Will Edmund do the right thing for Frances? Can he tell what the right things is anymore? See below to read more about Edmund and his unlucky journey to Old Noah’s door.
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‘Better to let her die,’ he called after me, ‘than for her to live with what she has become.’
But all I could think of was her hand in mine. Of somehow freeing her from her curse. Of killing Slatina.
Pipe smoke, spilled ale and the rotting flower stench of jenever spirit caught in my throat as I entered, the floor catching at my boots. Rushlights flickered in their holders, the glow barely enough to reveal the board walls, the wrecked hulks of the patrons hunkered over their filthy brew.
It was quiet in there yet, for the Dog and Bear never truly grew into its own until the deepest hours of the night, when decent men had scurried to their beds, leaving the river mists to swirl alone.
I made towards a long low table of rough wood, its burden of stone bottles and seeping firkins. A young woman stood behind it, the sleeves of her smock rolled up to reveal arms thin as a child’s. A hare-shot lip puckered her face into a sneer.
‘I need to see your Master,’ I said.
With a bob she ducked behind a tattered flag which hung as a makeshift curtain from a rope behind her.
Samuel was at my side once more, his breath coming short and sharp. ‘I beg you, Edmund, let us go now before that repulsive individual appears. No good shall come of renewing this acquaintance. Have you forgotten all he is?’
‘Hush, Samuel.’ The voice was low, soft, hardly more than a hiss. ‘You must not speak ill of the dead.’
I took in the keeper of the Dog and Bear, from the length of tawny silk bound about his head, to the gown of braided velvet that skimmed the toes of his curling slippers. ‘You still believe yourself a dead man, Old Noah?’
He shrugged. ‘Look about you, Edmund. Has the Saviour returned, bringing his Kingdom to renew mankind? Does that filthy snake of a river burn with cleansing fire? No? Then I am still dead, still awaiting the day of my resurrection. But dead men may still be hospitable. Come in. A jug of gin warms on the fire.’
We passed beneath the curtain as the hare-shotten girl crossed back into the inn and found ourselves in a parlour just large enough for the three chairs huddled round a small grate within. Old Noah motioned for us to be seated as he arranged cups of cracked china for the gin.
In truth, the man was as damaged as his porcelain. I heard tell he was once a soldier who fought bravely, flinging himself into every fray and cannonade, emerging unscathed even when all about him fell. Battle after battle he fought, Death ever his companion but never claiming him. One terrible day as he walked knee deep in fields of horror, his shattered mind came to understand that the bullets could have missed him so entirely only because he had no earthly form, that he must have died years before and only now understood the nature of his immortal form.
I took the proferred gin, the heat small comfort in that squalid den. ‘We need something of you, Old Noah.’
He nodded. ‘All who come here want something of me. It is the nature of the dead to intercede on behalf of the living.’
All the journey through I had not wondered at what I would say when the time came to ask, believing that necessity would frame the words for me. But now, faced with such a dreadful task, I faltered, my lips drying like parchment.
He handed a cup to Samuel, then climbed onto his chair, kicking off his slippers, tucking his feet beneath him.
‘We need … We want …’
He held up his hand to silence me. ‘Whatever it is, you shall have it.’ I made to protest but he would not hear me. Instead he said, ‘Something moves about the earth, something old beyond time, yet a creature unknown before. It is a forerunner, a creature hailing the End of Days. My wandering shall soon be at an end and so shall yours, that is certain. What we do along the journey – that is the only question left to answer.’ He shot Samuel an uneasy look. ‘Some souls are already eaten, leaving nothing but the shadow of the man that once was.’ He waved his hand in the air, as if Samuel was a mist to be dispelled. ‘But some yet cling to life.’ He took my hand then, gripping it so hard, I feared the bones might crack. ‘Use what is left to you wisely.’
He stood then, gesturing towards the curtain, towards the inn and the world beyond and as if knowing why we came he whispered, ‘Take the girl,’ he said. ‘She will missed by no one.’
Evidently disturbed, Samuel hurried from the parlour, leaving me alone with the curious old man.
Noah pressed close to me, his breath of aniseed and clove bathing my face. ‘You have fallen into the darkest company, Edmund. I felt you lost before, but now …’ He shook his head. ‘All I can say is this. Know who you are. Embrace it, no matter how dark, no matter how squalid. Only then will you triumph over this terrible evil.’
He pushed me away then, my mind spinning with his words, lost as to their meaning.