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Cloud Shadows Chapter XX
It is said of a wood fire, that its flames are the trapped sunlight of another age long held within the tree’s growing fabric, and as he stoked the logs, Heck could well believe it. Green eyes, pupils contracted by the light, danced with the flames. On this evening, Mercia lay frozen under winter snows, but in this office the summer sun was shining. He returned to his desk and took up his pen. They are, he wrote, without any doubt natives of this land. I can say that after having questioned such others in the past who were not, and although their accent could be perfect, always there would be something that would point to a foreign origin. But not these. They were intercepted whilst making their way towards Spirk’s house along a gravel path that runs besides the property, at a quarter to the midnight hour. One could not fault their professionalism: soundless they were, moving always in the shadows, communicating by hand only, and clothed in black; black scarves even, that obscured their faces but for their eyes. That their intent was theft combined with abduction, or even assassination, rather than theft alone, was apparent by the items that they carried: skeleton keys and devices for forcing doors and windows, notebooks and pens, a camera of astonishing small form, a chloroform applicator. And Mansfield pistols fitted with the latest silencing devices … The manner of their apprehension, Your Excellency, was textbook in its execution. A leaded cosh is a most underrated instrument. A simple thing of heavy coiled lead – flexible like a spring – encased in thick leather. It will not break the skin, nor will it shatter the skull if applied correctly, but it can and will render complete and almost immediate insensibility… thank God for those two, he thought, the Birds … a most important characteristic. For it is our experience that such people, when facing capture, will hesitate not at all to extinguish their own lives with cyanide or some other such thing. And so it would have proved with these two. Poison capsules had been drilled into the lower molar teeth of both of them, requiring the extraction of the entire tooth using jaw-clamps and pliers – the least of their discomfort, I can assure you. At first, neither would talk and, sickening though treason is, one cannot but admire this sort of resolution in the face of utter hopelessness. Special measures, I saw no need, at least to begin. Oftentimes, it is the word quietly-spoken, and the argument reasonable and clear that will serve to undermine resolve. To a man alone in such circumstances, the image of the hangman’s rope will always loom larger by far than that of the Prussians’ gold … He pictured the interrogation cell – a plain white room served with two chairs and a desk only. One of the chairs was of heavy oak, bolted to the floor, leather straps secured to its armrests and back. The man held within it was a little bruised but essentially unhurt. Dried blood smeared his mouth, but it was the blood of a rough tooth-extraction rather than the result of a vigorous questioning. And always, it was their eyes that interested Heck. He would gaze into them for a long while whilst seeking to ascertain that which is only obscured by words. ‘Speak to me’, he said at last, sitting back and drumming his fingers slowly ‘- Speak to me of who you are and what you were doing. And, pray leave nothing out’. The man was in his mid thirties, or so he seemed, with the clean-cut, regular features of the Anglo-Danish stock of eastern Mercia. There was fear about him to be sure: he had not seen his colleague since his apprehension and new full-well his predicament. But it was defiance that he radiated. A defiance that had triggered Heck’s admiration – the sort of admiration that one may bestow upon a machine or a beast of burden that performs its duties to the very full. ‘I demand that you free me’, the man said in a voice that betrayed something of an education and standing, ‘- I – we – have broken no laws. It was us that were assaulted and abducted. And it is we that shall be looking to bring charges against you and your thugs. Where am I in any case?’ Heck nodded, ‘True. The manner of your apprehension was, strictly speaking, illegal. But we could scarcely allow you to accomplish your task and then take you, could we now?’ ‘Task?’ Heck emptied out two cigarettes from a packet and nodded to one of the guards. The straps about the fellow’s arms were released and a lighted cigarette placed in his hand, ‘Come’, said Heck, ‘- There are no games to be played here. You know where you are. And unless you cooperate, you know that you will never leave …’.
About the Author
Follow Milo Crispin around the web: Goodreads
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Cloud Shadows is my first published book, although I have written a number of short stories (unpublished). I live in Nottinghamshire in the north-east Midlands of England, have a degree in archaeology, an interest in the past and in nature, and (strange as it may seem) worked until recently as a designer and 3D modeller. Then, one day, not so long ago, I found myself beginning to write something that was set within another world – an alternative late nineteenth century Britain. I had no idea where it was going or what form it would take, but must admit that I was not altogether surprised by the results. It is a place where tweed is the fabric of choice for gentlemen of the middling orders, and the scent of pipe tobacco and well-oiled leather is held to be synonymous with good breeding and taste. But one, that should you care to glance up from those crowded streets, will give hint of distant mountains where the wolf still roams and (it is rumoured) dragons still live …
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Jennifer is both a book nerd and professional photographer. That means she lives in the fantasy world all the time, whether of her making, or someone else's.
She collects books like the Duggar family collects kids, and began waiting for her Hogwarts letter at the tender age of 33.