Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 27
Stories
A Memory of Freedom
by D.B. Jackson
The Salt Man
by Melissa Mead
By a Thread
by Flávio Medeiros Jr.
IGMS Audio
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews

Memory of Freedom
    by D.B. Jackson

A Memory of Freedom
Artwork by Wayne Miller

Ethan Kaille was halfway through this week's issue of the Boston Gazette when he finally took note of the date on the front page. Monday, 4 August 1760. That made this the seventh. He had been a free man for exactly three months.

A quarter of a year gone. The days had flown by too fast. He should have been able to account for each one, and he couldn't. They were a blur -- wasted and forgotten, gray and indistinguishable. For fourteen years he had wished away the hours, desperately coaxed the scorching sun across tropical skies, endured days of unending labor and nights of unbearable longing. Fourteen years. They might as well have been fourteen lifetimes. And now he had squandered three months of precious freedom.

Doing what?

For a panicked moment, he couldn't remember any of it -- it seemed that he had slept the months away. But no, he had made his way on foot from the plantation to port, where the ship to Charleston, South Carolina, waited. That took two days. The voyage from Barbados to Charleston took closer to two weeks, as did the second voyage up the coast to Boston, where he had lived before prison, before the Ruby Blade mutiny. In between, he spent nearly a month working the wharves in Charleston trying to earn money for the second voyage. Then there were nights spent in Boston's Almshouse, days when he limped through the cobbled streets of the city, making his way from wharf to wharf, warehouse to shipyard, seeking employment. And finally, weeks of tedium working at the Silver Key, serving food and drink, clearing tables, mopping floors, rolling and hefting barrels of ale, repairing tables and chairs damaged by the tavern's patrons during nights of drunken revelry.

It wasn't that time had slipped by, Ethan realized, but rather that thus far freedom, at least as he had imagined it during his incarceration, had eluded him.

"Kaille!"

Ethan lowered the paper. William Keyes, owner of the Silver Key, stood in the doorway to the small alcove where Ethan reclined on his rope bed.

"Yes, sir?"

"Ya can laze around on yar own time. When ya're workin' fer me, ya'll do just that: work."

Ethan had sailed in His Majesty's fleet and served as second mate aboard the Ruby Blade, a three-masted merchant ship of some repute. Back in his native Bristol, his family had been known and respected. This man, Keyes, on the other hand, his breeches stained and ill-fitting, his linen shirt threadbare, was a brute who ran his tavern the way the plantation foreman had overseen labor in the cane fields. Except that rather than relying on fear of the whip to intimidate others, he used the threat of dismissal, and an underlying suggestion of physical violence.

Ethan had encountered too many men of this sort throughout his life. In the navy, on the wharves of Bristol and Boston, and again and again during his years of forced labor. He despised them, but he had learned that he was best off keeping his head down and staying out of their way.

Keyes stood half a head taller than Ethan; he towered over Simon, the Silver Key's mouse-likechef, and Sarah and Della, the two serving girls. His features were blunt, homely, except for his eyes, which were small and brown and watchful, like those of a street cur. Though his hair was silver -- hence the name of the tavern -- he couldn't have been much past his fortieth year.

Ethan thought him shrewd; he had seen him bargain with brewmasters and bread peddlers, butchers and rum distillers, and more often than not Keyes seemed to come out ahead. But Ethan wasn't entirely convinced that the man could read the newspaper he held, or even the bill of fare posted on the wall beside the bar.

He also knew for a fact that these few late afternoon hours belonged to him, not to the barkeep. Still, that wouldn't stop Keyes from throwing him out on the street if he refused to work. He didn't make much working in the tavern. Nor did it help that Keyes extracted the full price of every meal he ate and every ale he drank from Ethan's wages. But at least he had a place to sleep; he couldn't afford to lose that.

He laid the newspaper aside and stood. "What is it you need me to do?"

"Ya need t' ask?" Keyes gestured back toward the great room. "The place needs moppin'; the tables need wipin', as does the bar. An' I want the brass polished before the regular night crowd shows up."

Ethan had cleaned the floors and tables earlier, but he kept this to himself. "Yes, sir," was all he said.

Keyes remained in the doorway. As Ethan tried to walk past, the barkeep put a hand on his chest, stopping him.

"I don' normally hire convicts, Kaille. Don' give me a reason t' put ya back on the street."

Ethan held Keyes's gaze, saying nothing. He had put larger men on the floor with a single blow, without ever resorting to a conjuring. He had survived fourteen years in a living hell that would have broken a man like Keyes in a fraction of that time. The barkeep couldn't intimidate him.

Perhaps Keyes realized this. He lowered his hand and let Ethan pass.

Ethan started on the floors, keeping his gaze lowered, his expression flat, dead. He would have preferred a job on the waterfront, but work was harder to find in Boston than it had been in Charleston. Had he not been drawn back to Boston by his vain hope of reconciling with Marielle -- Elli -- who had been his betrothed before the mutiny, he might have stayed in South Carolina. But here jobs were scarce.

Surely his limp made matters worse -- who would want to hire a lame ex-convict? Nor did it help that so many of the wharf owners remembered the Ruby Blade mutiny and the tales of the male witch who had thrown in with the mutineers. If he could have told them that he hadn't cast a spell in fourteen years, he might have convinced Boston's merchants to hire him. For it was true: Having entered into a devil's pact with the men who led the Blade insurrection, men who had wanted him on their side solely because he could conjure, he had vowed never to cast another spell. His powers had cost him his youth and his love; they had left him scarred and half-crippled.

Once in prison, however, he became desperate to break this oath. Conjurings might have won him his freedom. Certainly healing spells could have cured the infection that left him lame. But surrounded by prisoners who looked for any opportunity to improve their lot, even if it came at the expense of one of their brethren, and watched constantly by vicious overseers, Ethan hadn't dared cast at all. Even one spell would have led him to the hangman's gallows, or to a public burning. Fear of witchcraft ran as deep in the Caribbean as it did here in New England.

For that same reason, Ethan knew he couldn't offer any reassurances to Boston's merchants. As long as his powers remained a rumor, he was safe. But a promise that he would not conjure was tantamount to an admission that he could if he chose to, and would lead to his execution.

So he mopped William Keyes' tavern, and when the floor was clean he set to work on the tables and then the bar.

By the time he finished polishing the brass, the Key had begun to fill up with the usual evening crowd. Wharfmen and day laborers clustered around the bar ordering ales and oysters. A few craftsmen -- mostly smiths and ships' carpenters -- sat at tables in pairs and in small groups, some drinking Madeira wine, others drinking flips, most of them eating fish chowder and bread. Ethan slipped into the kitchen, tied on an apron and began to help the girls serve.

When Simon finished preparing a second pot of chowder, Ethan helped the cook carry it to the bar and the two of them ladled out fresh bowls.

While they were working, the door opened and three hulking men walked in. Immediately conversation ceased. The three took positions near the bar and the door, their gazes sweeping over the tavern's patrons. A moment later a fourth man entered.

John Gray.

He was known in the South End as Hawker Gray, in part because he was said to run a profitable trade in stolen goods, and in part because in his youth he had earned a reputation as a skilled street fighter whose blade was as quick and deadly as a hawk's talons.

He was shorter than his three toughs, but thick around the middle, with long powerful arms. His black hair, which he wore tied back in a plait, was streaked with silver. The years had etched lines into the corners of his eyes and mouth, but otherwise his face remained boyish. Unlike the three toughs, he was dressed neatly in a white silk shirt, black breeches, and a matching waistcoat. As he crossed to the bar, workmen fell over themselves getting out of his way.

"I'll take a bowl of that," he said. "And a whiskey."

Simon nodded and filled a bowl, his hands trembling slightly. Ethan poured out a dram of Scotch whiskey.

Both of them knew better than to ask for payment. Hawker was a regular in the Key, but Ethan had never seen him pay for anything. He and Keyes seemed to have some sort of arrangement. Hawker ate and drank what he pleased, and conducted his business in the tavern as he saw fit. The barman, Ethan assumed, took a share of Gray's earnings.

One of Hawker's toughs shooed two men away from a nearby table. Gray positioned his chair so that he had his back to a wall and a clear view of the door.

Ethan and Simon went back to serving chowder. Gradually the voices that had been silenced by Hawker's arrival rose once more, until the din in the tavern returned more or less to its normal level. Ethan wiped up a few spilled ales, cleared tables and helped Simon with yet another huge pot of chowder. The crowd in the great room swelled.

Near to eight o'clock, another man entered the tavern, pausing in the doorway to survey the throng. He was bald, with a grizzled face and thick, muscular forearms, and he stood nearly a full head shorter than Ethan. As the man lingered near the door, his mouth hanging open, Ethan saw that he had a large gap where his front teeth should have been. His breeches and shirt were stained and worn -- the clothes of a laborer.

Spotting Hawker Gray at his table, the man stalked toward him, fists clenched. Before he had covered half the distance, two of Hawker's toughs intercepted him. They towered over the man making him appear as a mere child beside them.

Unable to get any closer, the stranger pointed a bony finger Hawker's way.

"Where are my toolth, Gray?" he demanded with a pronounced lisp. "I know you've got 'em, and I want 'em back!"

The tavern went quiet again. All eyes turned to Hawker and this bold stranger.

Hawker's expression remained mild. "And you are . . . ?"

"You know who I am, you bathtard! Now where are my toolth?"

Hawker glanced at one of his toughs, raised an eyebrow almost imperceptibly. That was enough.

The tough dug a fist into the stranger's belly, doubling him over. The man fell to his knees and retched.

"I remember you now," Hawker said, standing with a scrape of his chair on the wood floor. He stepped away from the table and walked to where the stranger knelt, his hands braced on the floor. "You're the cooper, the one who talkth funny."

He grinned briefly; his men laughed.

But otherwise, the tavern was so quiet Ethan could hear Simon breathing beside him.

"You need to learn some manners, old man," Hawker went on, deadly serious now. "No one comes in here and calls me names. I think you owe me an apology."

The cooper didn't look up. "I want my tools back."

Hawker glanced around at those watching him, a smile fixed on his face. He opened his hands, as if to say What could I do? Before anyone could speak, he raised his foot and stomped on the cooper's hand with the heel of his boot. Ethan heard bones crack. The cooper howled like a wild creature, clutched his hand to his chest, and toppled onto his side. Several patrons groaned; one of the serving girls began to cry.

Hawker nodded to his toughs again. One of them hoisted the cooper to his feet, pinning his arms at his sides. Another man pummeled him. In mere seconds the poor cooper was a bloody mess, his lip split, his nose probably broken, his eyes already starting to swell.

At a word from Hawker, the toughs broke off their assault and threw the man out the door.

"I doubt he'll be back here making accusations," Hawker said, loud enough for all to hear. And I doubt any of you will ever think to cross me. This last hung in the tavern air, unsaid, but as pungent as pipe smoke.

Ethan strode toward the door only to feel someone grab his arm. Whirling, he found himself face-to-face with Keyes.

"Where d'ya think ya're goin'?" the barkeep asked. "Ya got work t' do."

Ethan shook off his hand and glared back at him. "The old man needs help."

"It's no bus'ness o' yars."

Hawker had stolen the cooper's tools and Keyes stood to profit from the theft. Ethan was sure of it. In that moment, it was all he could do not to incinerate the man with a fire spell.

"If he dies on your doorstep," Ethan said, reining in his rage, "it'll be bad for business."

Keyes eyed him a moment longer before dismissing him with a wave of his hand and turning away. "Ten minutes. An' it comes out o' yar wages."

Ethan shoved the door open and strode out into the warm night air. Whip-poor-wills sang overhead, and the stink of fish and tidal mud soured the city air.

The cooper lay in a heap at the mouth of an alley that ran between the tavern and a milliner's shop next door. He didn't move as Ethan knelt beside him, and for a moment Ethan feared that he was dead. Then he saw the shallow rise and fall of the man's chest and allowed himself to exhale.

"Nearly got yourself killed, you old fool," he whispered.

No response.

The cooper looked a mess, but Ethan knew that his hand was what needed healing most. Left to mend on its own, it would be mangled and useless for the rest of the cooper's life; he would never set another hoop, or plane another stave. Even a doctor might not be able to set it properly.

Which left conjuring.

What of his oath? What of all that he had endured because of the spells he had cast? Imprisonment, estrangement from his family and friends, the loss of Elli, his one love, who had made it clear that she wanted nothing to do with a mutineer and conjurer. This man was a stranger, a reckless fool who had brought these injuries on himself. After fourteen years without casting, why should he risk conjuring again for him?

So you'll leave this man to live the rest of his life maimed, unable to work, just to uphold a promise made in your youth, when you too were a reckless fool?

Susannah's voice. Of his two sisters, she was the one who also conjured, who would understand the choice he faced.

Not long after Ethan was convicted and transported to Barbados to toil in the sun-baked cane fields, an older man, a fellow prisoner, sliced his foot open with a cane knife. It was an accident; the man apologized again and again, no doubt fearing that Ethan would repay him in kind, or would simply kill him and be done with it. But accident or not, the wound quickly worsened. It oozed foul ichor and grew hot to the touch.

Within a couple of days Ethan's entire leg was bloated and tender. In the end, the plantation surgeons removed three of his toes and so managed to save his leg. Ever since, Ethan had walked with a pronounced limp.

He could have spared himself great suffering had he healed his foot with a conjuring before the wound became infected. He never made the attempt. And now, years later, faced with a choice of casting or leaving another man to live the rest of his life as a cripple, he had to admit that it wasn't his vow to foreswear conjuring that had stopped him so long ago. It had been his fear of being marked as a witch; it had been the very fact that he was a prisoner, watched at every moment and subject to the whims of cruel, narrow-minded men.

There was nothing he could do now to make his foot whole again. But he could heal the cooper. He knew how to speak the conjuring; and he was a free man. For too long he had struggled to divine just what that meant. Perhaps the answer lay hidden in the simple act of casting a spell.

He reached for his knife, then thought better of it. How would he explain if someone saw him cut himself? Better to use the blood on the cooper's face. God knew there was enough.

His own hands shaking, he gently took hold of the cooper's shattered hand.

"Remedium ex . . . ex cruore evocatum," he whispered. Healing, conjured from blood.

His Latin was rusty; it had been too many years since last a spell had crossed his lips. And yet the sensation was as familiar as the sound of his own name. Power thrummed like a bow string, humming in the cobblestones beneath him, in the walls of the buildings around him. At the same time, a spectral figure appeared at his shoulder, a ghostly form glowing with a deep russet hue. The shade was tall, lean, dressed in a coat of mail and a tabard bearing the three lions of the ancient kings. His beard and close-cropped hair might have been white had it not been for the radiance clinging to him.

This figure, too, Ethan remembered. The power necessary to cast spells dwelled at the boundary between the living world and the realm of the dead, the ephemeral plane of spirit and soul. Every conjurer was served by a spectral guide, and this old warrior with his bright, glowing eyes was Ethan's. He might have been an ancestor; he reminded Ethan of his mother's prickly brother, Reginald. So Ethan had taken to calling the ghost Uncle Reg.

The ghost glowered at him, a parent scowling at a wayward child.

"It's been a long time," Ethan said. "It's good to see you."

Reg didn't answer. In all the years Ethan had conjured, he had never known the ghost to say a word.

He felt power flow through his own hands into the cooper's shattered bones. After a few seconds, he felt the bones reforming, knitting themselves. The fractures were severe, and before he was done Ethan had to cast the spell a second time, drawing on the fresh blood that had appeared on the cooper's face after his first conjuring. But at last he sat back on his heels, wiped the sweat from his forehead and took a long breath. The cooper's hand would be sore for days, perhaps longer. It might continue to bother him occasionally in the years to come, in the cold and damp, and after long days at his workbench. But soon enough he would have use of it again.

The rest of the man's injuries were less serious; they would heal on their own. Ethan had just made up his mind to go back inside the tavern when the cooper let out a low groan. His swollen eyes fluttered open, though only to narrow slits.

The old man tried to get up, bracing himself on the cobblestones with his bad hand. Hissing sharply through his teeth, he collapsed back to the ground.

"Easy there, friend," Ethan said. "You won't be using that hand for a little while. And you won't be luring any lasses to your bed with that handsome face, either."

The cooper chuckled, winced.

"Who are you?" he asked, the words thick.

"Ethan Kaille. I work in the Silver Key. I saw what Hawker did to you; you're lucky to be alive."

The cooper stared at his hand and cautiously flexed his fingers. "I thought he'd broken it. I didn't think it would ever be any good again."

Ethan looked away. "I guess it wasn't as bad as you thought."

"Aye, I gueth," he said, the lisp more pronounced with his lip swollen.

"You might not be so lucky next time. You should go home."

The cooper stared at the tavern door. "I want my toolth back."

"You're not going to get them," Ethan said. "Look at me."

The cooper shifted his gaze to Ethan.

"You're not going to get them back. If you go in there again, Hawker will kill you. Go home, old man."

"Henry," the cooper said, sullen, eyes downcast.

"What?"

"My name's Henry Dall, and I'm not all that old. The tools cost me everything I had. Without them, I might as well give up my shop."

"You have old tools, right?"

Henry shrugged.

"Use them until you can afford another set of new ones. But don't go back in there. It's not worth it."

Ethan stood, extended a hand to the man. Henry eyed it for a moment, then grasped it with his good hand. Ethan pulled him to his feet.

"Goodnight, Henry Dall."

"Goodnight," Henry said, starting away. "Thank you."

Ethan watched him go before entering the tavern once more. Conversations had resumed. Everyone appeared content to drink, eat and exchange stories and news of the day. Hawker sat with his men, laughing about something. No one seemed to spare a thought for the cooper, except Simon and the girls, who asked if he was all right.

"Aye," Ethan told them, watching Hawker from the bar. "He'll be fine."

Hours later, after the tavern had closed and Ethan and the girls had wiped down the tables and chairs, Ethan retired to his alcove, bone weary.

But he didn't sleep well. He dreamed of the tavern and the beating he had witnessed, and though he managed to force himself awake, each time he dozed off again he fell back into the dream.

He arose with first light, and mopped and cleaned the tavern floors and tables before mid-morning. As he worked, his thoughts churned, as did his anger at what had been done to the cooper.

With his hand crushed, Henry would have been unable to make a living. Hawker had abandoned him to the street, maimed and bloody. He couldn't have cared less whether the cooper lived or died. And though Ethan had healed the man, his conjuring could only fix so much. How much better off was the old cooper, even with his hand healed, if he hadn't decent tools with which to ply his trade? The bruises and cuts and broken hand were only the most visible of the injuries Hawker and his men had inflicted; Hawker had crippled him simply by stealing from him. What was more, while Hawker had been incensed by Henry's accusations, the bastard had never denied them.

Ethan had no doubt that he was guilty. He was every bit the brute that Keyes was, that the plantation overseers had been. The difference was Ethan didn't depend on Hawker for a job or the roof over his head. And, as the healing spell he had cast the night before had reminded him, he wasn't a prisoner anymore.

The moment he finished cleaning, he left the Silver Key and walked to Cooper's Alley, a narrow lane just off the South End's waterfront, where he assumed he would find Henry Dall's shop. He wasn't disappointed. Halfway down the lane, he spotted a sign above one of the storefronts: "Dall's Barrels and Crates." Another sign on the door read "Open. Entr."

Ethan pushed the door open and walked in. Henry sat at the back of the shop beside a half-completed barrel, cradling his injured hand, gazing morosely at his empty workbench. Seeing Ethan, he stood and even took a step back. Ethan thought he might actually flee the shop. His face still looked terrible: dark bruises around his eyes, his lip swollen and scabbed.

He frowned, pointing a trembling finger Ethan's way. "You're the fella from latht night," he lisped. "Kaille, right?"

"Why are you so sure that it was Hawker who stole your tools?" Ethan asked, crossing the shop and stopping just in front of him. "This city is filled with thieves. What makes you think it was him?"

"I jutht know," the cooper said, though he sounded unsure of himself.

Ethan shook his head. "That's not good enough. I need more than that if I'm going to get your tools back."

Henry's eyes narrowed. "What? Get my-- Why would you even try? You a thieftaker?"

"Are there thieftakers here in Boston?"

"There's one. Her name is Pryce."

Ethan nodded at the name. Sephira Pryce. He had heard men in the tavern speak of her. "Have you gone to her about this?"

"I can't afford her," Henry said. "And she doesn't work for men like me. She works for wealthy men, influential men."

"Then I'll work for you," Ethan said. "I'm neither wealthy nor influential. But I'm good with a blade and with my fists, and I've half a brain. So to answer your question, yes, I'm a thieftaker."

"How much do you charge?"

"How much will you pay?"

Henry shrugged. "I can't offer you a lot. Fifteen shillings maybe, but I'll have to sell a few things."

"Done," Ethan said. "Now, why do you think it was Hawker?"

The cooper frowned again, sat back down on the stool by his workbench. Ethan sensed that events were moving a bit too fast for him.

"I saw him the day I bought the tools. He even said something to me about them -- about how fine they were. I don't remember what exactly, but he definitely noticed them. And for a long time people have been saying that he hires men to steal for him. That's how he makes money."

"Do you know where he lives?"

"Not far from here. He has a big brick house at the north end of Joliffe's Lane."

"All right. Then that's where I'll start."

"Do I need to pay you now?" the cooper asked, sounding wary.

"Do you have your tools back yet?"

"No."

"Then you don't pay me yet."

Henry grinned, then gingerly put a hand to his split lip.

"Tell me about the tools."

The cooper rattled off the items that had been stolen: a variety of planes, mallets, and knives, as well an adze, a borer, and a rounded shave for hollowing.

"What did all this cost you?" Ethan asked.

Henry shifted, clearly unnerved by the question. "More than fifteen shillings," he said, his voice low.

Ethan smiled. "That's all right. You shouldn't have to pay for them twice. Three pounds? More?"

"Closer to five," Henry said.

"Good. Thank you."

"I bought them on credit," the cooper went on, as if he hadn't heard. "They're not even paid for yet."

"I'll find them," Ethan said. He crossed back to the shop entrance. "Take care of yourself, Henry," he said, pulling the door open. "I'll see you soon."

"All right." The cooper raised a hand, still seemingly perplexed by their conversation. "My thanks."

Ethan struck out westward on Milk Street toward Joliffe's Lane. As he drew near, he slipped into a narrow alley between two houses and pulled out his knife. He wasn't at all eager to conjure again, but he didn't see any other way to do what he had in mind. He pushed up his shirt sleeve revealing a forearm laced with old white scars -- reminders of a time when he had conjured freely. After a moment's hesitation, he cut himself and watched as blood welled from the wound.

"Velamentum ex cruore evocatum," he said softly. Concealment, conjured from blood.

Power hummed in the street and in the walls of the two houses. Any conjurers in the area would feel it, and might even guess at what kind of spell Ethan had cast. But conjurers were rare, and those who didn't possess the ability to conjure wouldn't be aware of the spell. Nor would they be able to see Uncle Reg, who winked into view beside him, glowing brightly in the shadows. The shade smiled fiercely and even nodded his approval. Ethan wondered if the ghost had missed these spells and his opportunities to tap into the power that dwelled in his realm. If he was honest with himself Ethan had to admit that he had missed them. It felt good to be casting again. As much as he had tried to deny it over the past fourteen years, conjuring was as much a part of him as his family name and the years he had spent at sea.

"Stay with me," Ethan said to the ghost. "I might need to cast again before long."

Reg's smile deepened.

Together they continued to Joliffe's Lane. With the spell in place, Ethan was invisible to the people around them, although he could still be heard if he made too much noise. He and Reg made their way slowly along the street, keeping out of the way of men and women who walked with grim purpose to and from the waterfront. Horse drawn carriages rattled past, unshod hooves clopping drily on the cobblestones.

Hawker Gray's house was easy enough to spot. As Henry had said, it was larger than its neighbors; it was also the only brick house at the north end of the lane.

Placing his feet carefully so as not to give himself away, Ethan walked into the small yard and circled the house until he found a side entrance. He put his ear to the door, but heard nothing. He tried the door handle and found it locked.

He pulled some grass from the ground at his feet, and said "Discuti ex gramine evocatum." Shatter, conjured from grass. The spell hummed in the ground and a faint chime of breaking iron sounded from the lock. Ethan pulled the door open and flashed a quick grin at Uncle Reg.

The doorway led into the kitchen, which smelled of freshly cooked eggs and bacon, but appeared to be empty, at least for the moment. With Reg at his back, Ethan padded silently to the nearest door, listened for voices or movement. After a moment, he heard the clink of silverware on china. He backed away from that door and retraced his steps to a narrow stone stairway that led down to a cellar.

If Hawker kept stolen goods in the house, chances were that he wouldn't keep them in the living quarters. A cellar, on the other hand, might afford him ample space for storing items he hadn't yet sold.

Ethan eased his way down the stairs into the gloom. Once more, he pulled his knife from its sheath and cut his forearm. "Lux ex cruore evocatus," he whispered. Light, conjured from blood.

A golden light appeared above his head, illuminating the cellar and casting dark, shifting shadows on the far walls.

He was breathing hard; sweat dampened his brow and temples. In his youth, he had been able to cast many spells without tiring; not only was he older, he was also out of practice. He needed to find the stolen goods and return to the Key, where he could rest.

A wooden rack holding a collection of dusty wine bottles loomed on his right. To the left were several tables covered with tools and wood shavings and a few crude boxes and wooden bowls. None of the tools looked new, however. Forced to guess, Ethan would have said that Hawker or someone else in the household fancied himself a woodworker.

Footsteps overhead made him freeze. He heard voices as well, and thought he recognized Hawker as one of the speakers. Instinctively, he backed toward a corner. Before he reached it, though, he bumped one of the tables and knocked a wood bowl to the floor. It clattered loudly, rolled back and forth and came to rest against a table leg. The footsteps above him stopped; the voices went silent.

Then he heard the quick tread of several pairs of feet, all of them converging on the stairway.

Ethan slashed his arm again. "Fini lux ex cruore evocatus!" End light, conjured from blood!

The golden glow vanished, plunging the cellar into darkness. Ethan crept backwards more carefully this time, trying to reach the farthest corner of the cellar. Before he could get there, the three toughs from the tavern reached the bottom of the stairs. Two of them held flintlock pistols; the third had a knife. Hawker was just behind them, holding a lit candle.

"Out of my way," he said, pushing past his men.

He edged forward, raising the candle high and peering into the shadows. His gaze flicked over Ethan and Reg, but he gave no sign that he could see them through Ethan's spell.

After several moments, he lowered the candle and stooped to retrieve the fallen bowl.

"Probably a rat," he said. "Still, I want the three of you to go check the doors. I'll stay here and watch for our rodent."

The toughs grunted their agreement and started back up the stairs. Ethan and Reg exchanged looks.

Mere seconds later, one of the toughs came back down to the cellar.

"Th' lock on th' side door's been broke," he said.

Hawker grinned. "Well, isn't that interesting? Give me your gun, then go get the others. And bring oil lamps. I can't see a damn thing down here."

The brute handed his pistol to Hawker and hurried back up to the kitchen.

Hawker raised the candle again, the pistol held ready in his other hand. "If you come out now," he said, pitching his voice to carry, "I might not shoot you, though I'd be in my rights to do so."

Slowly, silently, Ethan dragged his blade over his arm, drawing fresh blood. There was a spell on which he had relied more than once in his youth . . . He smiled at the memory.

"Dormite," he whispered to himself. "Ex cruore evocatum." Slumber, conjured from blood.

Power pulsed in the stone floor of the basement, but Hawker didn't appear to notice. After a few seconds, his face went slack, his eyes rolled back into his head, and he pitched forward, smacking his forehead on the nearest table and then flopping onto the floor.

Footsteps overhead told Ethan that at least one of the toughs had heard. The man hurtled down the stairs, pistol in hand.

Ethan had no choice but to cut himself once more. Without hesitating, he cast another sleep spell. Moments later, the tough toppled to the floor, landing beside his boss. Ethan stepped over them and tiptoed up the stairs. He found the side door unguarded -- probably that had been the sleeping tough's post.

He slipped noiselessly from the house and hurried away, following the lanes back toward the Silver Key. He considered stopping to remove the concealment spell, but something occurred to him -- another spot he needed to search for Henry's tools and the rest of Hawker's plunder.

Reaching the tavern, he turned into the same alley in which he had found the unconscious cooper the night before and entered the Key through the back, near the kitchen.

The stairway leading down to the tavern cellar was broader than the stairway in Hawker's house, and the cellar itself was illuminated by candles. The bitter smell of spermaceti hung in the air. Cured meats, wine bottles, and casks of ale, whiskey, and rum crowded the cellar's main chamber. But in the course of working for Keyes, Ethan had noticed a door at the back of the room. He wove his way through the clutter and tried the door handle. Locked.

He pulled his knife out and made another cut on his arm, which was growing red and tender. Back when he was conjuring more frequently, that had never been a problem -- apparently this was another price he paid for renouncing his gift for so long.

He broke the lock with another shatter spell and pushed the door open. The faint candlelight from behind him spilled into the room and gleamed dully on what appeared to be a table laden with goods.

"Lux ex cruore evocatus." Light, conjured from blood.

His conjured glow filled this smaller room, revealing all that Ethan had expected to find at Hawker's house and more. Crystal glasses, shining new blades, and silver tableware; ivory-handled hair brushes and leather-bound books; a pair of dueling pistols with polished wooden stocks and several bottles of what appeared to be French wine. And, of course, a set of fine tools including blades, mallets, and planes.

Ethan didn't know where the other items had come from, but he was sure that the tools were Henry's. He bundled them up in a burlap sack that he found on the floor near the table, extinguished the light he had conjured, and climbed the stairs to the tavern.

When Ethan emerged from the kitchen, Keyes was at the bar, eating a plate of oysters.

"Where th' hell 'ave ya been?" the barkeep demanded, pushing his plate aside and standing.

"Around," Ethan said striding past him.

"There's work t' be done. Ya seem t' forget that, Kaille."

"I cleaned up before I left."

He swung the burlap sack onto one of the tables.

Keyes nodded toward it. "Wha's that?"

Ethan pulled out two of the planes and the curved shave. "You tell me," he said. "As far as I can tell these are the tools of a cooper. Why would they be in your cellar?"

The barman's face reddened. He pulled himself up to his full height and balled his fists. "Ya're meddlin' where ya shouldn'," he said, his voice low and hard. "A man can get himself killed doin' that."

Ethan stared back at him. "You watched Hawker's men beat that cooper within an inch of his life, and you didn't say a thing. You're the hireling of a thief and a brute, and that makes you no better than a thief yourself, and a cowardly one at that."

Keyes pulled a knife from his belt and advanced on him, a sneer contorting his face. Ethan stood his ground, drawing his own blade. He didn't move as well as he had in his youth -- the plantation surgeons had seen to that. But against a man as big and clumsy as the barman, he was more than quick enough.

Keyes slashed at him. Ethan jumped back out of reach, the shining steel flashing past harmlessly.

Della, the younger of the serving girls, appeared in the kitchen doorway and seeing the two of them facing each other in the middle of the tavern, knives drawn, let out a small cry. Ethan's eyes flicked in her direction.

"Go back in the kitchen!" he said.

Sensing an opening, Keyes lunged at him again, thrusting his blade straight at Ethan's chest. Ethan shifted his weight, eluding the attack, and drove the heel of his left hand up into the barman's nose. He heard cartilage snap, felt blood splatter on his arm, neck, and face.

Keyes staggered back. Ethan closed the distance between them with a single stride and hammered a fist into the man's side. The barman gasped. Ethan hit him a second time, and Keyes collapsed to the floor. Standing over him, Ethan drew back his foot to kick the man.

"Ethan, don't!" Della cried out.

She looked terrified, her eyes wide, her cheeks pale.

He pivoted and when he did kick out it was only to knock the knife from Keyes's hand. The blade skittered across the tavern floor.

"If you ever come near me again, you'll get worse," Ethan said, glaring down at the barman, breathing hard. "And if you or Hawker or his men ever touch Henry Dall again, or take so much as a scrap of wood from his shop, I'll kill you. Do you understand?"

Keyes had his eyes closed and was panting as well, but he nodded once.

"You also might want to get rid of that wine downstairs. The customs boys don't look kindly on fat barmen who traffic in goods from enemies of the Crown. And I'll be sending them to your door straight away."

He packed up Henry's tools, then ducked into the alcove where he slept to retrieve his meager belongings: a change of clothes, a spare blade, a coat, and a thin bundle of letters he had received from his sister since his arrival in Boston. By the time he crossed back through the great room, Keyes was sitting up. Blood still flowed freely from his nose down over his lips and chin, and he glowered at Ethan as if girding himself for another fight.

"By the way, I quit," Ethan said, walking past him with barely a glance. "In case that wasn't clear."

"Don' ever show yar face in here again!"

Ethan laughed. "I don't think there's any danger of that." Turning to the serving girl, he said, "Take care of yourself, Della. Say goodbye to Simon and Sarah for me."

She nodded

Ethan laughed once more, pulled the door open, and stepped out into the street.

When Ethan entered the cooperage again, Henry was straightening up his workbench, humming to himself.

He turned at the sound of the door opening and then gaped as Ethan opened the sack and began to remove the recovered tools one by one.

"How did you find them?"

"They were at the Silver Key, in the cellar. I'm sorry, Henry. If I had known that Keyes was storing the goods Hawker stole, I would have stopped working for him long ago."

"And if you'd done that, I wouldn't have my toolth back." Henry grinned, exposing the gap in his teeth.

Ethan smiled in turn. "True."

"It gueth I owe you fifteen shillingth."

"Maybe."

Henry frowned. "That was what we agreed, right?"

"Yes," Ethan said. "But there are other things to consider. Thanks to you, I have a new profession: Ethan Kaille, Thieftaker. But I no longer have a place to live and couldn't help noticing that there's a spare room over your shop, and another one out back."

"The one out back is mine," Henry said. "The one upstairs . . ." He shrugged, gave a toothless smile. "I could rent it to you."

"How many weeks would ten of those shillings buy me?"

The cooper shrugged again. "A lot. Three months, I would think."

"You should know that I was a convict. Almost fifteen years ago I took part in a mutiny aboard a privateering ship. If you don't want a man like me living over your shop, I'll understand. No hard feelings."

"You gonna steal from me?" the cooper asked.

"No."

"You gonna come down here in the middle of the night and cut my throat?"

Ethan smiled, shook his head. "No."

"You gonna pay rent and get my tools back when Hawker steals them again?"

"Yes."

"Then you're welcome here."

Ethan put out his hand, and Henry gripped it. "Thank you," Ethan said.

"I think I still owe you five shillings."

"You can pay me later." Ethan put down his small bundle of belongings. "Can I leave these things here for a while?"

"Of course," Henry said. "Where are you going?"

"I don't know. I'm just going to walk."

"All right. I'll see you later, then."

Ethan nodded and stepped back out into Cooper's Alley. He inhaled deeply, taking in the familiar smells of the city: fish and saltwater, hay and horse manure, smoke and hewn wood. His forearm still throbbed from the spells he had cast, but he didn't mind. There was something familiar about that as well. He looked in both directions, and then struck out southward, toward Fort Hill.

It felt odd to do nothing but walk. And yet Ethan remembered this feeling, too, from before the cane fields and the Ruby Blade. From when he last had been free.


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