By King Xia
A lone newspaper flutters through the air, the front page of the daily. The wind soon drives it to the ground, where it lays unmolested, save by the occasional low gust. Presently, a man walks by, brown loafers stopping by the paper. A black-gloved hand plucks it from the ground, and flips it to the front. The sneer of disgust is almost audible.
As the man continues his stroll, the paper drops to the ground once more, landing with its headline facing the sky, the face of Richard Cromwell staring to the heavens. The headline proclaims, “Son Of Oliver To Be Crowned”. The rain soon reduces the paper to a wet lump of pulp, the face of the ruler-to-be washed away by the torrents.
~ ~ ~
That paper was read throughout the streets of London, Liverpool, and other such cities that day, and the news was crowed out to the masses throughout the countryside. Richard Cromwell! To be crowned this third of September, in the Lord’s Year 1658! To be sure, the death of the king Oliver was unforeseen, and there would be those to question the legitimacy of Richard’s ascension. But no matter. There would be festivals aplenty to come. It did not really matter who was crowned, did it?
~ ~ ~
The ceremony was over quickly, the crown taken from the old king’s head, and placed upon the brow of Richard. The archbishop intones the Lord’s prayer, and then the newly-crowned king stood, to the cheers of the masses gathered outside the walls of Windsor – more out of the joy of food and drink to come, rather than of any celebration for the king. The commoners do as the king does now, heading off to feast, though out in the streets, rather than in any palatial setting. But among the crowd, there was a man who was not feasting, who was plotting and scheming and contriving ways to kill and slaughter and maim.
~ ~ ~
It had not been more than a week since the crowning of Richard, and already his face graced the front of the Daily again. This time, the headline was not one of joy or celebration, but one of fear, and anger. “Assassination Attempt Failed, Killer Escapes” were the five words which defined the day. The anger translated into the mutterings in the streets, some civilians already dissatisfied with the new king, the food and drink having worn off. Among the people, one man in particular took rapt interest in the news.
Alton Wick sat, one leg crossed over the other, upon a wooden bench, still slightly damp from the morning’s rain. Eyes flicker over the page, taking in a word here, a phrase there, eventually finishing the entire article. A shadow falls over the paper partway through, but Alton takes no notice, only looking up once he has thoroughly devoured the article.
“Sir, d’you have any change to spare?” The lilting tones of a beggar-boy rise and fall through the question, and he outstretches his hands in hope.
Alton stands, tipping his hat at the boy. “No, I’m sorry, and now I must-”
“No sir, you don’ understan’. It’s for me sis.”
“And probably for your crippled dog, and your-”
“Yes, yes, him too! An’, an’, an’ my pa who is blind!” The boy improvises, trying to invoke pity.
Shaking his head, Alton walks away. He’d get a drink, to mull over the case with. The little brat would be gone by then.
~ ~ ~
Strangely enough, the boy tailed Alton into the bar, and even hopped up onto a stool by Alton. Jonathon, the bartender, knew Alton well enough to know he had no kids, and treated the boy with suspicion.
“He wit’ you?” Jonathon inquired of Alton.
“You could say that. He followed me-”
“Oh, well scram, boy, scram!” Jonathon waves a washcloth at the boy, and the beggar only turns his head questioningly.
“Why must I go sir?”
“You can’t drink! You’re too young!”
“Says I, that’s who.”
“What if I paid?”
“No, no, no, no, no! Out, boy!” The boy refuses to budge, and rather holds his hands out.
“If I could have a spot of coin, sir?”
“Then you shan’t mind if I sit here, bothering no one.”
“No one but this gentleman here.”
Alton shakes his head. “Just give me the usual. He’ll leave yet.”
As Alton receives his drink, all thought of the boy departs from his head, replaced by the murder attempt in the paper.
~ ~ ~
Alton was a sort of self-employed policeman. He rather disliked the dirty work involved with accosting paperwork and criminals, and so instead did it all on his own, leaving the final capture to the police. His pay came from the pockets of whomever he was following, and occasionally from the coppers themselves. He was a sort of blessing and plague for the police at the same time. Many a case was solved due to Alton’s work, yet his single-handed prowess made the police force seem quite incompetent in comparison.
~ ~ ~
The splish-splash of rain upon puddles on the ground was accompanied by heavier footsteps, albeit if one was not listening intensely, one would not have distinguished the latter from the former. That had been a miserable failure, it had been. The man cursed himself as he once more ran towards Windsor, to set himself up once more. Fingering a light dirk under his sleeve, the man continued to run, readjusting the dagger every so often if it slipped. It would not do to cut himself.
It was not long before he reached the compound.
Damn. Police patrolled the area, nightsticks, lanterns, pompousness and all. I should have thought that they’d protect the castle after that bungled attempt. Now I have to deal with the castle guard and those coppers…
~ ~ ~
A shadow flits over the compound, up to the wall of the castle. It passes just behind a policeman, rustling his cape slightly. The cop spins around upon his heel, drawing his nightstick, then resumes his patrol upon finding nothing. He passes it off as the breeze.
~ ~ ~
Pressed up against the wall, the man inhales sharply, waiting for the cop to move away. He then turns to his task….climbing the wall. It would be harder with the cops below having the chance to see him…but not impossible.
~ ~ ~
The crowds part as a carriage, pulled by two magnificently white horses, passes through the lane. Cromwell? In the city? This was quite the rarity, made only more astonishing by the fact that his life had nearly been taken not two days ago! But his cart was moving with purpose, in the general direction of the police compound. Perhaps he was off to see the chief?
His carriage had also attracted a veritable following. As people parted to allow the carriage to pass, some with less urgent tasks took up to following it, walking along behind it, chatting with friends along the way, not so caring where they were headed, enjoying the walk. Thus it was that those nearest the carriage walked straight into it as it suddenly stopped – to the outcries of those who had fallen.
From within the carriage, a hidden signal had been given, halting the carriage for a man, tailed by a small boy. Cromwell’s head pokes out from the curtains to one side of the carriage.
“Would you be Alton Wick?”
“I could be. Why would one of such authority be searching for an Alton Wick?”
Richard cursed to himself. He hated these word games. Why couldn’t everything just be simple and to the point? “One would wish to hire him on undisclosed matters.”
“Might these undisclosed matters have an undisclosed amount of crowns attached to them?"
“They very well could.”
“Might they also be able to rid one Alton Wick of a tail?”
“I did not know Alton Wick was a beast. I had thought-”
“A human tail.”
“Humans do not have-”
“No, a human tailing another.”
“Oh. Yes, very well. Come into the carriage, won’t you?”
“Have we established that I am Alton Wick, then?”
“I believe we have.”
“No, you have.”
“Very well, now would you come in?”
Alton, who had left his countenance unmoved throughout this, allows a whimsical grin to make its way onto his face as he clambers into the carriage. The driver shoos the beggar boy off, to the relief of Alton.
“Ah, that is better. It is so unnerving to be tailed, I must-”
“I imagine you wish to know-”
“You imagine I imagine?”
“I suppose. But do you wish to know what you are being hired-”
“No, I believe I already know why I am being hired.”
“Very well then, let us discuss your-”
“No, I don’t know why you are hiring me. I was merely saying that it is wrong to-”
“Oh, very well. So, I am-”
“Look, you did it again!”
“Oh, never mind. Get on with it.”
“So, I am hiring you to figure out who attempted to kill me, and bring them in.”
“Wouldn’t that be a job better suited for real police?”
“They’re the muscle. All brawn, no brain.”
“Very well. I shall expect two thousand crowns upon delivery of the-”
“Two thousand? That is quite the sum.”
“I would think you hold your life more precious than-”
“Oh, yes, of course I think my life more precious than two thousand-”
“Then you wouldn’t mind paying three thous-”
“That is far too much-”
“Haven’t we gone over this already?”
Cromwell sighs. “Very well. Three thousand crowns to be delivered upon deliverance of the killer.”
“May I exit, then? You are headed the wrong way.”
Cromwell signals, and the carriage comes to a stop once more. Alton exits more than a little nonchalantly, flippantly waving a leather-gloved hand over his head as he walks away. He makes a final remark as he leaves, not turning to look at Cromwell. “Oh, and have a feast tonight.”
~ ~ ~
The carriage began to roll away not moments after Alton turned. With that sound, Alton spun on his heel once more, and began to pursue the carriage. He caught up in moments – the horses were awfully slow for royal-grade horses – and threw himself under the cart. Bah. He’d have to clean the infernal dust off this jacket later. Grabbing onto some of the woodwork beneath, Alton quickly found a few holds, and braced himself for the ride to come. He would catch this killer today, though he knew nothing of the man.
This dust was quite irritating.
~ ~ ~
From high above, the killer surveyed the hall below. This was the great hall of Windsor, and the many balconies and pillars provided excellent perches from which to poise oneself. Of course, no action could be taken from here, unless one was suicidal. But the view was the most important part.
From here, the entrance to the hall was visible, as well as the servant’s entrance and the three exits to private rooms were also visible. This was a quite uncomfortable position, however, and the killer would not have come up here had he not known something was up. The moment Cromwell’s carriage had returned, he had called his servants about him, for some event or another. The action which ensued meant that something big was happening, some large gathering. Which meant he could strike again today, and kill Cromwell this time around…
~ ~ ~
As the carriage came to a halt, to let Cromwell out, Alton continued to hang off the bottom. By now, the bumpy ride had reduced his arms to little more than jelly, and it was sheer stiffness which was preventing him from falling. He was quite sure his coat was covered in a veritable layer of dust as well.
The carriage started to move once more as Cromwell entered Windsor, probably to return to the stables. The illicit passenger moved with it, dropping off the carriage as it turned a corner. Alton rolled into the grasses to soften the impact, grimacing as he noted, too late, that the grass had a layer of dew on it still.
Alton picks himself up, and runs over to the main building, quite sure he wouldn’t be noticed. It doesn’t take long to find a servant’s entrance, which he uses to gain entrance into the building. Windsor was depressingly guarded; no wonder the other man was able to gain access so quickly.
Once Alton stepped from the servant’s room, he noted that the innards of Windsor were beautifully decorated on any account; the architecture was both sound and pleasing to the eye, and flowers and torches alternated spaces on the walls. The marble floor had been polished to where it would gleam even without light, and Alton nearly felt a stab of regret as his dusty shoes walked across it. Nearly.
His mind was too fixated on other things to worry about dirtying such a fine floor. Where would a killer place himself? He certainly knows there will be some event tonight, so he knows when and where he will have his next attempt. He just needs to be able to blend with the crowd, I suppose. Alton curses aloud, scaring a servant who was mopping up the mess behind him. There will be no knowing who among the crowd is the killer, then. Being on the main floor would just be too risky. I have no love for Cromwell, but failure means I don’t get paid.
Alton took the next few hours – it would not be night for another four, at least, and the killer would not strike until then – to pace about the hall, to the annoyance of the servant who continually followed him, cleaning up his footsteps.
“Aha!” A mop clatters to the ground - apparently this servant did not do particularly well with fright – as Alton exclaims this. With no further explanation, Alton rushes off, down the hall, and turns a corner, much to the consternation of the servant left behind him to clean up after him.
Only after turning the corner did Alton realize a possible blockade. Spinning upon his heel, he careens back towards the servant, only to crash into him on the return trip, the slick floor preventing Alton from stopping in time. This only added to the wetness of his coat, to Alton’s annoyance. Picking himself up quickly, Alton dashed out a question. “Where might I find stairs up to a higher-”
More than a little irked at the inconsideration of the man, the servant testily replies, “Just go that way,” The man points in the direction Alton had not headed, “And you shall come to a set of stairs.”
“Do all of you castle folk do that?”
“Cut people off before they-”
“Oh, never. That would be rude beyond belief.”
Alton does not pause to consider this paradox, and instead runs down the hall (almost slipping once again as he does so), hurrying towards his destination.
~ ~ ~
A carriage rolled up to the front gates of Windsor, and a couple, dressed up in the finery of the day, steps out, walking up the steps and into the castle. The carriage rolls away behind them, the gilded corners glinting slightly in the light of the setting sun. Chatter emanates from within the castle, from the great hall. The clink of wine bottle upon glass accompanies this, and the occasional bite of food is taken. None of the nobles within quite know why this feast has been held – though some may suspect – but none question it either; a night of socializing and fine drink should not be questioned, after all.
Cromwell himself, dressed in ruffles and overly dignified clothing, sits upon his throne, also unsure as to why this feast is necessary. Gingerly biting into some turkey, he discusses the current economic affairs of the country in a bored tone with some nobles who have stepped up to meet him. With any feast came politics, and politics were boring, to say the least. But he suffered through it; politics were a necessary part, he supposed. He had been exposed to a lot of politicking when his father was king.
~ ~ ~
The killer, knife still up his sleeve, navigated his way through the crowd. Adorned in the ridiculous ruffles which the nobility seemed to enjoy flaunting, the killer pushes through the crowd, unnoticed. His path will take him directly to the throne, and it will only take one slash, one swipe, to kill the man. Then all the troubles will be over…
“Ah, good duke Aberly!”
The killer turns on his heel, only to meet a woman, throwing herself at him. Horse shit.
“How are you, duke Aberly?”
He responds in the same stiff-necked tone that all other nobles took on. “I am afraid you have mistaken me for-”
“Oh no, I could never mistake your face after-”
The killer turns to move away. “I am quite sure you have the wrong-”
“Oh, don’t play coy. I have no-”
“I am not-”
“Just like always. Please, I do not bear any-”
“Like I have said, I am not your-”
The woman grabs him, spinning him around, and slapping him. The crowd around the two all turn to watch this.
Shit. “Okay, dear. I’ll stop. Would you like to talk somewhere quiet, then?”
“Finally you come to your senses!” The woman marches off, now glaring, shooting looks over her shoulder to make sure she was still being followed.
~ ~ ~
From above this all, a man watched the various figures move about, like puzzle pieces, breaking apart from some nobles did not fit together well, or remaining together for long periods of time when there was a particularly good fit. Alton had chosen a prime balcony position, right above Cromwell. He could survey the entire floor, well-lit by chandeliers above, and small lanterns upon the walls below. From here, he’d have a clean shot to any who approached Cromwell, and so long as the killer was not already up there with him, all would be fine. But no, he was not. There he was, in the crowd, moving with purpose. Or was that him? No, it was that man. He looked so unaccustomed to be wearing those garments….it had to be him.
A woman burst from the crowd and threw herself at the man. Some discussion goes on between them, and then the killer is slapped. Spectacular. Alton nearly laughs, and he does as the would-be killer is marched away. Alton turns back to the staircase. Perhaps he could complete this without making a scene.
~ ~ ~
Now marched into a secluded hallway by the Great Hall, the woman spins on her heel. “What was with that in there?” She interrogates.
“Oh, nothing, nothing.” The killer stalls for time, reaching up his sleeve for his knife.
“What do you mean, nothing? All that business with not recognizing me! That was too far!”
“Yes, I’m very sorry. I shall never do that again.” His knife was ready now. Just one simple slash, and upwards jab…
“Halt!” Alton’s slightly ragged voice echoes about the hall – there had been a few more stairs than he had remembered – as he raises his pistol. “Unhand the lady.”
“Why should I? She is-”
“Yes, why should he? Just because he took something too far doesn’t mean he isn’t deserving!”
“I suggest you look down, madame.”
A shriek of terror runs through the hall as the woman notices the knife, and the scream is shattered by a gunshot. The bullet arcs through the air, brushing by the man’s head. Shame. It could have just been over. “Unhand the lady, if you please. Now.”
The man turns and runs back into the Great Hall, back to the chatter, and back to the people where he could hide. Curse this suit. Running is impossible! Cries of annoyance and surprise follow the man as he charges towards Cromwell. His cover blown, he would attempt to finish his task. No sense in running away, not with that blasted man – who was he? – dogging him.
~ ~ ~
“Sorry madame. You’ll have to excuse me.” Alton remarks as he runs by in pursuit of the other man. He was quite quick in spite of that finery, surprisingly enough, faster than Alton in his current state, perhaps. Those stairs had taken quite a toll, and Alton had never been the most fit of men in the first place.
It was not hard to follow the man across the hall, however. His destination was clear, and Alton easily ran through the disruption which followed the killer, though he did have to leap over more than a few knocked-over nobles.
Alton skids to a stop, however, once he sees that the killer is ascending the steps to Cromwell’s throne. Cromwell, to his credit, or lack thereof, is frozen in fear. Useless nobles… The marble, again, clean to the point of slickness, knocks Alton down as he aims his pistol at the man. It fires into the air quite harmlessly, but causes the man to spin around in surprise nonetheless. A few shards of glass drop down onto the floor by him.
“You are a terrible shot, you know that?” He remarks, then turns back to his victim.
Above the man, there is a terrible creaking, and without warning, a huge object comes hurtling down. A chandelier, glass, fire, and all, crashes down onto the man, and the crunch of his bones is audible. Alton recovers quickly, bowing as if this were his plan. “One killer, delivered as requested, sire. I shall expect my payment in no less than two days. Have a good night.”
The story is unrevised, as explanation for the roughness in parts.
Just to prepare for any eventualities, as all other work on this site, this too is copyrighted and not licensed under the Creative Commons license.
Critiques are always appreciated.