Chapter Two


Night in the city, and a different kind of life now lurks on the streets. Some seem joyful and carefree. Others step lightly so none may hear -- victims and victimizers both playing a cat's game. Figures laugh dully through yellow bottle-glass windows on inns and pubs. Jovial and gleaming with froth and meat. While creatures shuffle down broken roads, barely conscious from the lack of food, but more than willing to fill up with spirit. Should they be so lucky. There are those who have no place to go, and others who avoid their own homes, where only stained brown walls, and empty bellies and drunken pain await them.

Others crowd into sunken stone chambers, forgotten by builders, well beneath the surface of the earth. Barely lit tunnels that twist under the great street. Horizontal mazes that turn below crowded tenements, and up through them like hidden cavities. Groping, stinking, wet, infested. Dark and murderous. Where bodies may lay unclaimed but rotting in dark corners for days on end. Where all the crowded voices carry, murmuring darkly through walls and street alike. And it is said that in the still of the night one may, when walking on the cobbled street above, hear this mumbling. As if a million unhappy ghosts, lamenting their fate. Or distant thunder, walled up in a stone coffin. All waiting for a turned candle or lamp to extinguish this failed reflection of breathing life.


Elspeth's hair is loose and flowing about her pale face, set out like a pearl in a red flame by candle light. She is apparently sound asleep. Duncan stands along side looking down at her as he puts on his coat. With the soft ruffle of cloth, she stirs. "Had enough of me already, have you?" she says with a sleepy, contented smile.

"I have to see Sutherland about that important business of his. I won't be long," Duncan says as he sits by her side.

"You've been too long already," she says. "But if you'd rather spend the night with a gray old man, well, I just don't know then, do I?"

She smiles, and he swoops in to kiss her gently, reassuringly. "He doesn't shave close enough," Duncan says with a straight face. "Now, Angus and Ranald are in the next room. I trust them with my life, and more. Call out for them if there's a need. I'll be back before you finish your dream."

He turns and leaves, and as Elspeth turns to hug her pillow, she notices that he has left his dirk by her side for protection. She reaches out, touches it, and falls dreamily back to sleep.

Shadows twist deeply into the towering buildings and down the ancient stairwells, worn and sagging from the multitudes who have shuffled through time. And now Duncan joins them, stepping down on his way to meet Sutherland. For one so used to open spaces, with air clean and moist, the city begins to transform itself before his straining eyes.

In the deepest dark, the tenement dwellings seem more like monoliths from another age, ancient and long gone, but now cringing from the horrors of life, and death, and withering time. Pressing down and down into the earth. Into its own grave. As if to escape the heavy air blackening lungs and sky. Air that sucks up all scent and color and frail tears. Only the stink remains of the daylight vision. In the night it is no longer a city, but a phantom.

Duncan's senses are finely honed, and his powerful, aware style of carrying himself is a clear marker to would be villains thirsty for a simple target. They slither away from the sure footed cadence. Someone else less secure will come by soon enough, and Duncan walks off unmolested towards a storied building standing alone at the end of a narrow street.


A finely etched glass scrapes along the surface of a dark wood table, spilling its contents and leaving a trail of red. A hand, shaking slightly takes the glass of wine up to stained and waiting lips. Sutherland sits back in the hard chair of his rented house as he drains the liquid in a slow but steady swallow. The room is dark, but bathed in blood red by the fireplace flames and the thick maroon curtains that close out the night, and shroud his postered bed. He seems glum, melancholy, and there is a naked blade conspicuous on the table before him.

There is a low knock suddenly, and his leg jerks, kicking one of several empty bottles at his feet. It rolls across the floor, coming to rest by a pair of deer skin boots. Duncan bends down to pick up the bottle, eyeing his weary friend as he enters. And sighs. Blearily, Sutherland looks over. "My man," says the old Lord. "Pull up that chair. And have a drink with me. It is not quite up to standards, but good enough when all there is, eh? Sit. Sit."

Duncan moves to the table, dragging over a chair. Sutherland offers the bottle, but he refuses with the merest shake of his head. With this Sutherland grows grim, but focused deep down into the moment. "Have it man, have it. I think you'll be needing one after you hear my sad tale this night. So best to get a start on it," says Sutherland, in a tone forbidding and defining.

Duncan takes up a drink. And as he swallows his face is clear. He senses something is now decidedly wrong.

"We've known each other for many years now, have we not?" Sutherland says.

"Since I was a boy," Duncan adds, knowing the old man knows.


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