Affairs Of Honor
by Fraser Sherman
Plodding through the rain-drenched streets, Richard Knorr saw a spear of lightning arc upwards over the roofline ahead of him. It thrust into the black, thunderous clouds and slowly, gradually, they rolled back, revealing a blue sky.
Knorr didn’t want to be impressed, for he knew Simon Tane was responsible. But when the sun became visible for the first time in three days, Knorr’s resentment of Tane and Dominic Monroe vanished, just long enough for a gasp of awe to escape his lips. Tane had promised to end the rain, and he’d made good.
When Knorr turned into Liberty Street, he found it packed with crowds, on foot and horseback, gazing at the sun, and at the magical bolt still rising to the heavens. Knorr couldn’t see Tane, but Monroe, clad in a new frock coat, beaver hat and dark boots, stood outside the Indian’s Head coffee house, beaming at his nephew’s feat.
A cry came from the center of the crowd and the lightning winked out. Monroe hurled his 300-pound bulk into the crowd, cleaving it like a whale to reach Tane.
The clouds began rolling back, reclaiming the sky with unnatural speed. The crowd scattered almost as fast, seeking shelter, and Knorr had to move against the press to reach the coffee house. With the street cleared, he saw Monroe and his servant forcing some sort of cordial into Tane. Clad only in breeches and boots, his torso was drenched in sweat and rain.
Knorr couldn’t bring himself to go over and congratulate them, so he entered the Indian’s Head. The familiar sounds and scents—rustling daily papers and political debate, tobacco and coffee—failed to ease his mind. He sat himself down at a corner table unnoticed, with a cup of black coffee and a long-stemmed clay pipe.
Rain began pelting against the windows as Knorr unwound a moth-eaten muslin scarf from around his neck. The return of the foul weather didn’t make Tane’s accomplishment any less amazing. Even Knorr, a non-practitioner, knew how hard it was to change the weather with no power to draw on but a wizard’s own will. Glory for the boy, reflected glory for Monroe.
And I? I must crawl to them to apologize for my brother’s rash words. Harrison, Harrison, how could you be such a fool?
“My nephew is well!” Monroe’s bellow as he strode inside, rain dripping off him, brought every eye to him. “Weakened, but unbowed.”
“It’s nature who bowed this day!” someone yelled.
“Indeed.” Monroe raised his hands and let a small thunderbolt arc between them. “Simon’s mastery of nature will soon outstrip my crude workings. The days when a weather wizard was nothing but a weapon of war are gone, as gone as King George’s tyranny!”
A round of applause burst through the room, and dour old Albert Tryon stood as if to make one of his interminable speeches.
Then Tryon noticed Knorr and a rare smile split his face. “But I say to you, gentlemen, it is Richard Knorr’s brother who has truly made nature bow!” He strode past Monroe and shook Knorr’s hand with delight. “It is a challenge to master weather, true, but disease? Without Harrison’s courage and conjurations, my two grandchildren would both be dead of yellow fever!”
Another of Harrison’s patients called out agreement. Knorr saw Monroe’s smile turn to a scowl and took an undeniable delight in it.
“I understand the Society of Virgil Magus will soon appoint Harrison head of the Boston chapter?” Tryon went on.
“That isn’t decided,” Monroe strode toward them. “His efforts during the epidemic were—commendable—but they didn’t save Daniel Croft or a dozen others.”
“Pfah!” Tryon waved that away. “To save three score men, women and children from a plague is a wonder; to save them all would be beyond any power but Providence, as Mother Abigail so often says. Knorr, will you come and join me and my friends?”
“Forgive me, but no.” Knorr shook his head, gesturing at Monroe with the pipe stem. “‘Washington’s Wizard’ and I have—private matters to discuss.”
“Ah, of course.” Tryon nodded approvingly before walking back to his table. “It is good to see your brother knows what’s expected of him.”
Monroe took the chair opposite Knorr. Knorr faced him, conscious his worn, old-fashioned tail-coat compared unfavorably with the cut of Monroe’s clothes or his fashionably dressed black hair with the small queue at the back. “So . . . Simon has recovered?”
“He’s exhausted, but he should be back to full strength after tomorrow,” Monroe said. “It’s no more than we expected.”
“It was—” Knorr told himself not to be grudging; negotiations would go easier that way. “—a great feat. Perhaps even more than you besting those Hessian ice wizards at Valley Forge.”
Wizardry had always been military work, drawing power from the hate, fear and bloodlust of men in battle. To command magic with a calm mind, in times of peace, for purposes of peace was a hundred times more difficult. As Abigail Adams had said, this would be the great challenge of the new Republic, an endeavor that would change the world.
But Knorr saw Monroe tapping his fingers and stopped himself wool-gathering. “Monroe . . . ” He knocked the dottle out of the pipe, then drew a deep breath. “Harrison admits that his letter to Governor Morris might have been . . . intemperate.”
“’Intemperate?’” Monroe replied. “He called my nephew a frightened puppy for not assisting him in the yellow fever ward. Said Simon was a scoundrel toward women. Did he really think such insults could pass without challenge?”
“Now that his passion has cooled, Harrison realizes his folly.” How could he not realize it sooner? Scoundrel, coward, puppy, there’s not an honor-blackening insult he missed except “liar.” “And he realizes that a wizard without the training to ward himself against disease has every reason to be . . . cautious when facing yellow fever. A letter of apology stating his error would be—”
“Of course.” Knorr had fully expected Harrison would have to eat a greater portion of crow. “Possibly, if Harrison were to make clear—”
“No possibly about it.” Monroe stared out the window for a second, hands nervously adjusting his cravat. “Simon’s blood refuses to cool. No matter what apologies Harrison offers, Simon is determined they will settle this dispute on the field of honor.”
“A wizard’s duel? He’s serious?”
“You think your brother’s words deserve less?”
“Gadsden called me far worse after Yorktown, you know that, but I accepted his apology. I’ve issued four challenges, received two, but they’ve always been settled, as have yours.” Challenge and acceptance were proof enough of one’s honor; shedding blood was rarely necessary.
“I told Simon that if Harrison offered an apology, it would be dishonorable to duel a weaker man,” Monroe said. Knorr ignored the jibe. “He should return to his weather studies, for they will make his name live forever. Simon, however . . .” Monroe sighed. “When he hears men talk of my battle at Valley Forge, he holds his manhood cheap by comparison. He yearns for his own share of martial glory.”
“And of course, there’s Susan Wells,” Knorr said, quietly. “If Simon kills Harrison, he has no other rivals for her hand.”
“Simon would never be so conniving, I assure you!” But Monroe looked away as he said it. “Are you denying he has the right to confront Harrison?”
“Of course not. And if he wishes satisfaction, Harrison will not let him down.” Refusing to duel would brand Harrison a coward. It would cost him his standing in the Society, and any hope of winning Susan’s hand. “Let us make the arrangements.”
For conventional duels, men need only select the time, the place, and the weapons. For a duel of magic, there was far more to consider: The range of spells, who would ward the duel against outside interference, the use of healing spells, the choice of weapons if combat lasted longer than the duelists’ magic.
As Harrison was the challenged party, Knorr could set many of the terms, ruling out Tane’s use of storm and lightning for instance.
Unfortunately, Monroe flatly ruled out Harrison using healing magic to strengthen himself before the duel was over.
Like many such duels, it ended up as a test of pure magic. Tane and Simon would channel raw astral energy against each other through their craft and strength of will. If they exhausted their powers and still burned for blood, they would settle it with swords, not pistols. Knorr knew that gave Harrison the advantage, if he survived to that point.
” . . . two mornings hence, on Boston Common,” Monroe said, resolving the last question. “Simon insists on tomorrow, but the boy won’t have enough strength back.”
“Then we’re done,” Knorr said. He set his hands on the table and pushed himself up. “I will see you on—”
“Knorr, wait.” Monroe bit his lip for a second. “If this goes ill, I . . . I would not have you lose more of your family. The death of your parents was cruel enough—”
“That’s not how you judged it six years ago.” Rage, hot as ever, flared up in Knorr. “Their killers sit in England, happy and—”
“You only suspected those Redcoats!” Monroe stood, quivering with his own rage. “Washington’s orders forbade reprisals without a court conviction, I only did my duty. Why can you never see that?”
“Because I was right—they did set fire to father’s house! Now they have life, freedom, honor—and your brother seeks to finish off the last of my kin.” He took pleasure in the way Monroe flinched, then turned and strode out before the man could say more.
“Dear Lord in Heaven.” Pale-haired in a frock coat and dark breeches, Harrison Black paced back and forth upon the rug in Knorr’s small, cramped rooms. They lived as neighbors at Widow Arundel’s boarding house, one of the cheapest in Boston. “My life is lost, Richard. I—I never imagined I would have to face him, that—”
“Then you were a fool, weren’t you?” Hearing the harshness in his words, seeing Harrison’s fright, Knorr chided himself and reached for the whisky on the mantelpiece. “Haven’t I always warned you never to utter words you weren’t prepared to back up?”
“Oh, but you should have heard him at Senator Wells’ dinner, Richard.” Harrison’s face darkened as he pulled out his clay pipe; at a nod from his brother he began filling it from Knorr’s tobacco jar. Knorr poured whisky into two glasses. “Asserting the healing arts should be left to Mrs. Adams and her fellow witches, as they were ‘innately feminine,’ speculating they might weaken the ‘masculine essence’—“
“He must know that treating a plague is beyond witchcraft.” Witches cured simple ills with their spells and potions, but yellow fever, malaria, the diseases born of tainted air, were far from simple. “What you accomplished—“
“Of course he knows! But mocking me in front of Susan and her father—Susan favors me and he knows it.” Harrison took a brand from the fire and puffed his pipe alight. “Just as he knows the Society favors me for president, though Susan is the greater prize by far. If I marry her, I can finally repay the generosity you have showered on me since our parents’ death.”
“You are my brother. My last living relative.” Knorr placed his hand on Harrison’s shoulder. “Let there never be talk of generosity between us, what I give you is only what you deserve.”
“Nevertheless, if there were any way to earn money with my magic—” Harrison sighed, then drew deep on his pipe. “If only most of the victims of the epidemic hadn’t been so poor!”
“Harrison!” Filling his own pipe, Knorr frowned. “No wizard can refuse aid to the poor, it’s the law of the commonwealth. But surely with your skills, rich patients should be easy to come by.”
“In time, yes. My work on relieving gout shows much promise. But for now?” Harrison shook his head, nervously plucking at the brass buttons of his coat. “Witches heal simple ailments for free, and my ability is so limited with the greater ones—”
“You saved sixty lives!”
“In an epidemic. Plague fuels strong passions, much like a battlefield; I used those passions to fuel my spells. Last week, though, I tried healing Senator Wells’ cook’s broken leg.” Harrison’s fingers tightened on his glass. “All I could do was make him sleep through the pain while Dr. Glass set it.”
“Escaping the pain of a broken limb is no mean feat. I know that for a fact.”
“But any witch can bring such sleep—it’s nothing I can accumulate wealth with.” Harrison sank into the threadbare chair by the fireplace.
“Though I fear my empty pockets are the least of my worries. Unless Tane dies of today’s exertions, I die two mornings hence.” Harrison knocked out his half-finished pipe into the fire, then turned back to Knorr. “I know your purse is straightened, but may we dine well tomorrow night? The condemned should eat a hearty meal.”
“Of course—though I refuse to believe your situation is so dire.” Knorr tried to sound cheerful, but he feared his brother was the better judge of what lay ahead.
“Then goodnight.” Harrison had the door open, one foot into the hall when he paused. After a second, he turned around. “Brother. Do you still have grandfather’s bayonet?”
“Of course. I’ve had it since father gave it to me, right before Concord. I never used it on my musket for fear I’d break it, but—”
“Will you give it to me? I don’t know if there’s any truth to it being a lucky charm—”
“Monroe always swore such charms were powerless,” Knorr said, unlocking the old chest in the corner of his room. “But grandfather survived King Philip’s War without a single injury, and I came through some tough scrapes with it in my pack.” And if father hadn’t given it to me? Would he still be alive? He drew it forth, two feet of red-stained metal, slightly bent six inches below the tip. “Be careful with it. Last time I put it away, I was so drunk I stabbed myself.”
“Yes, I remember.” Harrison gave a wan smile. “I don’t know how much good luck will do me against Tane, but I’ll take any help I can get.
Tomorrow evening, Richard?”
After Harrison left, Knorr sat smoking for a while, staring into the old tin mirror he’d used on campaign. His haggard face seemed so much older than his 31 years. Worn first by the war, then his parents’ death. Then struggling to support himself and Harrison with so much of his inheritance burned with his parents’ mansion, and Congress refusing to give the Continental Army its back pay.
How much worse would it look if Harrison died?
Harrison’s work during the epidemic had seemed like a turning point. And no question, marrying Senator Wells’ daughter would ease their financial burdens … but not if Tane killed him.
Damn you! Knorr hurled the mirror across the room, to bounce off the edge of his desk. You denied me justice for my parents, Monroe, now your nephew will snuff out the last hope of my line! If Tane wanted a clear path to Susan Wells, Harrison could hope for no mercy. Damn you, Monroe, damn you Tane, damn you both!
The next day, the sky was dank and dour, drizzling ineffective rain down upon Boston. Over a breakfast of sludgelike porridge, Knorr listened to speculation that God was wrathful because Tane had “defied” nature the day before, but did not offer his own thoughts.
He spent the morning reading The Merry Wives of Windsor, but Shakespeare’s humor failed to raise a smile. He spent the afternoon at the Indian’s Head, acknowledging others as little as he could civilly do, browsing periodicals, drinking too much strong coffee and brooding. As time ticked away, he could not but think of the Bard’s words in Macbeth. “All our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death”—would it prove true on the morrow?
As seven o’clock approached, Knorr plodded back toward the boarding house to collect Harrison and take him to dinner. It would indeed be a fine one—there seemed little point in saving money for their future.
Mrs. Arundel’s front door opened as Knorr walked up the path. At first he thought it was to admit him, then he saw the widow ushering out a raven-haired young woman in mourning black. As the woman turned from the Mrs. Arundel, she saw Knorr, and a look of horror crossed her face. “It is he! Send for the constable!”
“What?” Knorr said. Had he been robbed? Had something happened to Harrison? “Mrs. Arundel, what has—”
As he strode forward, he heard the black-clad woman recite words in Greek, felt power wash over him and realized her words were a spell. “Mrs. Arun—Arun—” The words turned to sludge in his mouth. Knorr found his eyes closing, his muscles going limp.
He felt his body land in a muddy puddle a second before enchanted sleep swept away all thought.
“You damnable—bastard!” Dominic Monroe’s voice brought Knorr back to wakefulness, or maybe it was his powerful hands slamming Knorr against a wall. “For all our differences, I thought you a man of honor, not a murdering fiend!”
“Monroe—” Knorr tried to make sense of the words, or at least comprehend what room he was in. “What—”
“For God’s sake man, don’t kill him.” Thomas Marsters, the grizzled chief constable and wardsman of Boston, placed a lean hand on Monroe’s shoulder, speaking in his thick Yorkshire accent. He wore the coat of blue-dyed homespun that served as the wardsman uniform. “He’ll stand justice for your nephew, but in a court of law.”
“Nephew?” Knorr stared at Marsters, then back at Monroe. “Stand justice? For what?”
“For this.” Marsters raised a bloodstained sword, holding it front of Knorr’s face. “As a representative of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, I charge you—”
No, Knorr realized, not a sword. A bayonet, caked in blood, some of it fresh. No. Dear god no.
“—with the murder of Simon Tane.” Marsters gestured around the small cell, holding a chamberpot, a bed, and a wash basin. “My wife provides the meals, of course, let me know what you—”
Knorr couldn’t speak. He could barely breathe. Then he found his voice, opened his mouth to tell them about last night—
No. If he told them Harrison had taken the blade, they would leap to an obvious conclusion. An obvious but false conclusion, Harrison would not—
“I never thought you for such a fool,” Marsters was saying. “The passion of a crime of blood, the use of a weapon as personal as Monroe says this one was—’twas child’s play to trace the rage and blood back to where it lay in your desk.”
“My—my desk?” Knorr shook his head, trying to make sense of this. “Marsters, I did not kill Simon—”
“Lying dog!” Monroe flung Knorr on the hard bed. Lightning crackled around his hands. “Say the word, Marsters and I’ll force the truth from his throat!”
“Nay, man.” The constable clapped a firm hand on Monroe’s arm. “His guilt will be decided in a trial, by a jury.”
Monroe scowled down at Marsters. “In England, a wizard’s right in a case like this—“
“This is a republic, not a monarchy,” Marsters replied sharply. “Wizard’s privilege has no more place in the New World than the divine right of kings.”
Watching the interplay finally jolted Knorr out of his stunned silence. He had to explain, send them to Harrison to find out who had stolen the bayonet. “Marsters, I—I—”
The two men watched him but the words refused to leave his lips. Knorr tried again, but his tongue defied his will once more. “I—I did not kill him—” That at least he could say. “—and I swear to you—” He could not, he realized, say more. “Where is my brother? Where is Harrison?”
“Not at the boarding house,” Marsters said. “I sent West out to find him. Doubtless drinking his fears away somewhere.”
Could he have been slain too? Some scheming rival, desiring to murder Boston’s two finest wizards? But when Knorr opened his mouth to suggest this, silence fell once more. Whoever had worked this had made sure he could not aid Harrison, wherever he was.
“Gentlemen.” All three men turned at the sound of a woman’s voice. Knorr couldn’t see around Monroe, but he recognized the voice of the woman in black. “Constable Marsters, might I speak with Mr. Knorr myself? About the matter I broached to you a fortnight gone?”
“You’re a woman,” Monroe said, not turning his head. “We can’t leave you here in a room with this devil.”
“I am the witch who captured him.” Her words were tart, with a hint of rebuke. “And what good would it do him to attack me again?”
“Aye . .l.” Marsters stroked his chin. “The mad things you spoke to me about Harrison. If ye were to air them publicly—“
“I know you do not believe me,” she replied. She moved to where she could see Knorr, her black dress and cap wet and clinging from the rain.
“Perhaps Mr. Knorr has information that will change your mind.”
“Do not think to cast blame for Knorr’s actions on his brother,” Marsters said. “The stain on the family honor is bad enough already, I’ll not have anyone accuse Harrison Knorr of conniving at murder without proof.” He beckoned to Monroe—who looked as baffled by the conversation as Knorr felt—to walk out with him. “As you’ve no magic, Knorr, I’ve set no wards, but McAdam’s on guard at the door. No matter what you do, you cannot escape.”
“But it would please me greatly if you try,” Monroe said. His murderous look as he squeezed through the doorway left no doubt of his meaning.
Knorr stood and faced the witch as she seated herself on the bed. Her grey eyes bored into him. “My name is Randall,” she said. “Deborah Randall.”
“Randall . . .” A memory thrust itself up into Knorr’s confused consciousness. “Then you are—John Randall’s wife? It’s been a while since I visited him, but I heard of the wedding.”
“I am his widow.”
“Forgive me,” Knorr cursed himself for not remembering. “He was one of those my brother failed to save, was he not?”
“No.” Her face looked mercilessly cold. “He is one your brother murdered.”
“That’s ridiculous!” Knowing his brother might be dead or dying, the words maddened him. “Are you suggesting Harrison caused the epidemic?”
“I do not believe John’s death had aught to do with yellow fever.” She neither flinched from his anger nor apologized for inciting it. “My husband was a scholar of magic, that you know. His life’s work was to learn the secrets of the blackest of all rites, what is sometimes called the Custom of St. Secaire.“
“Human sacrifice?” Knorr said incredulously. “The man I knew would never engage in such deviltry!”
“He sought not to practice, but to prevent. To learn the secrets of detecting and shielding against the foul spells recorded in Cultes des Goules and other banned works.”
“That … does sound like him,” Knorr said. “He lost his grandmother at Salem to such spells.” Salem, where a black cult had connived to hang innocent witches, then used the secret arts of St. Secaire to drain their power as they died.
“I lost a great-aunt,” Mrs. Randall said. “She died on the gallows while the schemers battened on her power like hell-spawned leeches.” Her hands clenched tight. “John swore never to let such evil gain a foothold in the new Republic; I assisted his studies in every way I could. In so doing, I learned to recognize the wasting of the body that accompanies the theft of power. And in his dying hours, my brother showed exactly those symptoms.”
Knorr stared at her, unable to speak, not from magic but from the madness of her accusations.
Undeterred, the woman went on: “Six of the dozen souls who died under your brother’s care were practitioners. All showed those same signs.
Expiring with unnatural quickness, strange sudden terrors—“
“You are an expert on yellow fever also, I take it? So learned you can clearly distinguish susceptibility to fever, delirium, frailty of constitution from black magic?”
“Constable Marsters made much the same point when I broached the matter with him. And your brother allowed me little contact with my husband, for fear of spreading the fever, or so he said. Yet would that also not serve to conceal—”
“And why do you tell me this?” He wanted to slap the woman, to knock her to the floor, to curse her. The idea Harrison might be a murderer, it was insane! Insane! “If you believe I murdered Simon Tane to protect Harrison, why would I then blacken his name to you?”
“I find it far more likely you slew Mr. Tane from mercenary motives, not brotherly love. It’s common gossip you have fallen on hard times, and urge your brother to make a wealthy match.”
“Then gossip lies!“
“His marrying Susan Wells will profit you little if you hang. Why protect him? If you avert another Salem, it might be the worst you’ll suffer is exile.” Her gaze caught his, desperate, demanding. “I fully understand the wish to save a loved one from death. But if he continues his path, how many deaths will be on your conscience? Are you truly so deaf to duty that—“
“Good day, Mrs. Randall.” Knorr bowed with a cold courtesy he didn’t at all feel. “I believe we have said all that should be said on this topic. There is no need to keep you further.”
“When I first formed my suspicions of your brother,” she replied, standing, “I felt sorry for you, a soldier and an honorable man.” Randall strode to the door and rapped on it for release. “Rest assured, not one iota of pity remains now.”
Knorr forbore to respond, sinking onto the bed as Marsters let her out. Her accusation was monstrous—Harrison was not capable of such a thing.
A cold, cruel voice in the back of Knorr’s mind whispered that he was wrong, that Simon Tane’s death had not been at the hands of a stranger.
Knorr ignored the voice. The whisper would make of his brother a Judas, an Inkle, a General Arnold and that could not be.
The voice whispered that no-one besides Harrison knew Knorr’s blood was on the bayonet. Knew that, coupled with his rage against Monroe and Tane, it could the false trail that Marsters had followed. But what of it? By itself it proves nothing. If damning evidence were not sometimes false, I wouldn’t be in gaol now.
A jarring metallic sound jolted Knorr out of sleep.
Seven years campaign experience made him instantly alert, narrowing his eyes to see what he could make out. The faint moonlight streaming through the barred window showed him the door to the cell hanging ajar.
What the devil? He strode to the doorway and stared down an empty hall. Those locks are enspelled; I don’t know anyone who can open them.
The door to Marsters’ office swung open at the end of the hall. Knorr started down the corridor, stopped, forced himself to think. If I flee, I might as well confess. My name will be that of a murderer, now and forever.
The same is true if I stay and they hang me.
Heart hammering, Knorr strode into the office and found the young night guard sprawled out on the desk, snoring. He remembered stories he’d heard from the war. The hand of glory, the tool of black magic that General Arnold used to deliver West Point to the British. The power that unlocks doors and sets men to slumber.
Knorr made his way to the front door and stared outside. The candles in the street lamps had guttered and gone out, and the lamplighter had clearly not bothered to brave the rain to restore them. In the pitch-black street, Knorr could see no sign of his liberator.
Then I will learn from his example, and flee swiftly. He moved to the chest where Marsters kept prisoners’ property, took the key ring from the guard and unlocked it. Stuffing his knife and tinderbox in his pocket he went outside and started down the street, as fast as he could without stumbling in the darkness.
Then he realized he had no idea where to go.
The frontier? Men had done it often enough—if he could survive Valley Forge, he could assuredly live wild and survive … Knorr stopped and turned back to stare at the jail. The hand of glory. Someone used black magic to free me.
The killer, it had to be. If I leave now, no-one will ever doubt my guilt. The mark of Cain will be on me, in the eyes of all—and the true murderer will never be caught. What if Harrison were indeed dead? To flee, to leave him without justice . . . . No. I cannot be so base, not if it costs my life.
Where, then? Returning to the boarding house to find Harrison would be the height of folly. Especially if, as Mrs. Randall said, Harrison were—
But he wasn’t. He couldn’t be.
Knorr shrugged. Returning would be madness, but there was no path that offered sanity. With a short, desperate prayer, Knorr headed toward home.
Standing outside Harrison’s room, rain plastering his clothes to his body, Knorr tried to divine if his brother were within. With Harrison’s room dark, there was no way to know from outside, so finally he drew his knife.
Jimmying the window’s latch was the work of a second, but it was loud enough that anyone inside would have heard. Knorr heard no answering movement, nor snoring; setting his hands on the sill, he clambered inside. He couldn’t remember what lay under the window so he came down carefully, for fear of toppling a table or an oil lamp. His boots brushed against a chair, nothing more.
By the time he closed the window behind him, he knew no-one else was in the room—or at least, no-one alive. He drew the curtains closed, fumbled his tinder box out of his pocket and struck a small light.
Empty. Knorr used the box to set light to a candle on Harrison’s desk, then stared around. The brighter light didn’t change anything: His brother wasn’t there.
Then he is dead. Knorr swallowed as the truth sunk home. He doesn’t consort with whores, and there’s nowhere respectable he could be on such a foul night, at such a foul hour. A dark pall seized Knorr’s heart and he sank into the desk chair, resting his head in his hand, his elbow on a small black book on the desk. At least he’s not a murderer. Small comfort, but . . . no. No comfort at all. Dear lord, after all he and I have endured … Will it at least prove my innocence, that he is dead too? I can’t be sure, I can’t think . . . .
He had to think. If Harrison were dead, he had to be avenged. His diary. I know he keeps one, if I can find it, perhaps learn who he met with yesterday, the day before . . . . He opened the book his elbow rested upon, but it was the second-hand copy of the Abra-Merlin he’d bought Harrison when he began his magical studies.
Knorr began pulling books at random from the shelf over the desk, opening them to check the contents. Scholarly books of wizardry all. The Long Lost Friend. Notes of Faustus Upon Magic. The Wisdom of Aelfric. The Cultes des Goules— “No. Dear God … no.”
The Cultes des Goules, being an account of the occult experimentations of the Comte D’Erlette in the vaults of St. Secaire. The black, unholy Bible of the witch-killers of Salem.
“No. No, no, no.” To even own the book without permission from the governor was a hanging offense. But many held that it should be studied, in order to find defenses to its vile magics. Harrison might merely have—
The thought drained away. Knorr sat there shaking his head numbly, knowing that he lied to himself, and did not believe the lie. Mrs. Randall was right. My brother is a murderer. Wherever he walks tonight, Hell walks with him.
Knorr knew he had to arise, take action, some sort of action, any action, but he could only sit there, clutching the book, as tears fell from his eyes. My brother, how, why . . . oh, sweet God in Heaven, why?
He buried his face in the bedclothes to keep his sobs from being overhead.
Eventually he stopped and dried his tears. I can’t wait here for him. He already bound me to silence, God knows what else he could do.
He glanced at the book, thinking. He could rip out the pages and drop them into the puddles outside, use them as kindling for his tinder box—but it was said the book itself was a reservoir of dark power, that destroying it was unwise. Monroe says such tales are nonsense.
Two days ago, I’d have thought Harrison being a murderer was nonsense.
Knorr tucked the book under his jacket, smiling grimly. Any other time, he would have been horrified to be caught with such a volume. What harm could it do him now, when he was marked as a murderer? He reopened the window and climbed outside. It had been more than a year since he’d visited John Randall. He could only hope his wife still kept the same address.
She might not wish to see him at this hour, but he had a most impressive calling card.
“Who the devil are you?” The lean, scowling whippet of a manservant stared out through the half-open kitchen door, holding his flintlock so that Knorr could see it clearly.
“One who needs must speak to your mistress.” It was fortunate the man didn’t know who Knorr was, or he’d doubtless raise the alarm.
As it was, the man tried to slam the door shut, but Knorr shoved the book forward to block the effort. “Take this book to Mrs. Randall,” Knorr said. “Tell her that the suspicions of Harrison Knorr were correct.”
The man pulled the book through the doorway, flipped it open—and gasped, his eye widening. “Hugh,” he said to someone behind him, “wake her. Do it fast now, or I’ll tan your Taffy hide raw!” He turned back to Harrison scowling even more blackly. “You stay outside until she says otherwise.”
The wait in the rain was surprisingly brief before he heard her voice. “Thomas, what the devil is this? Who brought this book to me?”
Without waiting for an answer, she strode to the door in slippered feet, clad in a cream-colored dressing-gown clutched tight around her. When she saw Knorr, her mouth opened as if to cry his name in shock, but then she pursed her lips. “Let him in.”
Thomas opened the door, uneasily. Knorr stepped inside. Water running off his tail-coat set a stream of tiny drum-beats echoing from the wooden floor. He saw Randall held the book gingerly, as if it might bite her, and waited for her to speak.
She did. “How do you come to be here, sir, with this tome?”
“Better to discuss that privately, think you not?” Knorr said.
“Of course. Thomas, we go to my still-room.” She considered a second. “Bring bread, cheese, brandy, I imagine he’s in need of them all.”
“A dram of brandy would be … appreciated,” Knorr said. He’d always considered brandy and wine drinks for aristocrats, not free men, but just then? “If you have any dry clothes, that—”
“You are overly bold, sir,” Randall replied curtly. She picked up an oil lamp and brought it to light with a whispered word. “Follow me upstairs.”
She didn’t trust him, Knorr realized. He could hardly blame her, but he had to find some way to make her see the truth.
“I had never thought to see a copy of D’Erlette’s work,” she said as they reached the top of the staircases. “John applied twice to Governor Morris for permission to study it. Perhaps if they hadn’t denied him …” She shook her head, setting the thought aside, as she opened a door and heady floral scents wafted out.
Like most witches’ still-rooms, it was crammed with kettles, limbecks, glass vials and other tools for extracting essential oils from plants to use in tisanes or potions. A roll-top desk squeezed into one corner held quills, ink and a thick pile of paper.
Randall set the lamp down on a work table, then placed the book carefully on a silver tray etched with zodiac symbols. “Cotton Mather believed copies of the book hold malign influence,” she said. “John agrees—agreed—and designed the salver to restrain it. I take it this is your brother’s copy?”
“It is.” He stopped, surprised the words had come out so easily. “I—I found it in his room.” Apparently he was only bound to stay silent about the murder. “I no longer—“
Before either of them could speak further, someone knocked. A small page brought in a plate of bread and cheese on a tray with a flask of brandy and a glass. Suddenly ravenous, Knorr cut himself a chunk of bread and cheese, stuffing it into his mouth without concern for courtesy.
“So tell me, Mr. Knorr, how is it you come to me with this damned book?” Randall asked. “How is it you walk free, in the dead of night?”
“I—” He had to pause to swallow more of the food. “I believe that—” His tongue froze as he sought to mention Harrison’s name in regards to the escape. Of course; saying so would tie Harrison to Tane’s murder. “I believe—the real murderer of Simon Tane freed me tonight. Doubtless hoping I’d flee and thereby brand myself guilty.”
“You claim yourself innocent?”
“Isn’t the book proof?”
“Of innocence.” Her laugh was an incredulous bleat. “That is a great jest, surely . . . Yet I must admit, I cannot imagine how it profits you to escape gaol, steal that book from your brother, then come to me instead of fleeing.”
“Mrs. Randal, could the man who—“ His mouth closed. He tried again. “In St. Secaire, wizards were sacrificed on an altar. At Salem, the cult drained witches as they hung. If a man were murdered, stabbed or—“
Light dawned in her eyes. “Are you saying Simon Tane was another sacrifice? Marsters said nothing of him showing the signs.” She stroked her chin for a second. “He spoke of blood, multiple wounds … Would he have even noticed the wasting?”
“I can say nothing of such matters.” Knorr paused, repeated himself with greater emphasis. “Nothing.”
Without a word she studied him, as a naturalist might study a puzzling species of beetle. “Am I correct that you would say more if you could?”
“Dearly would I love to.” She understood his import. Hope began to grow in him. “Mrs. Randall, could Cultes des Goules be used to create the glory hand? My escape tonight—“ He described the events tersely.
“You have, I believe, named the magic that freed you, but it wouldn’t require the book. For all the effort to suppress it, the knowledge is common. If more men had the stomach to cut the hand off a hanged man, its use would be commoner still.”
“Dear lord . . .” Harrison, how could he? Then he realized Randall was still speaking. “I’m sorry?”
“I asked if you would trust me to take a small snip of your hair.”
“Why?” Everyone knew what dire workings could be done with a man’s hair.
“To learn the truth.”
He could see nothing in her face to guide him, but he nodded. After all, she could set him to sleep and cut it anyway.
With a small pair of silver scissors, she snipped off a single lock of graying hair. “So young to have so much silver,” she murmured, crossing to one of the worktables. “Was it Valley Forge?”
“It was all seven years of the war. And it grayed further … later.”
“Supporting a young man of ambition has doubtless been difficult. Now, let me see …” She placed the hairs in a small clay bowl carved with unfamiliar symbols, then spoke low words in Greek. Green light flared up from the bowl and she recoiled with a small gasp. “You are indeed spell-bound, Mr. Knorr, and quite vilely.” She looked at him, her expression and her stance changing. “While it is possible you are still guilty—”
“What? No, surely—”
“It is not unknown for one conspirator to bind another to silence. But I do not believe it.” She sat again, glancing alternately at Knorr, then at the book. “Easier by far to believe the man my husband praised as a valiant comrade in arms has been enspelled to keep from contradicting your brother’s account.”
“You’ve spoken with Harrison?”
“I heard from Marsters, re-emphasizing his faith in your brother’s innocence. It seems he met the constable, proclaimed himself guilt-stricken—when you swore he would never have to face Tane, he assumed you meant to broker some compromise after all, not murder the man.”
“Merciful Heavens!” Until that moment Knorr hadn’t realized that a part of him still believed Harrison innocent. “Have I been so dreadful as a brother? So undeserving of his love?”
“You no more provoked this than Washington provoked General Arnold. Men do not take up the custom of St. Secaire because they are unloved or mistreated. Your brother lusted for the power it promised—seek no other reason.”
“Thank you.” It was what he desperately needed to hear. “Will you come with me to the constable tomorrow, then?”
“I will summon him here as soon as the sun rises,” she said. “I can hardly walk to the gaol with an escaped murderer beside me. I will have Sarah make up a guest bed for you and—”
The sound of the front-door knocker rang through the house. They traded startled glances. “Mrs. Randall, are you expecting company?” Knorr asked.
“At this hour?” She moved to the door and opened it, waiting. “Thomas will answer them. We’ll see what he makes of it.”
The knocker thumped a couple more times, then Knorr heard footsteps, a door opening, low words and what could only be Dominic Monroe’s angry bellow. A second later, Thomas came up the stairs. “Ma’am, it’s Washington’s Wizard and a young man. They say a murderer may have entered the house.” His gaze flicked to Knorr. “What do I tell them?”
“I think—” Mrs. Randall broke off. Two pairs of feet were audible striding across the hall. “I think neither of them intends to wait.”
“How did they find me?” Knorr hissed.
“Mather claimed the book’s owners could sense its presence, but I didn’t think—“
“It doesn’t matter.” Knorr said as boots thumped on the stairs. “If we show Monroe the book, it will prove your case, no matter what Harrison told him.” He rose and started toward the silver plate holding Cultes des Goules.
“No!” Randall said, pulling him back. “Let me speak with Monroe, first, ask him in to see it. If we remove it, with your brother so close—“
“Mrs. Randall,” Monroe’s bellow echoed down the hall from the head of the stairs. “We would have words with you about Richard Knorr. Have you seen him?”
“Why would you think so?” She stepped into the still-room doorway.
“Because we know he’s hiding here,” Harrison said. Something in his voice sent a shiver up Knorr’s spine. “Isn’t that right, Monroe?”
“Yes, yes it is!” The footsteps resumed, drawing closer. “Woman, you can either turn him over to us or—“
“I do not have him here,” she said, with commendable calm, “but I do have something here in my still-room you might find of interest. For you, Mr. Monroe, not your companion.”
“It’s a trap,” Harrison said, then without warning, “Richard! Are you there?”
“Yes, yes I am!” The words leapt from Knorr’s throat without any will on his part.
Randall leapt back, slamming the door closed. A second later, lightning shattered the heavy oak to fragments, filling the air with the strange after-lightning scent.
The thunderclap left Knorr momentarily deafened. He saw Randall mouth words as fire sprang up around the doorway and the flames died away.
His hearing half returned, enough to hear her speaking Greek, then a thump, somewhere outside in the hall.
“ . . . my book to me and we can end this peaceably,” he heard Harrison say.
“Don’t take me for a fool.” She folded her arms, staring into the hallway. “We both know if I told anyone you had the book, you’d hang.”
“If only I hadn’t exhausted the glory hand’s power earlier,” Harrison said. “If only Monroe could summon more than one thunderbolt away from the battlefield. But one must work with life as it is, eh?”
Next instant, Knorr saw a cut suddenly open on Randall’s cheek, blood flowing openly. He thought she must have scratched herself on a splinter from the door, then he saw blood trickling from her chin, her forehead and both hands. He ran to her, forgetting all else, but she collapsed, unmoving, as he reached her. “Mrs. Randall—“
“Enough of playing the gentleman, Richard. It can’t help her.” At his brother’s words, Knorr looked up, saw Harrison covering him with a flintlock, four yards away.
Blood dripped from Harrison’s free hand, and Knorr saw a knife lying at his brother’s feet, tinged with blood. Monroe, snoring asleep on the carpet, was bleeding too “Harrison—?“
“It’s because you stole the book, you see.” He glanced down at his hand, then back up before Knorr could move. “Tane was easy, but without the book in hand, I have to use blood to drain life. Mine, as well as theirs. If you’ll bring it back to me—“
“So you did—“ Knorr’s tongue froze, but the rush of thoughts continued. You killed him. And by stabbing him you both covered up the nature of his death, and led Marsters to me. “How can you be so bereft of honor, of family feeling—“
“I swear to you, Richard, I never planned this!” He sounded utterly sincere. “It was only as I left your rooms, thinking of my fate, that I saw a way out. Did I not sacrifice the hand I’d crafted so carefully to free you?”
“But you’re a healer!” There had to be a way to make Harrison see light, there had to be! “You have a good marriage ahead of you, your work curing the plague—”
“I couldn’t cure it.” Harrison’s bitter gesture speckled the wall with blood. “Even drawing upon the fear, I couldn’t raise enough power.”
“So she was right.” Knorr said, speaking over Deborah Randall’s gasp of pain. “John Randall and the other ‘plague victims’ were your doing.”
“Only six. The others died naturally. Far more would have died if I hadn’t taken magic from the six.” Harrison held out his bleeding hand beseechingly. “I swear to you, when I stumbled across that book I had no thought of using it! But everyone was dying, and Tane—so damnably smug, so wheedling in the way he licked Senator Wells’ boots—“
“And what of the Knorr name?”
“With my greater power, I can rebuild the family name! Honor is what people think of us, and no-one ever has to know—provided you leave, now. I gave you the chance at the gaol—”
“To run and be branded a murderer?”
“To live! If you stay, you’ll have to die!” Harrison clenched his bleeding fist, winced slightly. “I’m going to burn the house, so that no-one sees their wasted bodies, I’ll say you died in the fire. No-one will question my story, D’Erlette’s taught me the secrets of subtly influencing minds—but
I can’t force you to lie outright, not yet. Leave now. I’ll marry Susan, build a reputation you can proud of—“
“Proud?” Tears choked Knorr’s eyes, but Randall’s whimpers made it easy to fight them back. “What will it profit you to gain the world, when you’ve already lost your soul?”
“I think when I enter those things in the ledger, the answer is obvious.” He pointed the gun at Knorr’s heart. “Run. Better to live as a condemned murderer than die now, is it not?”
“You’re right, Harrison. The answer is obvious.”
Knorr charged, dropping low as he did, and felt the ball graze his shoulder painfully. Next second, he slammed Harrison’s bleeding hand against the wall, making him cry out. Knorr snatched the gun away and cracked it across Harrison’s skull, dropping him. “You never listened when I told you to practice marksmanship, did you? Did you?”
Then he realized Harrison couldn’t hear just then no matter how he shouted, and turned back to see what could be done for Randall and Monroe.
They would have met on Boston Commons today. Standing outside the gaol the following morning, Knorr stared up at the clear, sunlit sky. Dear god, better I’d seen Harrison die in a duel than seen him imprisoned in a warded cell.
“It is a black, vile thing.” Fly-Gluttony Smith, one of the last Puritan wardsmen in the Commonwealth, emerged from the gaol with Marsters. He held the copy of Cultes des Goules wrapped in willow bark, marked with crosses and Nantucket Indian sacred symbols. “But this will hold it until I can fathom a way to dispose of it safely.”
“Gates from Salem and Horrocks from Plymouth are on their way,” Marsters said. “Between the three of you and God, nothing is impossible.” He turned and offered his hand to Knorr. “Forgive me.”
“You could not have known.” Knorr took his hand, but couldn’t manage much of a shake. “His plan was perfect.” He couldn’t say anything more. “I—I must go. Good day, Smith, Marsters, I—”
He had to go, for fear he’d break down weeping. Harrison had said nothing when Knorr had visited the cell, only glared at him with hurt in his eyes and clutched his bandaged hand. Perhaps … perhaps he does see himself as ill-used. He did everything he could to let me live . . . . That one act of brotherly compassion should have been Harrison’s downfall only seemed to make everything more tragic.
“Knorr!” It was Monroe, behind him, his voice still weak from last night’s sorcerous leeching, and from the demands of his own thunderbolts. Knorr quickened his pace. “For God’s sake man, slow, please!”
Knorr stopped, waited, knowing it was the only way to get rid of him. Monroe, wheezing heavily, came to a stop beside him, leaning on a hickory cane. “Knorr, I am sorry—”
“How many times must I say it is no man’s fault but Harrison’s?” Knorr replied. “Monroe, I would be alone.”
“Not sorry for suspecting you. Sorry for . . . everything.” He rapped his cane angrily on the cobblestones. “After your parents’ death I told myself I was the injured party. I did my duty; it outraged me you should take such umbrage when I was in the right.”
Knorr almost stalked off, but Lord, the pain in Monroe’s voice—! So he stood, letting Monroe speak on. “I—to lose one’s kin to violence, I—I thought I knew how you felt. Until today, until Simon, I . . . did not know.” His voice trailed off to a whisper.
“We have both lost.” Knorr’s anger at Monroe seemed so pointless now. In truth, it seemed there would be no point to anything again. “Your nephew to murder. Mine, soon, to the hangman’s noose.” The Knorr name, forever linked with the blackest of villainy—yet even that shame seemed of no consequence. “Do you remember how we would talk in our tent? Of building a new nation where our families could flourish and grow as nowhere else on Earth?”
“I remember.” Knorr’s knuckles turned white on the cane. “We built the new world, and now—now who will inherit it from us? I—I almost feel better to have died a soldier than live to see such a day!”
Knorr could only nod. It was harder now to keep back the tears. Together, they trudged onward, and Knorr knew neither of them had the slightest idea of where they were going, or even cared.
Fraser Sherman writes nonfiction to pay the bills and fiction to keep himself sane. He’s sold previous stories to Realms of Fantasy, Every Day Fiction, New Myths and More Scary Kisses. He lives in Durham, NC, with his awesome wife.