Edmund’s story is nearly at an end. He has lost much, but perhaps there is yet something he can hold on to.
To read the other instalments in his tale, see below.
One, two, three, four, five, six , seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty one, twenty two, twenty three, twenty four, twenty five, twenty six, twenty seven, twenty eight, twenty nine, thirty, thirty one, thirty two, thirty three, thirty four , thirty five.
*William Blake, Kind Edward the Third.
‘What happened?’ I whispered.
‘I fear you are not strong enough to hear. And yet it cannot be long until the watchmen find us out. If you are to know, you must know soon.’
I felt for her hand and squeezed it. ‘Tell me, dear friend.’
And so she did.
She told me how the three of us had fed on Slatina, how that devil had shrunk beneath us, until he was little more than a husk, eyes wide and swollen in his cadaverous skull. How as we feasted she shivered under the bed, afraid to look, afraid in our blood lust she might be our next meal.
And how, when we were done and Slatina was naught but parched skin and powdery bone, she emerged from her hiding place to gaze upon the four of us.
‘I believed you dead, Sir, for there seemed little left of you to hold the spark of life. But as I stepped past, hardly knowing what was yourself, what your lady or poor Samuel, I heard a groaning. And then I saw the ash stir, rising in puffs from the floor and I knew – it was breath was doing it. You were yet alive.’
Somehow that kind soul gathered me up and helped me from that place, from the chamber where the Devil’s ashes mixed with those of my love and of my friend. Through the house were the remains of the Red Men – those soldiers of Slatina – whether true men or demons I shall never know, though all now fallen, unable to survive without the will of their master urging them on.
Peg flung about me a cloak, to shield my degenerated appearance from curious eyes and somehow we came, stumbling through the dark and twisted streets of London to a low room overlooking the docks.
The candlelight flickered on her troubled face and for a moment I felt the full weight of all that had gone before, of the passing of Frances, of all the death that had come since that stormy night when I first met the Devil of Moravia.
But something tugged at dear Peg. I tried to speak, but failed, so I squeezed her hand, urging her to finish the tale.
As if reading my thoughts, she nodded. ‘There is more and for my part in it I am humbly sorry. I only thought to help you, Sir, you must believe me.’
And so she told me of spying the locket about my neck, of fearing that if I were caught with the images of the Earth Angels upon my person, some soul might recognise them and I would dance at the gallows. And so she took the jewel, knowing she must hide it, knowing she had little time before some tradesman would call or the smell of burning alerted some passerby to the terrible sight within the house.
And as she looked about, her mind whirring, her senses alert to every noise, her eye alighted upon my old clock. With nimble fingers, she opened the case, stopped the movement and hung the chain within.
Her teeth worried her lip, gnawing at the flesh. ‘But the constables searched the house too well, too long. Word has reached the docks that the locket was found and Miss Frances’ locket also and Samuel’s too and they mean to lay all those dead souls at your door, Sir.’
That poor, sweet girl began to cry then, weeping so hard, her tears feel upon my broken skin, stinging like salt in a fresh wound.
I wished to speak, to say how grateful I was, how she had nothing to chastise herself for. That through her kind actions and her courage, she had helped save the world from the scourge of Slatina, had saved my friends from blackening their souls further, and myself – oh, yes, she had saved me too. For without her I might never have found the strength to battle the Devil without and the devil within.
But then there was a terrible shouting from outside, gulls squawking, a dozen pairs of stamping boots.
And all I could whisper was, ‘Go!’
With one last squeeze of my hand she vanished, the purest, kindest creature I have ever known. And I closed my eyes and waited for the end.
But as you see the end has not yet come.
I was discovered – what burned and broken flesh remained that might bear the name Edmund Spencer – and brought to Borough Compter gaol. Here I remain, the sole felon amid a sea of debtors. A bitter irony, for it seems I was always destined for goal, whether for debts or for bloodier crimes.
They have given my body time to heal and in that time I have written my account of these events so the facts may be told. I hear there are murder ballads sung about me, about the Black Hearted Lord, the Murderer of Angels and so even if none shall read it, I wished to commit my own version of the tale to paper. I have kept hidden a tinderbox and mean to burn this record once I am done.
There was a trial. I was accused of many killings. Of the Red Men, of Samuel, of the victims in the lockets, of an ‘unnamed man of slight proportion’ … of Frances. This false burden I carry willingly rather than have the world know the truth. The awful truth about my love.
I am visited often. Through the day the doctor comes to see I am well enough to hang – for what spectacle is there in a villain too sick to know his last day is upon him. And others come, those willing to bribe the goalers, who wish to be able to say they were yea close to a murderer of such stature. Most often they merely stare. Some spit curses. Some spit. But I write on.
But my cherished visitors come at night. Sometimes I turn from the page to find Peg Fair seated on my mattress and she will smile and tell me more of the Fair Folk, of her mother, of life in the rolling hills and sweet flowered dales of England. Samuel comes too – the old Samuel – a sparkle in his devilish eye – to share tales of a wench he has bedded, of a night of cards or a drunken tavern brawl.
And she comes.
Not the monster of lusts and yearning. But the girl I first met years ago, she I wish I had never let go. The girl with roses in her cheeks, with the kindest heart and a smile of summer and spring. Daisies twined through her glowing hair.
The darkness pales and my time is almost done. May God forgive me for all the evil I have brought to the world and when the time comes, I hope with all my wicked soul it is my love who comes to take my hand and lead me home.
Edmund William Spencer.
Finished on the eve of his execution, the 5th day of May, 1799.