, for following and favoriting. Know that it makes my day.
Evie snuck forth, a ghost moving silently through shadow and darkness. The target, Louis Blake had his back turned, his black coat shifting minutely while he tinkered with something in his hands.
After her missed shot at him he had disappeared, she had lost track of him a fortnight, fallen behind on every schedule, but here he was, oblivious to deaths approach. She would not make the same mistake twice.
Eyes locked on her target with deadly intent, she never let her guard down in her prowl. She flicked her wrist, releasing the blade as she swung down sharply to sink it in at the base of the Templar’s skull.
With a blink of an eye, everything went down the drain. One second she was about to claim her kill. The next, every advantage was lost as the Templar moved, ducking to dodge her blade while spinning backwards with an arm extended. Then a sharp sting of pain in her thigh.
Reflex had her lash out with her kukri, ever-present in her other hand. It caught and made a deep gash along the Templars arm as she spun away gaining the distance needed to counter an attack. Coming round full circle, Evie dropped into a fighting stance, taking measure of her situation. Only then did she realize, the pain in her thigh was a syringe.
In panicked disgust, she pulled it out and flung it to the floor.
Her heart was beating frantically in her chest as her thigh tingled disconcertingly. Evie raised her gaze and met the Templars eyes across the room.
The Templar clutched his arm trying to stem the flow of blood.
‘Margins, Evie.’ Her father’s voice a whisper in her mind.
Aware of her panting breath, Evie controlled her breathing, practice kicking in and staving off the rising fear.
“Sir?” a disembodied voice rang down the corridors, the distance impossible to judge by sound alone startling Evie to the core. She snapped her senses in its direction, sensing the danger where red figures filled the corridor, just a short distance away.
“Sir, are you all right?”
Margins, Evie. Always keep them on your side.
“I got her,” the Templar snarled gleefully. “I think most of the dose went in. Stay back until the drug works.” He unsheathed a short sword, gripping it tightly in his injured hand and shifting his stance to face her.
The tingles was spreading fast, moving up her thigh and down her leg. Evie knew time was slipping away, the pain where the needle pierced her skin already numbing. A tense silence filled the room, nothing to hear but the drips of water from the tunnels and the edgy shifts of feet from the men waiting a short distance away, listening intently.
I need to get out of here. Now.
Raising her Kukri in response to the Templar’s stance, Evie covertly slipped a throwing knife from her belt. In a flash of movement she let it fly, aimed at the Templar’s throat. It lodged deep, severing windpipe and veins in one stroke. His eyes widened in astonishment, arm barely raised in deflection and his breath cut off mid-way. He made a hissing sound as air exited his lungs and then his body crumbled in a heap on the floor. Evie did not bother cushioning his fall, hurrying on the awkward, tingling limb to the metal barred door on the side of the room fishing the lock picks out of her pocket.
“Sir… We heard something drop.” the guard sounded reluctant, unwilling to untimely interfere, yet concerned enough to brave a question. Evie’s heart hammered in her chest, resonating in her ears as shaky hands inserted the metal pins in the lock.
“Sir? Is she under?” Urgency thrummed through her body, raising the hairs on her neck. Respect and intimidation would not stave them off for long. The Blighters would soon come to investigate. Evie bit the inside of her cheek in concentration. The lock gave with a quiet click.
She heaved the door open, the creaking hinges relieving the waiting men of any doubt of interference. Boots pounded towards her location as she stepped through the opening. Shoving the door closed behind her, the latch clamped shut. She flung herself away as strong arms shot after her through the metal bars, fingers clawing for purchase to restrain her. A hand wrapped around her foot and tried to haul her back. Evie kicked it off and crawled backwards as the men shouted angered curses and someone barked an order to break down the door.
Above the ruckus, Evie heard the sound of guns being cocked. She threw down a smoke-grenade and stumbled to her feet, breaking into a sprint as shots rang down around her. It was a terrifying few moments of bullets ricocheting off the walls before it stopped. Whether due to the guns being empty or the men choosing to save their bullets, Evie didn’t care. She was unharmed and tore on, ignoring the first few branch-offs leading west, knowing she had to put distance between herself and her pursuers before they were able to get the door open.
Every second counts. Never give up, Evie. Fight until there’s nothing left.
Her leg had gone completely numb, detached and dead it was more than a little awkward running, but Evie thanked whatever almighty power resided above she was still able to. As she fled from the predators on her tail, she gained a level of confidence in the detached limb. Her body knew how to motor it, even if she had to concentrate not to overstep on uneven ground as she barrelled on.
What was more alarming was the unfamiliar tightness in her chest and the fact that she was starting to feel lightheaded. Shaking it off did nothing to lift the feeling either. Apparently, whatever had been in that syringe was hitting her bloodstream.
I need to find an exit. Fast.
She needed to get out of the enclosing tunnels, get to the rooftops and disappear, but the tunnel she was in was a storm drain. The stench was less suffocating, more of a damp rot than the putrid sewer but still foul. Worse was; there were no exits.
Evie panted as she ran. Up ahead there was a divide where, a tunnel continuing west, the other two leading increasingly southward, toward the Thames to her estimation and toward the Blighters. There had to be an exit somewhere further up.. Lungs burning in exertion, she closed her eyes briefly and reached for her gift.
Prepared to choose the safest passage, she opened her eyes, only to find the golden purpose dancing, shifting this way and that before flashing in bright red alarm a terrifying few seconds. She skidded to a halt, searching for the danger as she approached the crossroads with caution, but there was nothing there.
Bare, black emptiness greeted her skittish nerves. Her second sense had been a little weak on occasions before when she had skipped to many meals or worked very long hours. It had never acted like this before, changing and wavering, and never ever had it been completely wrong. Dread clawed at the back of her mind.
This is bad.
The second sight was her most important weapon, one she depended more upon than her hidden blade. She needed it to work; needed the gift to find her way out of this mess. Any second standing still was a second lost and Evie decided to continue west, choosing the middle tunnel and hoping it would lead out.
She pulled on the second sense as she moved along. The sense of purpose undulated oddly, and then started dancing around her in circles. She watched it bounce off the walls, as if the golden light had gained a life on its own, turned into an eager dog. No sooner had the thought passed through her mind before she realized it had indeed turned into a dog, his soft ears flopping as his head turned her way, big brown eyes confirming she was giving chase.
Another crossroad approached up ahead. Her companion increased his step, bounding off down the corridor. The light faded as he slipped away from her.
Empty blackness surrounded her as she came to a halt. Her muscles were trembling and bile rising in the back of her throat. Suddenly the stench of the room was overpowering. Doubling over she heaved, emptying the contents of her stomach until there was nothing left.
Closing her eyes, she leaned against the wall trying to gather her thoughts. She had to move. She blinked sluggishly. Somewhere deep down she realized she had to concentrate. Gritting her teeth she called on the waning power. There was movement up ahead, a presence in the darkness. In the abysmal blackness something shifted, searching along the walls. A tall figure, his broad shoulders hunched in a familiar way. A soothing clam rolled off him as he turned.
She could not believe it. Jacob had come for her. Evie nearly sobbed with relief. If he was here than she was safe. If he was here, no one could harm her.
She was just about to shout out, to reach for him, when suddenly, all her senses stood on end in warning.
There was something wrong. A slight shift of angles and the contours weren’t right. Something about the way he moved was off. Hope dwindled and died and the lump in her throat seemed to grow. It wasn’t Jacob.
Of course, it was not Jacob.
The figure flared red.
Her arms were sluggish and heavy and her fingers were tingling. Evie swallowed hard. Her throat felt tight. She clenched her jaw and willed herself to focus. The man in the darkness was a Blighter, his red coat distinguishable now. She had to take care of him silently before he called his mates. Sneaking up behind him, she flexed her hand, trying to rid the numbness in her fingers. She would deck him… and plant her blade… in his neck. Easy… She had done this… a hundred times… she was a Master after all.
A grin suddenly spread on her lips.
Perfection lies in practice. She had lots of practice.
Her mind derailed taking stock.
How long had she been doing this? How many had she killed? How much blood was on her hands?
Not enough, she thought turning her attention back to the figure in the dark.
Startled, her eyes raked the darkness, searching for him and finding nothing.
Then she saw movement in the corner of her eye. Whipping around, she briefly wondered how he had managed to get behind her as she lashed out, countering the cold steel swinging down towards her, only to stumble when her movement found no resistance and the figure evaporated into thin air.
Panting hard, Evie clutched her kukri. What was this? Where did he go?
Listening intently to the darkness, she held her breath and stood deathly still.
Was there someone there? Was that a splash of stepping in water? A crunch of boot against the ground?
She reached out with her second sense again. Tingles of foreboding emanated from the tunnel whence she came. It was growing, a trickle of shining red running towards her, like blood she thought. The flow was growing. Evie stepped back keeping her boots out of the red flow, but soon she was backed up against the wall. Out of retreating steps the river of blood welled up, radiating in the darkness to colour her world in fear as several faceless men in red coats came into view around a bend. Hunched in fighting stances, their shoulders brushed as they walked abreast, not an inch of room between them. Like a wall of brute force they approached, the ominous stomping sound ringing in her ears.
Fear raised the hairs on her neck. She fought the rising panic, her fingers fumbling through her pockets before closing around her one remaining shock-grenade. It was her last chance. The only way she could escape now. The voltaic bombs would stop any living being.
She flung it into the middle of the lot. The electric charge went off with a bright blue flash, but the red seemed to overpower it. Her addled mind could not comprehend, nor did it try.
All it registered was the score of Blighters walking on unfazed, drawing knifes and raising batons as they came for her.
Panic finally fond purchase, sinking in its claws into her very soul. A desperate sob racked her voice as the red surge swallowed her whole.
Chapter 23: Pending
As Jacob battles time and fear in search for Evie, anger is the lifeline keeping him together.
Another short one. Trying to update a little more often, since we are hanging off cliffs. Another piece of heartache, since I love these two so much.
His breath painted white plumes of vapour in the damp air as he heaved for breath. His lungs were burning. Aiming the rope launcher across another street, he didn’t stop his stride, just flung himself off of the roof as the dart found purchase and the mechanism engaged, pulling him across. His shirt clung to his skin under the heavy coat, sweat and rain drenching him. He grit his teeth and pulled himself up on the roof, but took no time to pause before taking off again. Rain didn’t matter. Exertion, pain didn’t matter. Nothing mattered except finding Evie, finding and getting her out. He ignored the whispering ache in his muscles as he pulled himself up onto another ledge, high above ground level.
The Strand was practically crawling with Blighters, more than he could hope to fight and live through the ordeal.
What the hell were you thinking Evie? Were you willingly putting your head on the block?
Perched high above the streets, he crouched on the ledge of the church tower and watched the pack prowl, analysing their movements.
Down below, Charing Cross ley drenched in rain and darkness. The lampposts bloomed their shaded light to reveal a startling number of blighters fanning out along the streets upending every nook and cranny, going through empty yards, checking behind crates and under carts. They were clearly searching.
To Jacob that implicated two things; one: they had not got to Evie, and two: they had reason to believe she was still in the area. The former brought a small form of relief, the latter a terrifying sense of urgency.
Why hasn’t she left?
His jaw clenched as a number of scenarios flitted through his mind, unwanted pictures of gunshots and knife wounds through Evie’s body.
Jacob clenched his jaw and pushed them away. At present, such thoughts were nought but a hindrance. With steel determination, he put his attention to the scene before him.
They were heading west, a solid manhunt swiping the streets, blatantly ignoring the areas to the north and east. He drew a hand down his face, making a split second decision as he regarded the overall area. Whatever made them work in that specific direction, he could not tell, nevertheless he was content to take any indication to Evie’s whereabouts.
Lifting his gaze, he opened his mind in search for her as he had already done a dozen times. He could always tell if she was close, a warmth on his skin and mind radiating from her direction as if she were a fire only he could feel. There was nothing but the silent hum of danger down below and Jacob turned outwards, widening the search, reaching gradually further away. The skill had grown with time in London, his reach surpassing what his father had ever described possible. Still, apart from the Blighters there was only coldness, as if the rain had cooled the world of any warmth.
He was about to move when down on the street, a shout rang out.
“Here! Over here!”
He snapped around, running along the roof ready to fire his gun, grapple to the middle of the fray or whatever was necessary to get to Evie. Below, heavy boots pounded against the cobblestones, but when he found the source of the voice, there were only Blighters assembling in the middle of the street. No sign or trace of Evie among them. Then what was the shout about?
A scraping, metallic rumble resonated to his perch and Jacob realized they were removing a manhole-cover. Honing in on the spot, he picked up parts of the conversation.
“I’ don’t think this is the one either.” The Blighters cursed heatedly.
“How long until they’ve filed through the bars?”
“Five, ten, fifteen minutes, who knows? Can’t stand around and wait while she escapes! Let’s move!”
The men dispersed, continuing their prowl westward.
The blighters believed Evie was underground. Now he knew where to look, he wasted no more time, firing a line and grappling across the square. He avoided delving further into why as another surge of stone cold dread lifted the hairs on his neck. Fear sunk its claws into him unfurling a different kind of anger, a desperate defence against despair lodged deep within trained instincts. Aggression was always the best defence. Blazing unrestrained it roared as he wondered what bloody assessment she had made before engaging the mission. What carefully laid plan led to this particular outcome?
Jacob grit his teeth in silent fury.
Stealth could only get you so far, but up against these odds and confined to the underground the margins were non-existant.
What irked him the most though, was there were other options. She could have brought backup. She could have turned up with numbers matching the Blighters and made it an even fight, out on the street.
If she would just put a little trust in the Rooks. If she had an ounce of faith in me…
Atop another roof, another street in view, he searched for the familiar tendrils that were only hers, but there was only the constant ring of danger from the hunters on a prowl. Jacob moved on.
Again and again he reached for her, stretching his abilities to the very limit as desperation slowly crept up on him.
At the back of his mind were questions he did not want to consider. They whispered quiet torment driving a dagger through his heart. He disregarded it sharply but it crept creeping back, clawing its way to the forefront of his mind as the search went on fruitless. If she were dead, would he still feel the bond they shared? Would he still be able to find his way to her through it or would it die with her? The thought was too painful, too raw, another dangerous distraction threatening to shatter his concentration. He willed it back, willed back the tight knot in his throat too as he pulled himself atop another roof.
Evie, where the hell are you?
The rain was pelting the surfaces around him, the thrumming of droplets grown a low, steady hum cloaking his progress across roofs from the Blighters on the ground.
Suddenly something made him pause and turn his head. When he reached for her again, he felt her. A weak glimmer, but one so familiar that there was no question in his mind if he were right. Jacob set off at a sprint. His feet flew across the roof in its direction, exertion and pain instantly forgotten.
The glimmers grew stronger by the yard, as if answering his call with fervent will. It resonated from a small square up ahead. The space held a circular water fountain with secluded seats between low hedges, deserted and dejected in the falling rain. In the corner, behind a low parting wall were steps leading down under ground and the door at the bottom glowing.
He threw a glance back, noting the Blighters a block behind, steadily working their way onward. There was a limited amount of time until they came upon the spot. Jacob let himself drop to the ground, the sheltered space secluded from view, then hurried across the square and down the stairs.
The tunnel was dark, a flood drain by the look of it, and suddenly the Blighters search made sense. The flood drains ran separate from the sewer only joining together closer to the outlet. There was no need for manholes for inspection, meaning there were fewer accesses. Evie had somehow managed to enter one while barring the Blighters out.
The darkness around him was all-consuming, but following the tendrils of Evie’s presence, Jacob needed no light to find the path through bends and branch-offs.
When he finally laid eyes on her though, his feet stopped dead in their track.
Evie was slumped against the wall, feet sunk into the murky water. Her eyes were open, staring into empty space with a vacant expression Jacob identified with death.
“Evie!” his voice cracked as his mind regained control of his feet and he closed the distance to her. She was still clutching the kukri in her hand, ready to fight off her enemies even on the brink of death. His gaze searched but found no injuries on her no trace of blood where she rested but she was so very still. When he cupped her cheeks, they were cold as stone.
She suddenly seemed frail and small, the sister he had always protected. Now all the strength residing in her gone with the light extinguished in her eyes. His eyes were burning and his heart breaking appart as he crouched before her crumpled form and felt for a pulse on her neck, not daring to hope and equally not able to believe that she was gone.
He nearly jolted when her pulse thudded against his fingers. Flooded with relief, he covered his eyes and sucked in a shuddering breath. She was alive. Evie was still with him.
He took a second to compose himself, then regarded her keenly. Her pulse was weak, and slow. Her breathing effected too, he surmised.
No less life-threatening than if he’d found her surrounded. He gripped and pinched her inside thigh, holding her empty gaze. It was a hole few seconds before pain wormed its way into her addled brain and registered as a minute flicker in her gaze and a breath drawn a little more sharply between her lips. The familiar snick as her hidden blade activated alerted him, but there was only a feeble tremble as she tried to raise her hand to fight him off. He stopped her movement gently, cuffed her wrists with one hand as he tried to find her essence in the empty gaze.
“Evie. It’s me. It’s Jacob.”
The minute awareness wore off with no sign of recognition on her features and then she was under again.
Evie needed help, but what aid she required could not be given here. Quickly he disarmed her, taking off her brace and stowing it away in a pocket with her kukri.
A sense of danger was slowly creeping up his spine again. The Blighters were upon the entrance. Gripping her arms, he pulled her up and then heaved her dead weight across his shoulders. The ghostly wail of rusty hinges sounded muted with the distance. It was time to go.