An idea for a story – still working on the overall plot, but this is how it starts out, more or less.
Errol Crow (working title) – Chapter 1 first draft
“Master Blachette, are you – OH GODS AND GODDESSES!” The shriek made him jump. He spun around just in time to see Melinda’s face go white before she bolted from the doorway and down the hall.
“Wait!” he called. “This isn’t what it looks like! Well I mean it is, but it isn’t…” he stopped, not sure what to say, and it was too late anyway – the maid had already gone screaming down the hall.
He sighed and turned to survey the room. It was opulently furnished in dark wood and rich wall hangings, soft furniture and gold detailing. The rug was intricately woven with geometric designs, its bright colors spoiled at the edge by the darkening pool of blood beneath the body.
Or, well, the thing that looked like a body. It had never been alive, so he wasn’t sure if it counted. It was a golem of sorts, lacking the energy and movement of a true golem, and none of the artificial spark that made a homunculus, so he supposed it was more of a dummy. He’d had the alchemists down on Shadow Lane make it, copying his features as closely as possible. They’d done an eerily good job, he thought. It had been a certain special kind of creepy to drive a knife into it, watching it bleed from the corner of his eye while he wrote the false suicide note.
It had certainly fooled the maid he thought, hearing her distant shrieks as she raised half the castle from their slumber. He’d thought all the staff had already gone to bed when he hauled in the fake corpse and set up the death scene, but he’d forgotten Melinda, who suffered often from nightmares and walked the castle to quiet them. I’ve probably given her even more nightmares he groaned.
It was time to think tactics. He had only a short time before someone would quiet Melinda’s gibbering enough to parse out what had happened, at which point half the castle guard would be headed for this tower. He had ten, maybe fifteen minutes to think of a plan. He went over his options.
One. I stick to the original plan, leave the fake body of Eric Blachette with the suicide note and take on the new identity of Errol Crow. Except Melinda had seen him standing over his own fake body. She probably didn’t see my face, so she’ll assume I’m Eric’s murderer, and the note is fake. He supposed that was an option. What better identity to throw them off his trail than his own murderer? But that would of course make him a wanted criminal, subject to execution for the assassination of a Count’s stepson.
Okay, option two. I keep the identity of Errol Crow, but stay here and pretend I’m a thief, having come across the count’s son dead already. That had the evidence of the suicide note going for it, but people were too likely to jump to the conclusion Errol had faked the note to cover up the murder. I could tell them I panicked and threatened Eric with a knife. He leaped at me though, and I accidently killed him. Manslaughter, not murder. That’ll… that’ll earn me life in prison as opposed to immediate execution. Yyyep. Great plan. And that was of course if they didn’t recognize him. He’d dyed his hair with ink and put a fake scar across one cheek, used an alchemical potion to change the color of his eyes, even lost some weight since his double had been made so they didn’t look identical, but he still looked too much like himself.
So…option three. ‘Fess up and tell them everything. Admit I’m Eric Blachette trying to fake my own death. They can confirm with the alchemists that the body is a fake I paid them to make, and I don’t have to become Errol Crow. But then they’d want to know why. Why on Gaia’s green Earth was he trying to fake his own death?
He could explain that too, he supposed. But chances are they’d just think he was crazy, same as his father. Alchemists were one thing – that at least approached science. But psychics and whispering, hunting shadows? There was a slim chance his mother might believe him, but his stepfather was staunchly empirical. He’d replaced the court alchemist with a chemist, physician and astronomer, and ignored any rumors that said the old count could see the future, or had been murdered by shadows. He wouldn’t believe Eric’s story for a second.
And even if the impossible happened, and they both did believe Eric? They’d be at risk from the shadows, same as ever.
When the shadows had come for his father, they hadn’t stopped at the Count. They’d killed the butler in the room, the laundrywoman next door, and had cut a deep gash in Eric’s arm as they whispered swiftly out through the hall. The guards had taken Eric’s account of the creatures as the traumatized babbling of a five-year-old boy who’d seen his father’s human assassins, and Eric had come to agree he’d imagined it all – until he started seeing shadows where there shouldn’t be shadows, knowing things he couldn’t know, feeling events coming before they happened. That was when he resolved to run. If he told his mother and stepfather and they believed him, he’d either be putting their lives at risk by staying, or make them accountable for his running away. If he simply left, the shadows might go to his parents for answers, getting those answers by whatever means necessary. No, Eric decided, he had to do more than run – he had to disappear. He had to die.
This all brought him back to option one. Eric edited a few details in his head, picking out bits of option two as he grabbed the bag he’d packed from under the bed. I was a thief, he thought. I came to steal while I thought all the castle was asleep. I was caught in the act by Eric and killed him, he decided as he swiped a few coins from the dresser and a silver goblet from the nightstand, stuffing them into his bag. If I need to play the tragic criminal I can say it was an accident and that I panicked and fled. If I need to be cold-blooded I can say it was on purpose to shut him up. I could even say it was for revenge for something… his train of thought was interrupted by shouts from down the hall and he almost dropped the brooch he was putting in his bag.
Crap. However long he’d had before the guards came, it wasn’t long enough. He bolted the door to buy him a few moments, then shouldered his bag and ran for the balcony. He slung over the rail and hung down by his arms. From there it was a short drop to the roof of the kitchens – or at least it seemed short from the ground. Now it seemed longer than that, and he landed with a loud thump on the roof. He paused and listened, but no sound came from the room beneath his feet, so he hurried on.
Dashing over the roof of the bakery he remembered how he’d loved the mornings when the smell of fresh bread had drifted up to the tower to wake him. I’ll never smell it from these kitchens again, will I? He realized as he sprinted across the bakery’s roof and jumped the short gap to the nearest storehouse. He felt a pang of sadness at the thought, and knew it would be the first of many.
No time for that now, though. He could hear the shouting and banging up above as the guards broke their way into the tower, the sounds drifting out the window on a cold night breeze. He had to be out of sight of the balcony by the time they got through or they’d shoot him down with an arrow, or one of those new guns some of them had from the alchemists. The guns spat fire and metal, and the sound made Eric jump when his father had taken him to see a demonstration. The straw dummy it had been fired at had been left with a large hole in his chest, and Eric shuddered to think what that might do to a human being.
He hopped down from storeroom roof to a stack of crates and then to the ground, the hastily stolen valuables clattering together as he landed. He winced – the original plan had been to take only a few silver coins, so as to draw little attention to missing valuables in the case of a suicide. Those were wrapped so they wouldn’t jingle, but he hadn’t had time to do the same for the gold coins, brooches and the goblet. Now he rattled slightly as he sprinted through the dark alleys between low buildings, wincing as he turned each corner.
He couldn’t go out the main gate, regularly watched on a normal night and for sure crawling with guards now. There was a postern by the livestock – the farmers who lived within the walls of the castle took manure out through it to fertilize the land just beyond, and the wall around those lands was far shorter than the castle’s inner wall. If memory served there was an old elm he could climb to go over the wall – he’d scaled it years ago to watch visitors coming up the road to the castle.
When he reached the postern, it was unguarded, but something made him look around anyway. There was that feeling that someone was near, one of those things he couldn’t possibly know but did. He did a slow turn on his heel, looking up and down for a figure in the dark, but saw nothing. Eric shrugged it off as nothing – these feelings were often nothing. He walked through the postern and –
“Hey!” The voice made Eric practically jump out of skin. He whirled around and came face-to-face with a man standing to the side of the postern. He’d been hidden from Eric’s view by the wall itself, and he thought him a guard until he stepped from the shadow of the wall into the dim moonlight.
“Whoa thar, sorry to startle ye.” The farmer’s thick accent was familiar to Eric, though he couldn’t recall the man’s name. The farmer glanced up at the lights being lit in the castle, the shouts muffled this close to the thick wall. “Is somethin’ tha matter? Ev’ryone’s up so early!”
“Uh… “ Eric struggled for a lie but nothing came.
The man peered at the youth. “Ey, do I know ye? Ah, yer one of tha kitchen boys, aren’t ye?”
He doesn’t recognize me, Eric realized. He was certain they’d met, but the darkness hid the boy’s face while the ink disguised his normally pale blond hair. “Ye- yes. I was working late, preparing things for… for the Contessa’s birthday celebration… I was headed home when all this hubbub started. No idea what’s going on.”
The farmer frowned, and Eric started to sweat “Is it her berth-day again already? My how tha time flies… well, ye best be gettin’ home to yer mum. She’ll werry with all this goin’ on.”
“R-right away!” Eric hurried off in the direction of the side gate, though he knew it was guarded. He glanced back, and as soon as he was certain the farmer was no longer looking his way, he made a sharp turn for the wall.
The elm he’d climbed years ago had been felled, leaving only a stump. Eric made a running leap, pushing off from the stump to scrabble for purchase on the wall, his fingertips just barely catching the edge. He slowly pulled himself up, straining to drag himself onto the ledge. Once there, he paused for breath and looked back.
The windows were lit, the rest of the castle an abstract painting of shadows, torches and faint moonlight. He could just make out the outline of his tower against the inky sky, the wind carrying the shouts over the walls. Eric stared for a long moment at the home he had known for the first 14 years of his life, lost in memories before a shout closer at hand brought him back to the present.
Eric Blachette turned away from his home, his family, all he’d ever known and slid down the wall’s outside. His feet touched the grass beneath, and the moment sealed his death. Errol Crow rose from his crouch, pulled up the hood of his cloak, and with swift strides vanished into the night.