“Now,” Samuel Broadbent said, his voice not unfriendly even for the enormous pistol he had on me. “Stay calm. I don’t mean to hurt you.”
I did not believe him, but I endeavored to retain my composure anyway.
“What’s your name?” Broadbent asked.
“Andrew Barclay,” I said.
“Mr. Barclay,” Broadbent said. “AM I correct in assuming that you are not from around here?”
I straightened, the small of my back complaining all the way. Water dripped from elsewhere, and echoed off baroque grotesqueries etched into the stone.
“I am not,” I said.
Broadbent nodded and stood to his full height. I was a little startled to discover that his full height was not all that high – the man could not have stood more than five and a half feet, I should think.
He looked up at me.
“Mr. Barclay, may I be candid?”
My eyes went to the gun.
“I suspect you do not know the character of the people you have fallen in with. Would you agree?”
His voice was strange – high and lilting, and I could not place his accent. Certainly, he was more well-spoken than I would have expected of a common cutthroat, if such he was.
“The… the Saints,” managed. “Have shown me nothing but kindness.”
Broadbent snorted, and let down the hammer of his gun with his thumb. THen he stuck the thing in a holster, away under a fold of coat.
“I’ve no doubt of that, sir, none at all,” Samuel Broadbent said. He cocked his head to one side and studied me.
“Tell me,” he said at length. “Why should it be that your name is familiar to me?”
“I have no idea,” I said. And then: “I’m a writer.”
Light gathered behind Broadbent’s eyes.
“Yes! God damne it all, you write for the Tribune!”
I had no idea how to respond to that, except to say that I did. Which I did.
Broadbent stuck out a hand, which I gazed at, bewildered.
“I,” Broadbent said. “Enjoy your column immensely, on the odd occasion a copy of the Tribune finds its way to me. May I shake your hand?”
Numbly, still gazing at the fold of coat which hid the gun, I shook. I knew not what else to do.
“Mr. Barclay, if I may: what in the hell are you doing down here?”
I told him, and as I did, his eyes unfocused, as if he were trying to work something out.
“Curious indeed. And Allison, how did you find yourself in his company?”
I blinked in surprise.
“You know John Allison?”
“Oh, I do indeed. Tell me, it may be important: how did he find you?”
“Wh- on the docks. I had… uh, I had an attack of-”
“The Dread,” supplied Broadbent nodding his head. “Happens to some. Hmm.”
He studied me.
“Sir,” I said, adn cleared my throat. But before I could ask the obvious question, Broadbent beat me to it.
“Why are we here?” he said, smiling, holding his hands wide as if to indicate the whole colossal pile of a cathedral in which we found ourselves.
“I was walking the Rue, and who should I see but John effing Allison, of all people, complete with a few of his thugs and, funnily enough, you. SO I followed, because I am always curious about what Allison gets up to.”
“Why?” I asked.
This seemed to catch Broadbent off-guard. “Why? What- oh!”
Broadbent’s smile returned, wider now.
“Oh, you don’t know who he is, do you?”
I wasn’t sure how to answer that accusation. It was not, i suppose, untrue.
But before Broadbent could tell me anything else, the air was split asunder. The echoes persisted for a long time, after the initial report.
It was gunfire.
I almost lost track of Broadbent, so quickly and quietly did he depart my company. He skittered off down the length of the gallery in which we stood, and disappeared around the corner. Not knowing what else to do, and not wanting t ocatch a bullet by mistake, I followed him.
I emerged onto a balcony, overlooking the Rue. Another report met my ears, followed by a shrill whistle.
Broadbent stood on that balcony, well away from the edge, that his face was obscured in shadow. I approached the ancient stone ballistrade and looked out, across the Rue Oraculum.
The crowd has stilled. For several hundred feet in either direction, all eyes were directed, I saw, to a little clearing in the throng.
A clearing, I saw, where stood John Allison.
He’d aquired a long gun from somewhere, and he had it lain across one shoulder. As I watched, young William came shouldering through the crowd, lugging a barrel he’d taken from somewhere. Onto this John Allison stepped, and when he stood head and shoulders above the crowd, he adressed them. He, I learned then, had learnt the trick of “throwing” his voice – it echoed off the surrounding buildings, loud as the gunshot had. Across the way, I observed shuffling figures, lining balconies not unlike my own. All had gathered, to hear what my host John Allison had to say.
“We,” John Allison began. “Are the light which shines in darkness.”
I could see the mouths of young William and Charles moving in time with the words, aping them.
“We are the Latter Day Saints. We are here in the company of a man named Barclay. Where is he?”
From elsewhere the din continued, but all in Allison’s proximity were silent as the grave.
“Where is he?” John Allison called again.
I felt a presence beside me. It was Broadbent.
He turned his face to mine, and in a voice so low it was almost a whisper, he said: “You may go to him, in a minute. But if I were you, I’d watch.”
Broadbent looked down to where John Stood, high above the assembled people. The man who had hosted me so graciously in his home, without apparent reason. The man who now stood with a gun, before the assembled folk.
AS I watched, Allison brought the gun down off his shoulder.
“Barlcay!” Allison called.
He waited. When I did not call out, he shook his head. Sadly, it seemed to me.
And then, businesslike, like a man sitting down to work, he began firing into the crowd.
“Bit of a bastard, all things considered,” Broadbent said.
In a daze I had followed him, not knowing what else to do. I do not know how far we walked, but it must have been far indeed. My feet ached, and in my memory there is a blur of shapes and sounds and voices, of long stretches of darkness, of looming, antediluvian stonework and the endless night.
Somehow we found ourselves coming down a track of broken shale, around a cluster of abandoned structures, and out onto the shoreline. I blinked – I was on the SOuth FInger, across the Bay of Saints from Jordan. Across a mile of inky Mer, the settlement’s lights winked at me.
THere was a pub of a sort there, an awful, waterlogged, teetering thing up on stilts over the water. I do not believe that there was a true angle or a level plane anywhere in the whole absurd structure. A lantern was hung beside the door, and it spilled it’s light across a painted sign: LANDAFF’S. Beyond, on the right hand, the city loomed. On the left, I noticed, down at the far end of the Finger, a great, looming patch of darker darkness. A small mountain, down there, which I would learn in short order is called Curler’s Rock.
Within, Landaff’s was lit all with candles. Wax poured down splintery walls and off the edges of tables, and the proprietor himself had sat hunched behind a rickety bar at the far end of the room. Broadbent had guided me to a table where I sat, shaking, whilst he went off to confer with the proprietor. When he returned, it was with whiskey. This I drank, gratefully.
“WHo is he?” I managed at last.
“Allison? Why, he’s Rockwell’s protege.”
Broadbent put down his own whiskey.
“Are they really such a mystery up there?”
“Yes. I’d’ve thought you’d heard of Porter Rockwell.”
And the name did ring a bell. A Marshall, turned outlaw – a Saint, to boot.
“What did you mean? About him being ROckwell’s heir?”
Broadbent put both hands on the table.
“Porter Rockwell was the defender of the faith. The first Blade of Gabriel. John Allison is the second. He is afforded…”
Broadbent trailed off and sucked his teeth, choosing words.
“He is afforded considerable latitude in deciding what he is and is not allowed to do. He is a general, a spymaster, an assassin. He,” and here, Broadbent crooked an ironic smile at me. “Is that which protects the Saints from the rest of us rabble. And incidentally, do not believe for a second that you found yourself in his house by accident.”
I shook my head.
“Why,” I said.
“Why did… he… he just started shooting.”
Broadbent nodded and studied his drink. “A message, i should think. What happens when the word of the Saint is not obeyed.”
I shook my head again.
“Now this leaves the question: why you?” Broadbent said.
I met his eyes.
“Of all people, John Allison chooses a writer. Why?”
“I don’t believe that he chose me. I found me on the docks-”
“Yes yes, you said. And, it isn’t that I disbelieve you, sir,” Broadbent said. “It’s just that… where John Allison is concerned, coincidence is rarely coincedence.”
“But he could not possibly have known-”
“Yes, yes, your editor sent you. Still,” Broadbent said, his eyes again distant. He returned to the moment, and met my eyes with a wry smile.
“I think there is something else happening here.”
Broadbent downed the remainder of his drink and clapped his hands.
“Now, I think, it is time you got some rest. TOmorrow we’ll see about sending you on your way.”
“Mr. Broadbent,” I said.
“If I’m to believe that… that John Allison had some nefarious intent, then so be it. But why, then, should I believe you?”
I looked him full in the eye.
“Why should I trust you?”
Broadbent smiled broadbly, and gestured for the door.
“You are more than welcome to do as you like. But Amos,” he said, nodding to the proprietor of Landaff’s where he sat behind the ramcshackle bar. “Has a room for you upstairs. If you believe you can do better, then I invite you to do so. If not,” Broadbent said, and shrugged.
I looked toward the door, and by extension to the terrible, dark city beyond.
I stayed at Landaff’s that night.
I woke to the sound of the door opening, and it was Broadbent who greeted me. Smiling the grin which I now know to a signature of sorts for him, he said: “I think you should come outside and have a look.”
I did. Landaff’s proved to be equipped with a ramschakle porch which wrapped around the back, and between crooked slats beneath my feet I could see distant light reflecting in sparkles off the inky sea.
There were boats in the bay.
The played their arclamps off the coast of the bay, and I heard distant sounds, almost like speech. Speaking horns, I realized – sailors aboard those ships were addressing the coastline, though to what end I did not know.
“They are looking for you,” Broadbent said.
“For – me?” I said. There were three ships that I could see, investigating stretches of stony coast along the bay.
“Yes, indeed. I’m surprised they didn’t wake you, one of them came by not long ago. Yelling your name through those horns they have.”
“But why?” I said, baffled. Surely I was not so valuable a prize as all of this.
“I think I may have an answer for you,” Broadbent said. “But I would like to hear a second opinion first. Come along, Mr. Barclay – there is someone I would like you to meet.”