“Philip Lord,” said the Gargoyle, his expression changing as if he was tasting the sound and finding it exotic. “That is a name we have not heard before in these parts. And this is an alehouse not an inn – Maggie keeps no rooms. There is no one staying here. So you can be on your way.”
The man’s accent was thick but not impenetrable and the few words he could not understand, Gideon supplied himself from the context. He nodded uncertainly and muttered a thank you, then took an experimental step towards the door and its human barricade. The Gargoyle showed no sign of moving aside. Instead his facial expression shifted into something that might, on any normal face, have been a smile.
“But, maybe your – uh – friend comes by one day. We could pass him a message that you are looking for him – maybe.”
“You are too kind,” said Gideon, aware his mouth was very, very dry. “I am Sir Bartholomew Coupland, cousin to the Duke of Richmond.”
A hand with a grip like a manacle seized his wrist from behind and before he could react with more than a gasp of surprise, his sword had been pulled from its scabbard and he was spun bodily around. Off balance, he staggered back into a solid wall of muscle, losing his hat in the process and found a powerful arm wedged under his chin whilst the Gargoyle’s other huge hand gripped both Gideon’s wrists together behind his back.
Pinioned in less than the time it would have taken to call to the groom for help, Gideon stopped struggling. The landlady had picked up a lamp and by it’s light, he found himself staring at a face that he would never forget.
Gemstone-clear aquamarine eyes, which narrowed as they studied him from behind a finely shaped patrician nose, held no trace of emotion. Hair, the silvery shade of palest blond encountered more in Sweden than England, was worn long with a braided lovelock on either side. By contrast the skin was tanned to a shade close to the pale golden colouring of Gideon’s favourite dun mare. This face was certainly distinctive – distinctive in the kind of way that would have women turning to look twice and men wishing they were similarly distinctive. A moment later it was transformed by a smile of even, white teeth, giving the most predatory impression.
“I would know your secret, Sir Bartholomew. It will make me more gold than the alchemists’ stone – and with no initial investment expense required in the purchase of lead.”
The accent was northern English, but overlain with sounds that belonged on the shores of the Mediterranean and some points further east – as exotic as the immaculately groomed appearance of its owner.
“My – my secret?”
“The secret of regaining lost youth – although I think most would prefer to keep their original face rather than find a stranger staring back at them from the mirror. But there might be a few who would welcome the chance to be reborn as someone new and start afresh.”
“Just answer the question,” said the Gargoyle, the onion on his breath briefly overpowering even the other loud odours. Gideon said nothing, his mind spinning to find firm ground, to make sense of the senseless. The muscle at his throat expanded slightly, making it harder to breath.
“Thomas. Sweet Tom. My Tomakin. Let the man get some air beneath his ribs.” said the blond man, sounding amused.
The pressure at his throat eased and Gideon gasped – then gagged and coughed as the thick, alehouse atmosphere invaded his lungs. The other man waited whilst he recovered then moved back to the attack, humour gone and eyes as cold as the Baltic.
“So, since you are clearly not Sir Bartholomew, who are you?”
“Gid – Gideon Lennox, a lawyer, I work for Sir Bartholomew – he sent me to find you – I have a message -”
At the slightest nod from the blond man, Gideon found himself suddenly free and nearly collapsed to his knees at the abrupt release.
From 'The Cat's Head' by E.M. Swift-Hook