CHAPTER 13- BLOOD AND WATER
This is the room where Marie and Isabella are spending the night. That’s Isabella is bed over there beside the door. There she is, sleeping deep. She sleeps like a boy, limbs splayed, snoring noisily.
That’s Marie’s bed, by the window. The window looks out over the hill, which is bathed in moonlight.
Marie is sleeping sound, the comb clenched in her fist. The bed is good and warm, and she is so tired that she doesn’t have the energy to dream of Rashgiel, or her father lying on the bed, grey as a tombstone. She sleeps sound and black.
Abruptly, Isabella stops snoring. Her eyes open and she lies perfectly still. She takes in every sound that her ears can gather. She pays particular attention to Marie’s breathing and when she is certain that she is asleep, she ever so slowly rises out of the bed and places her bare feet on the ice cold stone floor. Her feet seem to melt into the floor, like it was made for them, and when she moves, it is like a cat. There is no sound. No sound at all. Someone should put a bell on this girl. She could creep up behind a tiger and tweak its tail. She has crept to the door. Now for the hard part. That door’s an old crone, it’ll creak and complain at the slightest push. Careful now, careful now, Isabella. Careful now…
She edges the door open an inch. The door wails quietly in the black, a thin little wolf cub’s howl of a creak.
Stop. No. She’s still asleep.
Open it a little more.
Stop. No. She’s none the wiser. Now the last few inches.
There, you can squeeze through that, can’t you? Of course you can, thin girl like you. There you go through the door, you forgot to check if anyone was coming up the passage way, that could have been fatal but your luck held and there you are, standing in the hallway. Quietly close the door, that’s it. Now where to? Where are you going Isabella? Out to take a little stroll in the night air? No, that’s not it. That’s not it at all, is it girl? You’re up to something.
Now she’s opening a wooden door at the end of the hall. Now she’s pushing it open, now she’s peering in the darkness, now she’s talking to the figure who sits hunched in the corner like an old spider crouched in a dusty grey web.
“It‘s me.” she mumbles.
“Ignatius” , the carriage driver, tilts the rim of his hat up, so that his grey eyes can better drill into hers like lances. He shows those terrible white teeth.
“About time.” Thomas hisses like an asp.
Isabella sat in the corner and watched Thomas pace the room slowly.
“Sister mine.” he said “I think you are trying anger me. Are you trying to anger me?”
“No, Thomas.” she whispered.
“Because you see.” he continued “Because you see the fact that you kept me waiting so long had raised my suspicions.” he wiped crumbs from his mouth with the back of his hand.
“I’m sorry.” she whispered “She wouldn‘t fall asleep.”
Her throat had gone as dry as camel skin.
“Where is she now?” the Thief’s son asked.
Isabella looked up.
“She’s in the third bedroom down the corridor.”
Thomas closed his eyes.
“Describe her to me.” he whispered.
“You saw her.”
“I had my back to her the entire journey. And I couldn’t let the Doctor see my face.”
“She has red hair.”
“Curled or straight?”
“Curled. Very curled.”
“Is it beautiful hair? Do you think it is beautiful? Is it soft?”
“Yes. Yes. It’s very beautiful.”
“And how does she sleep? Does she sleep lightly or deeply? Do her breaths come shallow or full?”
“Deeply. I…she breathes fairly deeply.”
“Let me hear.”
“Breath like she breathes.”
Isabella rather gingerly took in a few deep breaths, slow and regular. Thomas laid his head against the wall, his eyes still closed.
“Does she…” Isabella stopped breathing as he spoke “does she sleep on her back or her stomach?”
“Her back. Sometimes her stomach.”
“Does she clench the blanket in her hand?”
“No. She has a comb.”
“She holds it when she sleeps. It was her mother’s. She holds it.”
“Describe the comb.”
“It’s small. This big. It’s white. There’s an angel on it.”
“Do you like that comb?”
Isabella nodded. Thomas flashed his sister the razor smile.
“Then you may have it. After you have killed her.”
Someone opened a trapdoor in Isabella’s stomach. She mumbled something.
“What was that?” Thomas asked “What did I hear? Separate your lips when you talk.”
“I don’t want to kill her.”
“Yes?” Thomas said, as if he didn’t see what that had to do with anything.
” I don’t want to kill her. I’ve, I’ve never killed anyone.”
“Yes.” Thomas mused “I suppose I should have given you someone to practise on first. Father never did that with you, did he?”
“When I was a little younger than you.” Thomas began “Father took me to a tavern. Very late. You could almost see the sun peeping over the horizon. And there was this old souse asleep on the floor of the tavern. I’ll never forget him. Face like a red potato, all lumpy and filthy, lying in the middle of the floor. He’d puked over his mouth and chest. It made me feel sick just looking at him. It was dark in the tavern, you couldn’t see five feet ahead of you, so no one noticed as we bent down to have a look at him. And then Father presses something into my hand, and I look at it and see that it’s a knife. This knife, as it happens.”
With a magician’s flourish, the blade appeared in Thomas’s hand. In the dim light, Isabella could not see the specks of blood on the silver flat side, the blood of the Hangman, the blood of the Magistrate, mingled together.
“And he gives it to me, and he says “You’ll have to learn. Sooner or later in this world you’ll have to learn. Best to get it over and done with. Slit the throat like a good boy.”
Isabella’s eyes were like white doves nesting on a black cliff, stark and brilliant with horror.
“What did you…?” she whispered hoarsely.
“Oh, my.” said Thomas “I dropped the knife, said “No, no, I can’t I can’t, it’s horrible, and I made such a racket that they started shouting at my father to take his little brat elsewhere. So Father calmly took me by the hand and led me home. Then he took the knife, laid my hand flat on the kitchen table, and…”
He raised the left hand, showing the missing little finger, sheared off at the knuckle.
“”Now,” he says after he’s cleaned up and stopped me yowling with the back of his hand “I’ve just taken the most useless finger on your body. Do that again, and it’ll be another. And then another, and then another. I’ll leave the thumbs ’till last. But by God if you’re still so stubborn when they’re all gone I’ll slit your throat.” The next night we go back to the tavern. We find another drunk. He gives me the knife.”
Again, Isabella whispered “What did you do?”
“Do you see any other fingers missing?” he asked her.
It was at this moment that Isabella realised that she hated her brother. It was only now that she realised what that shuddering, venomous sensation in her stomach was when ever she heard him speak. She hated him. And she did not want to be like him, or her father.
“He never did that to you?” Thomas asked her.
She shook her head dumbly.
“Strange.” he said “He must have been getting soft in his old age. Or maybe he didn’t think you’d be worth the effort. In any case, I have decided that you will kill her. I killed the father, it is only fitting that you kill the daughter. It has a kind of, I don’t know, rightness to it.”
“I don’t want to kill her.” she whispered “She’s my friend. I don’t want to kill her.”
“Oh, sweetness, I understand” and she blanched, because it was when he called her things like “sweetness”, and “darling” and “beautiful” that she knew the worst was always to come.
“I completely understand. I didn’t want to kill some drunken sot I’d never even seen before. So how can I ask you to kill a close friend? But I’ll help you, Isabella, I’ll help you overcome your fear just like Father helped me.”
Suddenly, he was in front of her, his hands iron tight around her neck, his teeth hissing into her face.
“So this is how it’s going to be. You will take this knife, and you will tiptoe back to bed, and you will kill her. If you don’t, well…I would like to simply take a finger for every time you don’t kill her, but I’m sure you understand we’re on a tight schedule. So it’ll be a hand. A whole hand. Lop. like that. So here it is…”
He pressed the knife into her hand.
Her finger tightened around the handle. Do it. A voice was telling her. Rip him open.
He looked into her eyes, blazing green fury in the dark. He knew what she was thinking.
“Sweetness.” he whispered “You’d be dead before you even lifted the knife.”
Now she’s outside again in the corridor. Now she’s carefully making her way down to the bedroom door. Now she’s trembling. Now she has a knife in her hand. Now she looks like the most miserable human being that ever was.
Marie was dreaming.
The sky was streaked black with smoke and she was barefoot on gravel.
She was following her father down a mountain path that led into the valley below. Every step she took cut into the soles of her feet, and when she looked over her shoulder she could see a trail of dried blood, and tiny scraps of skin sticking like bits of onion peel, clinging to the jagged stones.
Her father walked ahead of her, the great mane of his brown red shaggy hair shaking listlessly with each uncertain, meandering step he took on the cracked and crooked stones. She could see his arms, and they were thin as sticks, and the skin had become as pale as watered milk.
She tried to reach him, but she was held back by the stones, which plucked at her heels. She tried to call out to him but her words were swallowed up by silence.
And with a shudder that ran through her body, down through her feet and rattled the stones, she realised that she could not remember his face.
And she leapt into the air and grabbed him by the shoulders.
Suddenly he had twisted around and with a feral scream he knocked her to the ground with a sickening blow to her stomach.
She screamed silently, he moved with such inhuman speed. She couldn’t see his face, it was all beard and teeth and a singly blue blazing eye.
She could feel him pressing down on her, until she couldn’t breath. He buried his face in her chest like a lion feeding on a carcass and she could scream with her eyes as she felt the pure, diamond, stiletto of agony as his teeth closed around her heart and pulled it from her chest.
Marie woke up to find that she was being crushed because Isabella was sitting on her, that she couldn’t scream because her mouth was covered, and that her chest was in pain because Isabella was pointing a dagger into it.
“Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! Now listen to me, are you listening?”
“Good. Now…I’m going to kill you…”
“Shut up! But! Are you listening? But…If you make a noise I’ll have to kill you right now, but if you keep quiet, I promise I’ll say a prayer for you and you’ll go to heaven, I promise. All right?”
Marie considered her options. She could feel, just by the grip that Isabella had on her that there was no chance of breaking loose. What could she do?
With her eyes she let Isabella know that she would not struggle. Isabella nodded, relieved.
Closing her eyes, she began to recite the act of contrition under her breath. Marie simply lay there in the dark, waiting for the prayer to reach… “Amen.”
“I’m sorry Marie.” Isabella whispered, and she raised the dagger to strike.
Some minutes later, Marie was sitting up in bed, watching as Isabella sat at the end, hunched and miserable, turning the knife over and over in her hands.
“I’m really sorry.” she mumbled again for what seemed like the thousandth time.
She had tried to. She really had. She had raised the knife up high and prepared to plunge into the red. But it was as if a silver cord had been tied to her wrist and fastened to the ceiling. She could not strike.
Eventually she had laid the knife down, and climbed off Marie.
“Are you alright?” Marie asked after awhile, and feeling a little stupid for asking.
“Right…so. Why did you try to kill me?”
Isabella took a deep breath.
“Your name is Marie Dashonde. You come from a small village called St Anne. Your father’s name was Luke. Your mother’s was Clare. She died when you were a baby, and your father was forced to become the village hangman to keep money coming in. When you were six he executed a thief and a murderer named Robért Hieronimo. He was found in a barn by a mob, brought into the town square and hung from the neck until he was dead. But he was not alone in the barn when they found him. That man had a son and a daughter. They escaped from the barn when the mob came. They followed them at a distance. They watched him being stoned and killed. They watched him. Now, the girl, the girl was scared, but she had never really loved her father that much.
But the boy, he went sick in the head. And he took his sister into a dark ally and he cut his hand and swore by the blood that he would kill each and every one who had played a part in their father’s death. But after their father’s death, a kind woman came, and she offered them a place to live, and told them that she would take care of them now that their father was gone. But the boy wouldn’t listen, and he left his sister with her and vanished. He went south, to learn how to fight, to learn how to kill. When he came back, he was worse, the sickness had spread. He was vicious, he was cruel and sick, this boy. He came back to St Anne, he killed the magistrate and he killed your father. He wanted to destroy the hangman’s entire family. And he told the girl that if she didn’t kill you, he would cut off her hand. And the girl didn’t want to do that, she didn’t want to hurt you Marie. She can’t. You’re her friend. She can’t do it. And now he’s going to kill her. I know he will. You don’t know what he’s like, Marie. He’s the devil. He’s the devil…”
And she folded her knees up to her chin.
Marie could feel slugs in her stomach, leaving icy slime trails up and down the lining. He was here…
She had never laid eyes on the man who had killed her father. When she dreamt of him, she pictured Rashgiel stabbing him under the bridge. Those eyes…
And now he was here, the thing that had taken away the only thing that ever mattered to her. In this inn, hidden away in some shadowy hole like a spider, ready to strike at any time.
“Where are you going?” Isabella asked as she watched Marie hurriedly pull her clothes on
“Out.” she said “Out. I’m going. Bye.”
“Out. Didn’t you hear me?”
“You mean, you’re leaving the inn? Right now?”
“Yes, yes, that’s what I meant. I’m leaving the inn with the man who wants to kill me in it. That is where I am leaving.”
“But where will you go?”
“Well, I’m supposed to…There is no Mariana de Babilu, is there?”
“No there is. And she did send me to get you. Thomas killed the real Ignatius and took his place.”
“Don’t lie to me.” she said.
“You mean, even if you’re brother hadn’t decided to kill me you would have come for me anyway?”
“Yes. I didn’t lie to you about that. How could I have known to tell you about the door?”
“How did he know? How did he know you were coming for me?”
“I don’t know. He knows things.”
“He knows things?”
“Yes! He knows things! Madame de Babilu knows things! Everybody knows things except me. I don’t know how, but they do!”
She looked so utterly on her last nerve that Marie believed her.
“Well then. I guess I’ll go find her.”
“Alright. We‘ll have to be quick, he‘ll be checking up on me any minute now.”
“You’re not coming.” said Marie coldly.
Isabella was quite surprised by this.
“Oh, apart from the fact that you tried to kill me a few minutes ago? Apart from that?”
“I said I was sorry, and if you keep rubbing my face in that then you’re just a grudger.”
“A grudger. Someone who keeps grudges.”
“I am not.”
“Fine. You can’t come because your brother killed my father. That’s why.”
“Well, your father killed my father so you have to let me come.”
“Well…you tried to kill me as well so that means I’ve got one up on you.”
“It’s not a contest.”
“Why, because I’m winning?”
“You are not winning!”
“And you’re not coming.”
“Where does she live?”
“Twenty miles south of Bordeaux.”
“Do you know where Bordeaux is?”
“Do you know how far twenty miles is?”
“Do you know which direction south is?”
“Yes. It’s the one the sun rises in.”
“No it’s not. Do you know what direction it rises in?”
“No. And you never will unless you let me come with you…”
She trailed off as she realised Marie was not even listening to her.
Marie was staring out the window. Something about the perfect stillness of the Hangman’s daughter unnerved Isabella. She was as still as a corpse.
“Marie, what is it?”
Marie did not answer, she did not take her eyes off the window for a second.
Isabella took Marie by the arm. It was ice cold, and the hairs on her arm were standing to rigid attention. She looked out the window. There was nothing out there but the hill, empty as a white page, bathed in moonlight, the long grass blowing in the night breeze.
“Marie, what is it?” Isabella whispered again, and this time Marie answered.
“Isabella. I think something very bad is about to happen. I think we’re going to die.”
Isabella was quiet for a moment.
“That’s not funny Marie.”
Marie continued to gaze out the window, but she did not see an empty hill.
Standing on the hill, their grey cloaks black in the moonlight, were figures, dozens of them. They stood apart, as motionless as statues, and amongst them, too terrible to look upon, ebony spectral forms floated over the ground like black smoke. Angels and Shades. Perhaps thirty. Perhaps more.
Their focus riveted as intently on the inn before them as Marie’s was riveted on them.
Only she could see them. Only she knew why they were there.
“Isabella? I think a lot of people are going to die.”
“Hey.” Isabella shook her, and then more roughly “Hey! Nobody is going to die. Least of all you. Alright?”
She hugged her and kissed her hair.
Marie did not return the embrace, unable to take her eyes off the spectres of the hill.
And outside the room, ear pressed against the door, Thomas placed his hand on the door handle, and steeled himself for murder.