by Brian Trent
The black steamrotor chugged noisily beneath the maze of damp brick arches, cutting a frothy wake in the underground canal. Edward Oakshott stood rigidly at the bow, leaning against his silver cane. The dank stink of London’s forgotten netherworld perspirated over the vessel’s wood, the humidity visibly beading like a spate of glassy insect eyes on the many green lamplights they passed. Edward drummed his fingers against one clammy hand. His sense of direction, precise as his fashionable gold pocketwatch, reckoned they must be passing directly below the evening crowd at Charing Cross’ Hungerford Market.
Yet he wondered at their boatman’s skill in navigating these dark, labyrinthine channels. How often were customers ferried to Thoth’s subterranean bazaar? Edward grinned in nervous anticipation and peered from beneath the rim of his hat at the constellation of green lamps marking the canal’s many twists and turns.
“We shall be late if this continues,” Sophia Westbury said behind him. Her folded parasol looked like a pale sword against her shoulder. “Really, Edward, was there no earlier date you could meet him? It had to wait until the very eve of war?”
“The party shall wait for me.”
“It will be a scandal,” Sophia said, though her bell-like voice belied the smile on her lips. Edward was already the scandal of the decade. Chessmen were synonymous with shadowy, secret shufflings in the night; living legends who could be your banker, teacher, butcher, parent, or carriage driver during times of peace. Edward’s public antics had shocked Europe into a buzzing hive.
Sophia sighed and looped her arm round his. “What do you know about this Thoth? Any man who dwells like a spider beneath London, spinning mechanical webs beyond the Ministry’s sight…” She shivered. “I feel like Faustus!”
“Henry sent a Bishop here last autumn, darling, the one who defended Cornwall. If Henry says Thoth is trustworthy, that is good enough for me.”
At these words, the boat banked sharply through a new arch, throwing up a huge wake. Edward steadied himself with pressure to his cane, but cast a ghastly glare at their boatman in the ship’s small cabin.
“Edward!” (Continue Reading…)