The Devil of Moravia : Shaking off the morbid shackles

Is Edmund the same man he was before Slatina stumbled into his life on that cold, desperate night so long ago? Read on to find out more. And see below to catch up with his story so far.

Onetwothreefour, fivesix , seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelvethirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty one, twenty two, twenty three, twenty four, twenty five, twenty six, twenty seven, twenty eighttwenty ninethirty, thirty one, thirty two and thirty three.


I was suddenly gripped by a terrible hunger, an overwhelming thirst the like I had never felt before. It gripped my stomach, pulling it tight as a drum.

Unable to pull away, unable to make sense of the horrible drive that befell me, I stared at Peg, helpless, speech a stranger.

She smiled, sweet and sad. ‘Time to accept who you are, sir.’

Once more, Old Noah’s words rang in my mind. Know who you are … no matter how dark, no matter how squalid. 

Finally, I felt the truth of all that had gone before. Slatina had led me to kill. He had led me to drink of others. He had led me to become something … other.

Mouth dry from yearning, I gasped, ‘What are we, Samuel?’

He shook his head in sorrow. ‘There is no name for what we have become. No name any would dare utter aloud. Only know that we are of an ancient evil. We shall be forever.’

‘Forever?’ Was this the truth? To live in horror forever?

‘There will be no forever if the now is not seen to.’ Peg extended her arm. The welts were fresh, barely healed. As if sharp teeth had dragged along the flesh.

My stomach rolled at the thought. But still I gazed on her. ‘I cannot,’ I muttered.

‘And yet you must,’ she said. ‘That creature may be the Devil himself and you his creation, but you are not him. You saved me sir -‘

‘I lured you from your home to die -‘

‘For love!’ She cried. ‘And though you put yourself in mortal danger, still you saved me. You are not him.’

I saw the truth in this. For despite the abhorrent occurences to which I had been witness, I had acted with more decency and courage in recent days than I had in the five previous years.

Peg Fair was now our anchor, our clear head amid the chaos and so it was to her I now turned. ‘Tell me what I must do.’

She smiled, such a sad, gentle smile that tugged at me. ‘You and Lord Samuel are weak. Samuel has fed but little these last days, you not at all. Feed. Find your full strength.’

‘And then?’

She stared at me with such intensity, the room seemed to drop away until there was only Peg and her pale eyes and her words, hard as granite. ‘Even the Devil must die.’

I think I loved her then. For her courage. For her sweetness. For her steel. For knowing what must be done and for not allowing us to shy away from it.

She pressed her arm under my nose, the scent of her exploding on my tongue, of hay and sweat and warm, soft evenings. I could hear her pulse, the rush of her blood in her slender veins, each pump of precious fluid forcing an extra layer of scent about me, until I felt I could trace her life – the acrid air of Southwark, the sweet wild flowers and grasses of her family home.

And as I imagined her mother and the washerwoman, the country smells of milk and animals and clear running water, somehow she was in my mouth, her skin salt on my tongue, my teeth pressing into her, a soft, sweet release of fluid inside me. And she tasted as I imagined, but better, bringing life and fire and heat into my heart, flowing through me until my pulse rang in my ears and it was hers and hers was mine, two strong hearts beating as one.

Suddenly, she pulled away. ‘Sir, I am weak.’

The blind pleasure of that moment passed away and I looked about me, dazed. Peg’s face was ashen, the only colour about her the blood greasing her arm. I could feel the wet of her smeared upon my face, rouging my cheeks, my chin, the world coloured red through gored lashes. I felt filthy, ashamed.

I glimpsed Samuel, greedy eyes watching me, watching Peg, knowing that he was hungry for her too.

‘Edmund.’ The Frances Demon’s voice reached me through the door, at once alluring and revolting. ‘Time to finish this.’

She was right, it was time. I signalled Samuel over, bade him put his shoulder with mine and together we finally moved the press aside. I took him by the arm when we had done, pulled him back a few steps away from the door.

‘Peg,’ I whispered, ‘get yourself away under the bed. Keep hidden. Whatever you hear – no matter what you hear – only come out when all has grown quiet.’ I took her hand . ‘Get away then. Somewhere far. Do not look back.’

Pale and weak as she was, she squeezed my hand, nodding her assent. I waited a moment for her to hide herself and turned to the chamber door.

‘Come in Slatina. We shall not stop you.’

And there he was, within the chamber, the door closed behind him as if he and Frances had passed through it without an opening or a closing. He seemed to glow, from his pallid skin stretched across his skull, his teeth, shimmering bright as pins, his eyes like embers. And Frances beside him, so alike in every devilish detail, she might be his twin.

I thought of all that had gone before, of the night of my first meeting with the Devil, of our visit to Samuel and the killing of the thief. I thought of the Earth Angels and Frances coming to me, our dreams of escape. Of the cupboard of horrors, of Old Noah and his wise words. All of this tumbled before me like magic lantern slides and at the end, as the light of my memories faded, there was just the four of us facing each other. And it felt right that we who had so closely tied ourselves together should be present at the end.

‘Edmund, Samuel.’ Slatina gave his most ingratiating bow. Before taking Frances by the hand. ‘All of us, together at last. You cannot imagine how much this pleases me.’

I smiled at the little man’s arrogance. ‘Pleases you?’ I said.

‘Why, yes,’ he said. ‘It has been difficult for you, I know. Shaking off the morbid shackles of human existence. But you see the truth now. There is no life for you but with us.’ He pulled Frances close, their faces turned together, meeting in the deepest of kisses.

I swallowed the bile gathered in my throat, blinked away the image of my own girl, gone now. ‘You assume much,’ I said.

He released her and looked at me with the most loving smile. ‘There is no choice for you, Edmund. You are mine.’ Steel glittered in his eye. ‘Forever.’

‘There is always a choice,’ I said, walking towards the shutters, towards the drawn curtain, ‘For those prepared to sacrifice all.’

I looked at Frances for the last time, at the hollow woman she now was, a wax likeness of her old, sweet self. ‘Farewell, love.’

I reached for the catch, lifted it free and flung wide the shutter.








The Devil of Moravia : The killer within

William Blake [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What has become of Edmund? Is he alive or passed onto the great beyond? Read on to find out and it if you’d like to catch up on his previous trials, see below.

Onetwothreefour, fivesix , seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelvethirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty one, twenty two, twenty three, twenty four, twenty five, twenty six, twenty seven, twenty eighttwenty ninethirty. and thirty one.

As more blows fell and more, I knew I was to die. As I sunk into the pain, there were but two thoughts that haunted me; that I had failed to save the girl.

And that Slatina yet lived.

Darkness took my hand.

Time passed, a kaleidoscope of light and darkness, harsh voices snatching me from unconsciouness merely for me to plunge back into that dark silence. I had a sense of movement, of the city’s streets, gables close above me, but Frances was by my side throughout, by some miracle returned to full health, her smile radiant as the sun at Midsummer. I reached for her hand but she was ever beyond my reach, dancing ahead of me, a May fly on the breeze.

You’re home, Edmund, she whispered, sliding beyond my reach, slipping away from me as my eyes slowly opened.

It took a moment to realise, I was indeed home. The same dark curtains, pulled tight across the shutters. The same scent of beeswax and dust. And a shadow beside me, straight shouldered, the waist slender and tapered, fingers working a needle into a circle of fine cloth. There she was, my girl, my Frances. God had looked upon that ghastly sickroom, at the depraved state of that house and the deeds committed there and he had seen there was one deserving of his mercy. He had plucked my love to safety.

I made so many vows in those few moments – to keep her ever safe by my side thereafter,  to always protect her, to never allow a single harm to befall her as long as I was fit to do so. And even if the Lord should take me to him first, to protect her with my spirit through the years of her ageing until we were reunited beyond.

All this I promised through fevered, grateful tears … Until the young woman beside me raised her head at my weeping and I saw with true eyes that the fair hair was of a darker hue, that the hands were roughened by work, the shoulders narrowed and hunched by poor diet. That it was not Frances at all, but Peg Fair who sat vigil over me.

Is it possible for a broken heart to break anew? If so I believe mine cracked further still in that moment, that a fissure widened inside me, threatening to tear my frame in two. I wept.

Sleep must have taken me, for when I next woke, a candle was alight on my nightstand, the shadows long and threatening across the chamber walls, the clenched fists of a storm beating the house. A figure was seated in the chair beside me, but this I could not mistake for Frances. Samuel sat, gaunt and hollow eyed, his face a mask of fear and exhaustion.

‘I did not know whether to stir you,’ he said. ‘You have been two days in a fever which I feared might take you. And all the while they beat at the door.’

Only now did I realise, the noise I heard upon waking was no storm, but fists threatening to break through the wood and crack the hinges. A mahogany clothes press and a blanket box, a heavy chair that usually remained in the far corner by the window, all furniture of weight had been placed against the door.

Samuel sunk his head into his hands. ‘I could not think where else to bring you where you might recover. Now I have doomed us all.’

‘Who is without, Samuel?’

Peg stepped from the shadows of the window into the candlelight. ‘It’s those red devils, sir.’

With some difficulty I pulled myself upright. ‘The Red Men? It is the Red Men who beat at the door?’

But of course, who else would it be but those blank, soulless creatures. Had I been lying there senseless for days, the Red Men scraping like hounds after the fox as I slept?

‘Where is Slatina? Where is their master?’

Samuel merely shook his head. ‘No sign of him. Just the interminable knocking.’

My exhausted mind struggled to make sense of everything. Slatina must know that Samuel would have brought me back to the house and if he did not I was sure the Red Men would have sent a message alerting him to our presence. Why, then, was Slatina not the one hammering at the door? How was it we were all still alive?

It was then the words of Old Noah came to my mind… Know who you are. Embrace it, no matter how dark, no matter how squalid … I had to know the full answer to a question which had battered at my mind, that I had tried to push to the darkest corners of my soul.

My fingers gripped the locket about my neck. Trembling, I opened its metal doors and gazed upon the likenesses there. Still the Earth Angels shone, bright and beautiful  as stars. ‘Tell me truthfully what the potraits in the locket signify.’

Samuel gave me a look of the utmost misery. He clutched his own locket as he said, ‘Slatina gives one to each of his subjects to remind them.’

It pained him to tell me, but I had to know. ‘Remind them of what?’

‘He says we must always remember what we are. That we must not delude ourselves that we are decent.’ He swallowed, looked me full in the eye. ‘They are likenesses of our first kill.’

Had I known it all along? On that night of the ball, the night I buried the Earth Angels, was there some part of me that remembered my part in their deaths? I felt it now. Felt my mind, intoxicated by that night of debauchery, of the shedding of civilised conduct, overwhelmed by the most horrifying needs. Had I been under Slatina’s influence when those two young women died? Yes, of that I was sure. But perhaps all he had done was reveal my true self. Set free the killer hiding within.

Then it was as if the whole house shook beneath the hammering of a giant fist. Glass shook and shattered in the casements, glittering to the floor, the furniture barricade shook, fell, wood splintering under the impact. The bed quaked beneath me, Peg stumbled, cried out, falling against the wall and to the rug. Just as I felt sure the house would break apart around us, all was still.

I heard weeping and saw Samuel was on the floor, curled tightly upon himself, body shuddering with sobs. This was the only sound, as a voice reached through the chamber door.

‘Enough of this, Edmund.’ Slatina, his voice calm. ‘You hold no high moral ground here. You are no better than Samuel, pathetic as he is. No better than I.’

The sound of movement told me he drew closer to the door as he said, ‘We are killers all.’

It was true, but still I could not succumb, would not sink beneath the black waves of the life Slatina wished for me.

He must have guessed my thoughts, for then he said, ‘Perhaps someone closer to your heart can persuade you.’

Then came another voice, familiar and yet one whose distance in recent times had plunged a dagger of yearning in my chest.

‘Edmund. Come to me.’







The Devil of Moravia : Leaving hell behind

Dark, narrow, corridor

Image : Pixabay

Edmund has just made the most painful decision of his life, but can he save Peg’s life and triumph over the Devil of Moravia? See below to catch up on his story so far.

Onetwothreefour, fivesix , seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelvethirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty one, twenty two, twenty three, twenty four, twenty five, twenty six, twenty seven, twenty eighttwenty nine, and thirty.


I bent low then, pressing my lips to hers for the last time in this mortal form, wishing, praying that we might yet be worthy of mercy and be reunited in the next life.

Pulling away, I left her hand to drop to the counterpane. Lifting Peg from the rug, I turned my back on Frances.

I must write this last, reader. That through all these long days and nights she has never – and will never – be far from my mind.

I wondered for the first time whether Samuel had some hand in choosing that chamber. For I had visited the house during our previous acquaintance and knew there to be a loose wall panel beyond which lay a secret passage. Making my way along the wall, I pressed and knocked upon the wood, listening closely. Finally! The sound of tapping echoed in the space beyond. With some pressure the panel gave, releasing the cool scents of mold and disturbed dust.

Taking up the candle stub, I glanced upon my Frances for the last time. She did not stir. I could hear nothing of her breath, not the merest movement to show life still remained. I might have stood all day, frozen in that moment of longing for all that was gone … had not Slatina’s voice reached me from without.

‘Edmund? Has your greed overcome your manners?’

With one last glance of her closed and silent countenance, I dashed to the fallen Peg. She was stirring a little, making to stand. I slipped my arm under hers to support her. She awoke fully then, looking from me to the sickbed, eyes widening in alarm and I feared any moment she would cry out.

A knock came now, impatient at the door. ‘Edmund! You have had your fun. Time to share.’

At the sound of Slatina’s voice, Peg’s shuddered. If she screamed, the Beast would be upon us. But then she saw the panel, the gaping sliver of darkness beckoning. I saw she understood and with a wary nod of assent, she allowed me to help her through the entrance and into the passageway beyond. Closing the secret door behind us, I felt the future closing up before me also. For there was no future without Frances.

The passage was narrow, hardly wide enough for us to walk side by side, the walls rough with plaster, hung with webs. We had walked no further than a few yards when a terrible shriek echoed behind us, loud and piercing and filled with demonic fury.

We stopped, breathless, shivering with terror. It could only be Slatina. He had entered the chamber to find us gone. How long before he found the loose panel and came after us? Then Peg was tugging at me and we were shuffling onward, leaving the sounds of Hell behind.

The candle flame grew ever smaller as we walked, dancing light drawing the eye to alcoves cut into the walls. Such peculiar sights. In one was hung a buckskin coat and linen shirts, another contained nothing but a large mirror, the silver peeling and spotted. I glimpsed a jester’s motley, soiled brown about the neck, then a cat with skin bald and tight as a drum. The way was so dark and narrow, the sights so bewildering – here a card table laid with silvered wigs, there another with medical instruments of glass and the sharpest steel – that I wondered if perhaps we had not survived the sickroom but instead passed over to Purgatory without realising we had perished.

Finally, we reached a flight of shallow steps and I felt sure we must reach the ground very soon. The candle flame finally guttered out, plunging us into darkness, slowing our progress and leaving us to move with greater caution. Then my foot hit a step that felt wider than the others. With some exploration I realised it was not a step at all but a paved floor and feeling the walls with my hands, I found a door of pitted oak, a handle of good, solid brass. I gripped it hard and turned.

The handle would not move. I tried again. Nothing. Again I tried and again, finally putting my shoulder to the door, but the wood was like iron and would not budge. I hit the thing with my fists, clawing at it like a rabbit worrying at a snare. Had we come so far to be thwarted by a locked door?

Suddenly, Peg pulled at my hand. I ignored her, pushed her off in my desperation to find a way out. She took my arm, shaking me fiercely, hushing me. In the silence I heard what she had sensed before me. Noises, drifting from beyond the door – the scuff of fallen leaves, footsteps drawing ever nearer.

Peg’s grip grew tighter. We stood close, her breath fluttering. There was a grind of metal, the shudder of wood sticking. The door rattled open.

There was a light, white and hard, blinding in the former darkness. I thought to escape, but where? Only horror lay before us, a trap behind. If this was to be my last battle, let it be in open ground. I squared up to face my fate with what courage remained to me.

Like ice water trickling down my spine, a voice hailed us.

‘There is no besting me.’

I was battered to the ground, a moment later Peg was beside me, terrified face flickering in the lamplight. A kick to the head, dirt beneath me, stones cutting into my side, the smell of earth and rats. Another blow, piercing my ribs like an arrow. Mores kicks – to my face, my head, my body – countless, unending.

As more blows fell and more, I knew I was to die. As I sunk into the pain, there were but two thoughts that haunted me; that I had failed to save the girl.

And that Slatina yet lived.

Darkness took my hand.



The Devil of Moravia : I could not leave, I could not stay



It seems Peg Fair is lost and Edmund along with her. Can he save Frances before she is lost too? To read all previous instalments, see below.

Onetwothreefour, fivesix , seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelvethirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty one, twenty two, twenty three, twenty four, twenty five, twenty six, twenty seven, twenty eight and twenty nine.


She made to run and for a moment – one sweet, short moment of hope – I thought she might yet escape.

Then something fell from the sky and the world was blackness. There came a sound like a flag snapping in the wind and the black resolved into a man. I saw a pale hand reach out, grip Peg’s wrist and she fought no more.

Rising above Peg was that blackness, though it was more than a shadow in the night, more than the absence of light before the coming dawn. It was a hole in the world, an absence of kindness, a sucking, wrenching gateway to another world, a place damned eternally.

I stared into the void. I glimpsed an icy sea – frozen, yet in constant agitation – crashing against rocks of iron that bled red rusted water, flaked their crust like scabs. And creatures moved upon the rocks, haunted creatures, soulless eyes, deep and empty and without end, their pitiless claws scraping and grasping at the rocks, at each other.

But worse than all of this wretchedness was the feeling of hopeless anger, of hatred, as if every ounce of kind humanity had been stripped from that place, those creatures, ever to be forgotten.

And then the void closed, the pale grey light of dawn returned and with it a solid form, a form like and so unlike a man.


And I knew if I had not before, that all who were touched by this beast were doomed. That the creatures I glimpsed in that other realm were not of mere imagining, but real. That Frances and Samuel and myself would one day join them. Bereft of love. Of hope.

‘Edmund,’ said the Beast, sweeping a low bow. ‘You have returned as I knew you would. And you have brought something with you.’

With one smooth movement he scooped Peg up onto his shoulder, as effortlessly as if she was a poppet discarded after a child’s game. And as he did, she groaned. She was pale as ash, her head bruised from the fall … but alive.

With wary, bloodshot eyes, Slatina shot a glance at the rising sun. ‘Let us within. Make haste.’

It was perhaps the first time I had seen the man look any less than comfortable or furious and I took that small uncertainty in him and puzzled over it.

Slatina hurried inside, Samuel close on his heels. My brain turned feverishly. I had to get the girl from the house to safety, but how? In moments, she would be taken to Frances, submitted to an ordeal I could not bear to dwell on and then I felt a cold stone forming in my heart, a dreadful certainty about my future and my love’s that the dreadful vision of Hell had given me. Frances was damned. There was no saving her soul. If I saved her life now, more death would ensue, more innocents drained for Slatina’s puppets.

And I held my hand to my chest, made a pledge to the hammering of my own, feeble heart – no more shall die because of us.

If I was to keep my oath, I had to act quickly. Slatina was already striding up the stairs, nimble as a grasshopper, the girl’s head flopping up and down like a ragged doll. In moments they would be outside the chamber door. Moments more and Peg would be … I could not allow myself to think it.

I raced after the demon, catching his coat tails just as he reached the sick room.


He stopped, a momentary irritation crossing his features, before his face relaxed into a sly smile. ‘Of course, my friend. You wish to deliver your prey yourself. The hunter proudly home.’

He dropped Peg to the floor and it was all I could do to stop from wincing at the sound of her head hitting the floor. He gave a bow then, so low and long I felt the mockery of it deep within my bones.

‘The prize is yours to give,’ he said.

As I made to carry the girl within, he took me roughly by the shoulder, squeezing so hard I believed I might snap under his grip. ‘Do not think to best me, Edmund.’ His breath came hot against my cheek. ‘You are weak, a worm in human form. You will never best me.’

And so, with his words of sure defeat echoing in me, Peg and I entered the room.

The stench was too dreadful to describe. It was the stink of a decay, of a body someway to putrefaction and it was with a dread weight of fear upon me that I laid Peg gently upon the hearth rug and approached the sick bed.

The curtains were pulled to, shutting out the day, the room lit by just a single candle stub on the night stand, spilling its meagre light on the head of the occupant. I could not believe my senses as I drew near, for such a change had come about my dear girl, I could hardly reckon her for the person she had once been.

Her lids were closed, the skin so tight against her eyes, it seemed they might no longer be capable of opening. The cheeks were sunken, yellowed hollows, the lips pale and thin. All vigor and colour had left her and her flesh seemed to have shrunk about her skull, as of her life’s fluid was leaking away. I sat beside her, taking the bony hand in mine.

‘My Frances,’ I whispered and at the sound, the lids did lift a little, the lips part in an attempt at a smile.

It is my conviction that she uttered my name then. It may be a delusion on my part, but if so it is a happy one that sustains me in this darkest of places and it is one which I have no desire to find corrected.

I leaned in low, then, hoping that she might yet hear me. ‘I hate to see you thus. I wish with all my heart, with the very essence of my being that I might have saved you. But I cannot see another die for this evil curse which has befallen us.’

I knew what I must do – believed it was the right thing, the decent thing, the Christian thing – but still there was a part of me, a selfish part that yearned for her to live in any way possible, that could not bear the thought of the world without her. I squeezed her hand as much as her frailty would allow, praying she would understand.

‘I must save this girl if I can. And in doing so, I must leave you. Frances. Do you hear me?’

It was too much to hope that I might have her blessing, that she might send me hence with a full, loving heart. For we both knew what my departure would mean for Frances herself. She smiled a little more I think and all I could hope that this was understanding, a sweet assent at our parting, at her own departure from the Earth.

I could not leave her. But more so, I could not stay and with every moment that passed, Slatina would grow more impatient and I might be discovered. I bent low then, pressing my lips to hers for the last time in this mortal form, wishing, praying that we might yet be worthy of mercy and be reunited in the next life.

Pulling away from her, I left her hand to drop to the counterpane. Lifting Peg from the rug, I turned my back on Frances.

I must write this last, reader. That through all these long days and nights she has never – and will never – be far from my mind.



The Devil of Moravia : The hare-cursed girl

Edmund has been south of the river to visit a disreputable old friend who gave him a mysterious piece of advice. Will he continue along the dark path he’s chosen or is there some point of light ahead?

To read more of Edmund’s adventures through misfortune, read below.

Onetwothreefour, fivesix , seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelvethirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty one, twenty two, twenty three, twenty four, twenty five, twenty six, twenty seven and twenty eight.

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.

The journey back to Frances was dismal in the extreme. My senses were taut as bowstrings, every plop on the great, sluggish expanse of the Thames sounded out loud as a shot, every splash of oars like a blow on a bare skull.

In the wherry Samuel hunkered low, a shadow only keeping to himself. The waterman and the girl were likewise silent, the only life being the movement of the oars and the boat lamp’s flicker. I might have been cast adrift on the Styx for all the warmth and feeling travelling with me that night.

We retraced our journey back to Samuel’s villa and as we did so it seemed to me an altogether different journey occurred too. For as we walked, each of us drifting in our own thoughts, I turned over the night’s events, what burden would soon lay heavy upon me and it was as if tenterhooks drew at me, pulling at my heart, my stomach, stretching me until my meat would surely snap. For if I did not give that poor hare-shotten child over, Frances would surely die and if I did …

I had not spoken to the girl since leaving the Dog and Bear. There was some part of me that did not wish to know her – not her name, not her history or how she had come to serve bad ale for Old Noah. For the more I knew the more difficult it would be to do what must be done.

But as we drew into Samuel’s district her silent melancholia slipped away, replaced by an agitation as if she was somehow aware that all was not well. She began to walk more slowly, drawing away from the deepest shadows, clinging to the rare pools of light cast by the dim glow of candles as we past one house and another.

‘My Ma was a shocker.’

The words came clear in the still night, though I was unsure to whom they were addressed.

‘Free with her fists. Free with a club too when the moon was on her.’

We stumbled on, neither Samuel or I speaking a word.

‘I was not meant long for this world.’

There was no self-pity there. Merely a statement, a truth uttered spun with trepidation.

‘That was what Ma said. Cursed by a hare, caught with one foot in this world and one in the other. She said I should never walk in the night alone, that if I did the Fair Folk would claim me. But I been far – from Dorsetshire to London and all the way to Suffolk one time – and I never saw sign of magic in this world. Only people doing good for others and doing bad for their own sake.’ She spoke quickly, as if she meant to say her piece before she could no longer speak at all. ‘Have you seen the Fair Folk, sir?’

The girl had been walking ahead of me a few paces. Now she stopped, turned her eyes to mine and for the first time I realised what a kind face she had, what a clear, trusting expression.

A bolt of lightning might have struck me through from pate to boots. This girl was so  young, no older than Frances when first we met. She was no Flitting sister, no thief or vagabond, only a poor man’s daughter caught in the South Bank’s web of drink and fleshmongery. And I was to give her over as one might a lamb to the knife?

‘Peg Fair, Old Noah called me,’ she smiled a twisted little smile. ‘Though not on account of the Faerie. He was teasing on account of my lip, the thing that snatched from me what beauty I might have owned.’ She was so slight, her shoulders so narrow and they shivering in the chill of early morning.

And at that I knew all was lost. For how could I give her over? Peg. Poor, lost Peg, cast off by her family, taunted by a dead old man, left to die at the hands of devils. I loved my Frances. I loved her with all my heart, my soul, my marrow. But she was ever kind and I could not believe she would have ended this girl for her sake.

At last I was pushed to action. We were but fifty paces from Samuel’s door, fifty paces from that demon made flesh Slatina. Any closer and Peg would be lost. If I was to save the child I must do it and quickly.

I gripped her hand, pulled her to me. ‘You must flee. Return to your mother, to the countryside. Anywhere.’ I felt the pockets of my coat, pulled free a handful of coins. ‘Take this. Do not return to the Dog and Bear.’

Either she had not seen the coins or had not heard the urgency of my words, for she pulled against my grip, her face a mask of terror.

‘Hush, child. Hush.’ I whispered. I could not risk Samuel hearing, for I knew not whether he would aid or hinder my endeavours. ‘Hush!’ I exclaimed.

My harsh tone must have alarmed her, for she screamed then. I pulled her to me, tried to cover her mouth, to stop the sound from escaping. But she fought and fought, terrified of this evil man who had captured her.

I saw Samuel turn, saw him walk towards me. In my fear I made one last attempt to pull her away. But though she was slight she was clearly used to fighting and she clawed at my face, at my eyes and in my shock I released her. She made to run and for a moment – one sweet, short moment of hope – I thought she might yet escape.

Then something fell from the sky and the world was blackness. There came a sound like a flag snapping in the wind and the black resolved into a man. I saw a pale hand reach out, grip Peg’s wrist and she fought no more.


The Devil of Moravia : Old Noah, via Dead Man’s Lane

River, lights, nighttime

Image : Pixabay

Edmund has a race against time to save Frances … and endangers his very soul to do so. To read his previous adventures, see below.

Onetwothreefour, fivesix , seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelvethirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty one, twenty two, twenty three, twenty four, twenty five and twenty six.

… ‘Fortunately, I enjoy the company of you and your friends and wish to keep it for a long, long time. So go and I shall watch your Frances. Take Samuel with you. I would not wish you to come to any harm and the man is so wonderfully useful in matters of violence.’

And so it was Samuel and I went forth on our dreadful mission. To entrap an innocent to their bloody fate so that my love might live.

Dusk was falling as we ventured into the street, and a fine rain was falling with it, misting the air with a warm dampness that soon gathered into glittering beads on our lashes. At first neither of us uttered a word, for there was an air about Samuel’s house, a shadow so black and fearful that it occluded all attempts at conversation. It was not until we had walked over half a mile that Samuel spoke.

‘I was ever a bad man, Edmund.’

This much of his character was self-evident, so I made no further commment.

He continued. ‘But I only ever took what others were willing to give. What was owed me.’

As this was so clearly a falsehood, I made no reply. He seemed about to say more, but then we heard the crowing – loud as a hundred dawns – from the cock pit at Whitehall and he sank once more into a festering silence. The Thames wallowed before us wreathed in vapours and when we reached the narrow flight that is Whitehall Stairs the treads were slippery with grease and rain, but I glimpsed the waterman’s lamp as we approached the jetty and we were soon boarded on a wherry, wrapped in blankets, scudding downriver, enveloped by the tang of the city’s heart.

No more speech passed between us as we eased into the pull and pause of the boat. But as we alighted at Tooly Stairs by London Bridge and watched the waterman ease away with his next fare, Samuel spoke again.

He laid his hand upon my arm, staying my progress from the river to the dark, matted maze of Southwark. ‘You have not asked me,’ he said.

There had been no linksman waiting at the Stairs. All I could see of my companion was what the night was willing to reveal to me and that was a hollowed man, a man of deep eye sockets and deeper sorrows.

‘What am I to ask you?’

He fussed at his neck with trembling fingers. ‘You know some of Frances’ tale, how you and she are linked. But I carry my own burden.’

It was dark, the only light was that which reflected from the river and its bobbing cargoes, but still I knew what he held forth in his fingers. A rectangle of dark metal hung upon a silver chain. I knew he wished to tell me all, to share the weight of his horrors with another soul who might show him a little of what Slatina never could – pure, human pity. It was all I could do not to strike the man where he stood, not to curse and spit on him for all the tragedies that now befell my Frances. For surely, if she had not fallen under his spell then she would not be lying in that bed, turning to a living shade.

I held up my hand as if to fend him off. ‘Do not speak to me. I will not hear it.’ I shook him off then, heading away from the water. ‘We must find Old Noah. He will have what we need.’

It is with shame I admit those low, dank streets are second home to me. Dead Man’s Lane, Crucifix Lane, Dirty Lane, all as well known to me as the flecks and markings of my own cheek, and any man who passes through the Borough wishing to taste its dubious delights must deal with Old Noah or else be washed up on the foreshore, a curiosity for the mudlarks to chuckle over.

We walked to the Dog and Bear through the pits and pools of the tanneries, our eyes stinging, throats burning from the stench and rot. Under the low, dripping eaves we passed, below a drooping thatch so blackened with smoke from the mills it seemed to weep ink.

On the threshold of the inn, Samuel took my arm again, the locket clutched tightly in his palm. He gave me such a beseeching look, a look of such worldly pain, I could not help but be moved.

‘Who were they?’

He shook his head sorrowfully. ‘I think perhaps the girl was named Esther. Though it may have been Sarah. I have it in my mind it was a name from one of the Testaments. The other …’ Tears welled in his eyes. ‘I cannot remember, Edmund. And when I am in my senses that thought pins me through more than any other. That I do not know his name.’ He looked about him.  ‘They were young, alone, unworldly. Innocents come to this ungodly hole. They wept, Edmund. Clutching at these hands, begging me for mercy. They were so afraid.’

‘What happened to them?’

‘What happens to all who fall in Slatina’s web. Death. What else is there?’

I thought of that cupboard with its terrible hoard. ‘How long … How often?’

He held up a trembling hand to silence me. ‘I cannot say how many have died for us. Only that I am too weak, too afraid of pain not to kill again.’ He gripped my hand then, pulling me to him. ‘Release Frances from this agony, Edmund. Leave her to starve, to die.’

He smelled of hung game, warm and meaty. I forced him away, pushing wide the door and walked into the inn.

‘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.


The Devil of Moravia : Dreams forsaken, mocked and crushed to dust



Finally, Edmund is learning the truth about Slatina and tragically about his love Frances too. But can he save her and himself from the Devil of Moravia’s clutches?

Onetwothreefour, fivesix , seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelvethirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty one, twenty two, twenty three, twenty four and twenty five.

‘… But I can take take this puny clay and make it last at least a little longer than its usual span. Sadly, there is a price to pay for my generosity.’

The dead child, the locket that had hung so guiltily about my love’s neck – her sudden illness. Finally, realisation shattered through me. ‘Frances has become your creature.’

Again that laugh, parched as a sealed tomb. ‘Yes, Edmund. Frances is mine. Frances, Samuel … And yourself.’

Slatina slammed the larder door, sending the black specks flying into the air. He pulled a kerchief from his sleeve, wiping his hands as if keen to rid himself from any possible contagion.

Still my thoughts buzzed, flitting into confusion as if they were the same dots of rank insect life. There was so much I failed to understand. ‘What have you done to her? How can she be so close to death, when last I saw her she was so well?’

His lip twisted into a bitter curl. ‘It seems your Frances has had a change of heart. When first I met her, she had sunk so low, I believe I might have convinced her of any depravity and she would have leapt at it like a hound at the kill. But now …’ He scowled. ‘Now she has some fancy that she might still live a good and decent life.’

He stared deep into my eyes then and I held his gaze, I think seeing him clearly for the first time. The whites of his eyes were not pure white or even yellowed with age, but crazed over with red veins, the network so complex and knitted, one might say they were more blushed than not. The irises were not brown as I had previously believed, but reddish, the colour of an oft-used butcher’s slab, of liver, of ox’s blood.

Gripping my wrist, he pulled me close to him, I unable to resist. ‘Believe me, Edmund when I say – the lady has gone too far to return to needlecrafts and homemaking. She imagines running from me, does she not? I found her skulking about the house like a light fingered maid pilfering bread and blankets. She imagined she could slip in and out without my knowing. She imagines she can begin life anew – with you.’ He laughed then, low and rumbling like storm water through a culvert. ‘She. Can. Not.’

I confess the presence of the man – those liverish eyes – had left me for a few moments incapable of speech, robbed me of all fight and movement. But at his disdain, the open mockery of our hopes now crushed in his clawed hand, some courage returned to me. ‘Who are you to deny us our future? She is a free gentlewoman. She has a right to leave this hellish pit and come away with me now. In fact I demand it.’

He smiled then, his flaking lips stetched so wide I felt the skin were like to snap, revealing the flesh beneath. ‘Ah, Edmund. Your childlike hopes have been a pleasant distraction.’ The smile snapped closed, quick as a trap on its prey. ‘But they will be put aside. Hear me. Frances is a creature caught between two worlds. She is not a human woman anymore, neither is she made of eternal flesh as myself. You yearn to make her well again, to return the roses to those dear cheeks? She must do but one thing.’ His eyes flicked to the horrid larder and its festering contents. ‘Feed.’

One word. It was but one word. And yet in its utterance all my hopes shattered about me, falling as shards, each with a dagger point sharp enough to pierce my foolish heart. I had entertained escape, freedom, a future filled with love, sweet industry … children. All had been turned against me, each fancy pressing into my soul creating the most keenly felt of wounds.

I felt my body sag beneath the weight of my reality. ‘What must I do?’

The smile returned, merriment flashing in those offal-coloured eyes. ‘It is simple. Go out into the night and procure your love a fresh meal.’

‘How …?’

Finally he released me, smoothing my sleeves, picking specks from my coat. ‘You are of a class used to getting whatever you wish. You must know the stews, the boroughs, the narrow alleyways running with filth where a gentleman may hire his fancy for the night.’

I dropped my head in shame, for of course he was right on every count.

‘Go forth into London and find meat.’

‘What of Frances? How I can I be sure …’ I dared not voice the dark thoughts that had begun to boil in the back of my mind, but I did not need to. It was as if he could read them imprinted on my face.

‘You think I would hurt her while you are trawling the squalid haunts of the city?’ He raised his finger. ‘Edmund, I could kill her – I could kill you all – with one touch of my finger. You live through my indulgence.’ The room seemed to heat then, as if a furnace had been lit beneath our feet. In the deep wells of his eyes seemed to burn coals, red hot, sparking with the potential for destruction, for the destruction of the whole world. ‘Your every breath, your every movement is permitted because I wish you to exist.’ The coals dimmed a little then. ‘Fortunately, I enjoy the company of you and your friends and wish to keep it for a long, long time. So go and I shall watch your Frances. Take Samuel with you. I would not wish you to come to any harm and the man is so wonderfully useful in matters of violence.’

And so it was Samuel and I went forth on our dreadful mission. To entrap an innocent to their bloody fate so that my love might live.

The Devil of Moravia : Shedu, Asura, Vetalas, Shaitan

Upside down spider on a web

Image : Pixabay

Frances is gravely ill. Are Edmund’s dreams of happiness to be snatched away before they’ve had a chance to flower into reality? Read on.

And if  you’d like to catch up with the story so far, please do here and happy reading.

Onetwothreefour, fivesix , seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelvethirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty one, twenty two and twenty three.


Samuel was hunched in the corner of the room, a brandy bottle clutched in his hands. ‘Coral Flitting was not refined or genteel. But she was a kind soul. Ever willing to laugh.’ He sobbed, the saddest, most desolate sound imaginable.

With a heart of lead, dreading the answer, I asked, ‘What happened here, Samuel? What has become of Miss Flitting and this poor child?’

He merely stared at me, as if lacking in sense or comprehension. Then he said, ‘When I was a child I read tales of creatures who could bewitch a man, take his life hostage and twist his mind until the threads of it spun apart like a rope undone. I never believed such tales, Edmund, even as a child.’ He fixed me with a desperate, haunted expression. ‘Now I know such creatures move among us. That they are closer than I ever considered -‘

I went to ask him what he meant by this, but he looked up suddenly. Slatina had crept, silent as a corpse to stand in the doorway. Samuel shot me a look then stared at the bottle in his hands.

Suddenly terrified at Frances’ poor state, disturbed by Samuel’s slump into self pity, I leapt towards the Moravian. ‘I demand to know what has happened here.’

His lip curled into a cruel smile as he said, ‘You are the most pathetic of men. You bluster and shout, believing you have a right to things you do not.’ His face set hard as he said, ‘Every thread of clothing you wear belongs to me. Every coin in your purse. The bed you sleep in. Every part of your life you enjoy at my indulgence. Do not fool yourself otherwise.’

He was right, of course. I had gambled away my own fortune and almost my every possession had appeared since Slatina’s mysterious arrival.

Still, my heart was breaking to see how frail Frances had become and all I could think was how I could possibly save her. Swallowing what little pride remained me, I said, ‘I beg you, allow me to call a physician to see to her.’

He laughed then, a hard, cold, mirthless laugh that sliced at my heart.

‘This ailment cannot be cured by leeches or bloodletting or any ridiculous tincture to balance the humours. This ailment can be cured by Miss Frances alone.’

I grew suddenly furious at the man’s insensitivity, for it was clear Frances was but hours from death. ‘You are a beast!’ I cried, lunging at him. ‘A man not fit to live in her sight.’

I rushed at him then, my hands raised to take him by the throat. I did not care what happened to me, my senses had fled clear away. All I thought was to choke the life from the heartless animal that mocked the passing of such a beautiful, faultless creature, that the world would not miss me in it and would be far the better for the hole that Slatina would leave behind.

As I went to grab him, something extraordinary happened, something I have dwelt on through long, sleepless, tortured nights since, a thing that makes no earthly sense but happened all the same. For as I drew within reach of him, Slatina leapt upwards, his body twisting as he jumped, his arms bending backwards to a sickening, unnatural degree until he gripped the ceiling. I lost my footing, falling to the floor and there I stayed, helpless to move, unable to tear my gaze from the abomination occurring above me. For like a spider, Slatina crept across the plaster as if it were the ground, holding himself aloft with the merest touch of hands and feet.

None who I have told have believed what I saw to be true – not the constable, not countless physicians employed to judge the state of my shattered mind, not my own barrister. But I swear in this final testament that what I say is true – that Slatina crept across that ceiling as easily as a fly grips a window pane. As easily as a serpent crawls on its belly.

For this is the truth – he was not human. He was not of this world.

Having traversed the room from one corner to the other, he dropped to the carpet onto his feet, light and agile as a cat.

I regained my tongue only enough to stutter, ‘What kind of creature are you?’

Smoothing his hair, he smiled. ‘Some have called me Shedu but I have many names –  Asura, Vetalas, ShaitanJinn.’

‘Demon!’ hissed Samuel.

Slatina’s smile broadened further as he bowed graciously. ‘Another world, another name.’

I could hardly swallow, could hardly breathe as I said, ‘What do you want here?’

He stepped forward then, pulling me to my feet with a force so strong three men could not have withstood him. ‘To live, Edmund. That is all. Come, walk with me a while.’

He tried to lead me to the door but I resisted, gazing at Frances, her eyes now closed, her breath laboured.

As if reading from my mind, he said, ‘You may yet save her. But first you must understand what sickens her.’ He held me at arms length, staring deep into my eyes. ‘Though I warn you. Once you know the truth, you may not wish to save her.’

I dismissed his words as ridiculous. For I loved her so purely, with such a passionate heart, I could not imagine her capable of anything so awful I would not forgive her in a moment.

It was all I could do to nod, to allow myself to be led from that dark chamber and once more onto the hall beyond.

As if we were old friends reacquainted after a long absence, Slatina laced his arm through mine. ‘Allow me to tell you how I met your love.’





The Devil of Moravia : Some small chink of happiness


Frances had a narrow escape, but what will our two friends do now? How can they extricate themselves from the web woven around them? Read on to find out. See below to catch up with the story so far.

Onetwothreefour, fivesix , seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelvethirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty one and twenty two.


Her eyes were swollen with tears, brimming on her cheeks like a river breaking its banks after a heavy storm. She seemed so lost, so hopeless as she struggled to say the words.

‘… and I did not push him away.’

Suddenly there was a loud knock and without pause the door swung open. There stood Slatina, a thin smile curling on his lips.

He gave a small, gracious bow, greeted Frances most cordially and enquired after her health.

Frances regained some semblance of composure, answering she was quite well. He then informed us in the most obsequious manner that breakfast was served, waiting a moment for a response. When none was forthcoming he bowed once more and left us.

The moment he had gone, Frances gripped my hand, nails digging into my palm. ‘That man is on your staff?’

It was only then the queerness of my situation struck me, for I could no more call Slatina ‘staff’ than I could call Samuel Gordon a gentleman. I did not pay Slatina for any of the tasks which he performed and yet he ran the household, organised meals, paid tradesmen, dealt with the Red Men … I had allowed another man to control my life and yet I could not ascertain exactly how this state of affairs had come about.

I confirmed that the Moravian dwelt under my roof and her face turned ashen.

‘You must know this from the evening of the ball.’ I said. ‘Samuel and yourself spoke with him.’

She shook her head most vehemently. ‘I thought he was a guest only. You said he helped you regain your fortune, I never imagined he dwelt here.’

She jumped to her feet, as if to leave, then just as suddenly staggered, blinked, swooned a little and slumped back into her chair. Putting a hand to her forehead, she muttered, ‘I cannot stay here. I cannot.’ Looking at me with a fearful gaze, she whispered, ‘You are not safe sharing the house with that man.’

A rebuttal sprang to my lips but was just as quickly stoppered. For as many kindnesses as Slatina had done me, had he not also brought woes? The burial of the earth angels, that bacchanalian ball, the dubious alliance with Samuel Gordon – all were of his doing.

A fog seemed to clear from my mind. We must flee the city, travel to the country, free ourselves of Gordon and Slatina. Perhaps in the clean, clear air of Barnes or Chiswick, we might develop a plan of a more permanent nature. I shared my thoughts with Frances and after a moment’s hesitation, she was in agreement. I suggested hailing a carriage and leaving with no more than we could carry, however, she insisted she fetch a change of clothing and a reticule of items of which only a woman might feel the want. And so it was with tremulous hearts, we slipped silently into the street, I hailing a passing sedan chair to convey her home.

As I closed the chair door she gripped my hand once more. ‘Take great care, Edmund. Be watchful. Trust no one who claims to be your friend. Trust only the beating of your heart and your own good sense.’ With one last, fearful look, she whispered, ‘Know I always loved you.’

Then she was gone, leaving me flushed with feeling, with a renewed sense of hope that all was not lost between us. It was only as she disappeared from view I recalled she had yet to tell me how she came by her locket. And who was pictured within.

I did not return to the house, for I had taken my pocket book with me and what money I could find without encountering Slatina or the Red Men. The place no longer had the warm embrace of home, but the chill damp air of a charnel house and I was glad to leave it behind, perhaps forever.

We were to meet at the sign of the Lamb and Flag in Covent Garden and I ventured to walk there, buying bread, half a round of cheese, a bottle of small ale and a mug of oysters on my way. I did not doubt Frances would be hungry and thirsty when we next met and I entertained a sweet delusion of she and I breaking the loaf together, eating simply and heartily.

As the house grew ever more distant, so my spirits lifted, the gloom which had rested about me like a heavy cape falling away. Frances and I had suffered much. Did we not deserve our freedom, some small chink of happiness together?

The day wore on. At first I enjoyed watching the pedlars, the costers with their baskets of foodstuffs, the girls selling ribbons from trays about their necks. But noon came and went, the sun began to sink low behind the portico of St Paul’s church and the ribbon sellers and costers giving way to panderers, streetwalkers spewing from the bawdy houses as freely as wine from a jug.

Soon the sun had vanished entirely, leaving me – for want of a good coat – shivering through the toll of church bells. Six in the evening – a full three hours past our agreed assignation. Fear plucked at my chest like fingers across a viol. She could not have missed me, nor I her, for we had been most exacting on the time and place of our meeting. I imagined her once again prey to base criminals, in the grip of another Josias Candle. I could not bear to wait longer and in a state of some agitation, I determined to make my way to Hampstead, to the home of her parents, Lord and Lady Kindley. Although I feared for my reception there, it seemed my sole option, for I knew of nowhere else she might be.

It was not an inconsiderable walk to Hampstead, across the drained marsh now named the Vale of Health, though with its dun coloured birds and air of must and rot I could see no reason why it was so named. Footsore, besmirched with mud, limping a little from falling in a concealed brook, I finally knocked upon the door of Burgh House.

The footman who opened the door flushed when I spoke of Frances. ‘That lady is no longer here, sir.’

Weary as I was, I would brook no dissembling, but demanded from the man what he meant by this.

He flushed a deeper pink. ‘I mean sir, she no longer resides here, but in … another place.’

With this he made to shut the door, however, I foresaw his intentions and stepped forward, blocking his attempts. We tussled for a moment, but he soon saw I would not be moved and signalled me to step onto the pavement, with him following close behind.

He spoke close to me and quietly, so he might not be heard by any within.

‘Miss Frances has not dwelt here for some months, sir. She …,’ now the poor man was the colour of a Red Man’s coat, ‘she went to live with … a man.’

‘A man?’ My heart beat full in my chest. ‘Which man?’

Now the servant paled, his voice dropping lower still. ‘A bad man, sir. A gentleman by name but not by reputation.’

It was like a thunder clap crashing over me, like lightning striking my head, my shoulders – my heart. For I need not be told who this ‘gentleman’ was.

Frances had thrown her lot in with the Devil. She was with Samuel Longmire Gordon.



The Devil of Moravia : The welcoming darkness

What has happened to Frances and why does she feel such affinity to Edmund? Read on to find out more and see below to read previous instalments.

Onetwothreefour, fivesix , seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelvethirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty and twenty one.


‘A hand grabbed my wrist, pulled me forward, the light blinding me. Again, hands were on me, tugging me this way and that. There was laughter, a hand on my back, then my shoulder – one on my throat. Something tugged at my skirts.

‘Had I been spared one terrible fate only to succumb to another?

‘The grip on my throat tightened, unforgiving as a noose. The little light I saw began to sparkle and dance, cut to pieces by my failing sight. I would wish to say I thought of our Saviour, of his kind hand resting upon me, gathering me home, but fear had gripped my callow heart and I could think only of how little breath remained me, how many moments were left of my existence. As the night fully dimmed, I believe I thought of my mother and father, my little brother, how they would mourn my loss, lay flowers on my grave in the coming years before they lay themselves in the earth.

‘Then the pain and fear fell away, cold took me and there was only chill darkness, a sweet sinking nothingness that I know I shall only feel again at the moment of my true passing.

‘Perhaps I died a moment then. Perhaps I had merely sunk into a faint. Whichever, the next moment I was aware, pain pierced my skull, my throat, my limbs, my chest. I tried to claw back the embrace of the cold, to drift back to that numb state my body and mind had crossed into. But someone was shaking me most hideously and though I beat at them with my fists I could not free myself from their iron grip.

‘I opened my eyes. Atop me was a beast, long matted hair falling over its foul, snarling face, its eyes burning red, the weight of it pushing me into the mud, that seemed to suck at my back, pulling me into the earth. My mind raced. I was on the brink of death and here it seemed, a demon had come to claim me. I began to fight, kicking, punching the creature, clawing at its eyes, but it was too heavy, its grip too assured. Still I fought and as it shifted its weight to one side I snatched my knee up sharply, hoping to dislodge it for good.

‘There was a cry, a deep groan and the beast rolled aside, falling to the ground beside me. I thought to scramble away, to run for home, but my skirts were trapped beneath the demon and as I struggled to pull them free, I heard a voice.

‘”By, Sam. Bested by an alley cat.”

‘And the voice fell to an amused, breathless chuckling. This threw me, made me pause in my efforts to escape, for I did not imagine a demon to be called Sam, or indeed for the soldiers of Satan to be capable of such thoroughly human laughter. Then I heard some movement, a lanthorn was taken up from behind me and its flickering light revealed the scene.

‘I was still in the physical realm, still in Vauxhall Gardens, for I could just make the shape of the pagoda against the pale glow of the half moon. The lamp light danced and flickered quite madly, coming closer until it shone above my head.

“Sam,” called that same voice. “Do you live, man?”

‘Then the demon beside me shifted, rolling over, the hair sliding aside to reveal a face twisted in pain, but altogether human.

“Aye, for now,” replied the face.

‘As the flame flickered on those sharp cheeks, those fox-like features, a memory came to me of a small boy dancing, taper in hand as a paper city blazed …

“You’re the child,” I gasped. “The child who burned Hamburgh.”

‘The man laughed at my horror, my ridiculous words. But dipped his head in a mocking imitation of good manners.

“Samuel Longmire Gordon,” he said. “And you are Frances Lucretia Kindley.”‘

Frances paused then, her agitated fingers dancing at her lips.

‘Perhaps it was at that moment I was lost. Sitting in the Vauxhall mud, staring into his eyes. His expression was one I had never witnessed before. It was as if he knew me utterly, could look inside my mind and see the deepest workings, divine every ignoble thought and silent curse and selfish deed and accept it all. Nay, not accept – welcome it. He welcomed every darkness in me, encouraged them to thrive.

‘And there was something more, something blacker still. I would shudder to speak of it to any other than you. For there was a hunger there too, Edmund, a desire for possession.’

Her hands were shaking as she reached for mine.

‘He meant to own me, to have complete power over every part of me and even in that moment …’ She shuddered. ‘Even then, I believe I should have been helpless to resist him.’

She shook her head. ‘Then the spell was broken by his companion, a man I later knew as Josias Candle, who took reached to pull him to his feet.

“Come,” he said, “The night falls deeper and there is little more sport to have here.”

‘That Candle was the one who had his hand about my throat I little doubt and what his plans were for me, I am loath to contemplate. Samuel had at least saved me from that fate, just as Candle himself  saved me from the girl and her sharp boned accomplice. That these two men were dangerous there was no doubting also. That they prowled the gardens in search of sport of the most heinous kind I knew in my marrow and that in itself should have made me run for a constable.

‘Instead, I allowed Samuel to help me to my feet, to reclaim my cloak, to remove a little of the mud from my heels and skirt. He returned my necklace and bracelet too and it was only later I wondered at what happened to my attackers, where they had fallen. If they lie somewhere still, unmourned, unrecovered. I stood motionless as marble as Josias fetched a carriage to take me home, as Samuel pressed a shilling on the driver to pay for the journey.

‘That I permitted all of these things to pass shows a weakness in me, a thread of indecency I had not thought dwelt in my soul. But as Samuel handed me into the carriage, I found a defining proof that I belonged more in this devilish company than with the sweet, good society my parents dwell in. For Samuel snatched me to him, pressed his lips against my cheek …’

Her eyes were swollen with tears, brimming on her cheeks like a river breaking its banks after a heavy storm. She seemed so lost, so hopeless as she struggled to say the words.

‘… and I did not push him away.’

Suddenly there was a loud knock and without pause the door swung open. There stood Slatina, a thin smile curling on his lips.