Chap. 1: A meeting

He padded down the street, ghostlike, silent as the night itself, flitting from shadow in such a way that a passerby catching sight of him might turn back to stare intently into the shadows before continuing on his way thinking the momentary movement a trick of the eye and a simple figment of his imagination. So it was that this individual, so accustomed to the darkness and yet so pallor in visage, passed without incident, by the guards in the night to came to stand in front of his destination. A large manse stood proud in front of him, rising from the streets like a majestic oak from the forest floor, proclaiming to all its dominance over smaller beings. He smiled at this thought for he knew all to well that appearances were not always what they appeared to be, and in this case this bold dwelling of which every aspect seemed to announce wealth, actually held none. He had seen to that.

Just then a carriage rolled by down the street. It was old, but quite maintained, and the elegance of it bespoke wealth. He watched it continue on its path. Manned only with a single driver he thought how easy it would be to slip into the carriage from the streets, gag its passenger, and acquire a bit more wealth before continuing on his way. Leaving the driver without knowledge of the theft till they reached their destination hours later and by that time he would be long gone.

Looking back to the manse he held himself in check. He had one more thing to do, had one more mission, had one more recompense on his list before he would again be a free man, and he did not think he would make it through this last mission, in fact he thought, looking up at his final destination, he meant not to.

* * *

A solitary candle burned upon his desk casting shadows which seemed to dance around the room. It was late. He leaned back in his chair and rubbed his eyes taking a momentary respite from the ledgers and reports which sat in piles upon his desk. Normally he would not be so hesitant to finish his work with them. In truth, normally things would have been done already. He was a man of punctuality and precision and rarely did he let things fall behind or out of order. But things were not normal, and in such instances rarity, although by the nature of the word seldom happens, does come to manifest itself. He looked back to his papers trying once again to concentrate on the task at hand, but eventually he pushed them away in disgust. How could he concentrate on such trivial matters when it seemed to him as though his whole world was falling down.

He was a rich man, or had been till all his business deals had soured, all his money had seemed to float away to unknown expenses. He had once been quite prosperous, in fact, he had been rolling in wealth and it had seemed he was not unlike the proverbial Midas in which everything he touched brought him wealth. Then one day it all broke. His business deals fell through he lost money in everything he did and eventually his creditors denied him. He grasped at any fiances available to him like a downing man grasps for something which floats. Still it seemed he was on the road towards financial ruin, but his status saved him. He was Lord Alex Garborough ,an important man. In fact, he was the governor of this small city of Innesport, a city sprawled out beside the sea along a prominent trading route. So prominent in fact that he was able to pay himself a wage from all the taxes and duties the city brought in. So he did not starve. He was able to maintain his house, his land, and his family, but support from the city was waning and he soon imagined he would be seen unfit to act as governor and he would be ousted from power. A power and a wealth that had come hard earned, unlike so many of his peers, ws now turning to dust before his eyes.

But at this time more important things filled his thoughts. His fortune was lost, his power would soon diminish, and now the one thing he held most dear in the world had slipped from his grasp. He let his head fall into his hands once again and a slight moan escaped his lips. He had asked God for so long what crime he had committed to deserve such a punishment. For truly it seemed to him as though Fortune mocked him and that he was paying the price for some evil thing he had done which he knew no knowledge of. Now he was at a complete loss. For it seemed that the malady which plagued him had spread, like a cancer, to those around him. A year after his sudden downfall his wife had died in child birth, and his son, who had been on the verge of manhood, had been lost at sea. Only his daughter had remained.

For three nights now he had sat awake in his chair awaiting news. And for three nights he had been disappointed. His daughter, the one ray of sunshine in is life which was spiraling down towards ruin, had gone missing. She had vanished in the night and not trace of her could be found. It was as though she had disappeared into thin hair. So it was that this man, who had once been rich and powerful and who had stood chest out defiant towards all the world, now sat alone and dejected in his chair, the world around him seeming a lifeless void. He grasped at the arms of his chair in anguish attempting to break them off, but his efforts were in vain. He remembered a time when those arms would have broken off with ease, but it seemed that like everything else in his life, the strength he had once possessed was now gone. The world was a shell, pointless, and devoid of meaning. He let his head fall back, his body go limp, and he stared vacantly towards the shadows on the wall and dreamed of release.

Then one of the shadows moved. Not in the fanciful dancing of the flickering light, but with purpose. At first he dreamt that Death, that blessed reaper of souls, had come for him at last to give him the release he so longed for, but then he started and quickly came out of his reverie as the shadow broke away from the rest and came at him directly.

The shadow engulfed him were he sat, hitting him with enough force to knock him back off his chair. He rolled across the room grappling with his unknown attacker until they both slammed into the bookshelf at the other end of the chamber. Old volumes Alex had collected for years came raining down on top of them, choking the air with torn pages and dust which had settled on the books. Alex made a grab for the individual trying to pin his arms underneath his considerable weight, since it was apparent that, while he was not an overweight man, he far outweighed his attacker, but the man easily slipped out of his hold. The man hooked his arm around Alex trying to pin it behind him, but Alex heaved him across room back into the desk and rushed in to try to hold on to the man while he was stunned. He made his grab, but again the man slipped away and Alex growled in frustration. He could not, despite the fact that his physical strength was far above that of his assailant, hold on to him. Every time he made a grab at the individual the man slipped away and slid through his hands like water. Finally, fed up with grappling, he was about to shout for the guard when the man's hand clamped down on his mouth and he felt a blade against his throat .

" Don't move and don't speak", the man's voice whispered. They sat motionless on the floor the light of the candle casting deep shadows around the room and refracting of the dust that still hung in the air, making the room seem very dark and hazy. His voice was thin and soft, and it sounded as though it was rarely used and then not often above the smallest whisper. Yet it was not the texture of the voice that froze Alex, it was the cold precision of the voice. The quality of which made it sound as though the man could kill or give a charity at the slightest inclination. He imagined that this would be what Death sounded like and wondered if perhaps one of his prayers had been answered.

" Don't move and don't speak", the man said again. " Not for your own life, for it is apparent that you care not of it, but rather for the life of your child." He whispered menacingly and Alex felt a surge of strength as blood rushed to his arms. He began thrashing, trying to break away from the man , but quickly stopped when he felt warm blood oozing down his neck.

" I told you not to move", the man said. " I am going to talk and you are going to listen and when I feel as though you are ready I will release you and you may speak. If I don't feel ready then I will slice your throat and feel very perturbed at having wasted my time in coming here. So please, do your best to make me feel comfortable." He said in a voice that held no sarcasm and sounded like the last breath of a dying man. " Now, to ease your fears I will tell you that I do not hold any malice towards yourself or your daughter. Nor do I have any intent to rob you of what meager possessions you now have. If that was the case I could have done so to my hearts content and left you entirely unawares. Does that ease your mind? Good."

Alex felt did indeed feel more relaxed the man's voice although cold and dispassionate held a soothing quality almost as though someone was singing a lullaby. And if the man did know something about his daughter as he insinuated then he could be patient.

" Now then", the man continued. "Before we proceed any further, you are indeed the Lord Garborough are you not? Lie still for yes or thrash about for no. For if the answer is no the I assure you my friend you are a dead man." Alex laid as still as the dead daring not even to take a breath. " I take it that that means a yes. If not, do yourself a favour and thrash, for if I find out you are not the one I seek, well then I will again be perturbed, and there are far more interesting was to kill a man than simply slicing his throat. If you are the governor himself then please m'lord take a breath and calm yourself I'd hate to scare you to death," he said with a chuckle that rose no higher than whisper and sounded like dry leaves rustling in the breeze and Alex let his taunt muscles slacken.

"There that's better", the man said and he slowly slid off Alex, righted the chair and promptly sat down in it. Alex rose slowly from the floor and retrieved another chair from across the room. Placing it in front of the now reclining man he sat down and looked into the face of his attacker for the first time.