Copyright © 2013 KJ Charles
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
The grey awful misery tangled round his heart and throat, choking him, sickening him with the vileness of his own nature. The shame and self-loathing too deep for repentance, too deep for words. Too deep for anything but the knife and the red flow and the longed-for emptiness of the end…
The voice seemed to come from a long distance away. “My lord? My lord! Oh, Jesus. My lord! You stupid sod!”
A slap, hard, round his face. He registered it through the haze of grey misery, then felt strong hands dragging him onto his feet and out of the room. His wrist hurt. He needed to finish the job.
He lunged clumsily back towards the knife, only to find his arm twisted up behind his back and a hard tug pulling him off balance.
“Out. This way.” He was marched forward, pushed, dragged, the litany of doom pounding in his mind. All he could think of was ending it, making the unbearable guilt and shame stop, removing the foul stain of his soul from the world…
He vaguely noticed the hard grip on the back of his head, just before his face was plunged into icy, greasy water and held there, ruthlessly hard, as he inhaled a lungful of dirty dishwater, and something around his mind snapped.
Lord Crane jerked his head out of the suddenly relaxed grip, came up spluttering but entirely alert, gasped for air, and kicked backwards viciously, aiming to cripple his attacker with a rake of his foot across the kneecap. The grizzled man in black had already jumped out of the way, though, and was standing back, holding up his hands in a gesture of nonaggression that Crane had no intention of testing.
Crane held himself ready to fight for a second, registered that he had just been half-drowned in the butler’s sink by his manservant, let out a long breath and dropped his shoulders.
“It happened again,” he said.
“Tsaena.” He shook his head, sending grey water flying from his hair, and blinked the liquid out of his eyes.
Merrick threw him a dishtowel. He caught it in his left hand, sucked in a hiss at the pain as his wrist moved, and mopped his face. He spat in the sink to get the taste of foul water and bitter leaves out of his mouth. “Son of a bitch. It happened again.”
“Yes,” said Merrick, with some restraint. “I know. I found you sawing at your wrist with a sodding table knife, my lord, which was what gave me the clue.”
“Yes, alright.” Crane pulled over a chair with a screech of wood on tile. “Can you…?” He gestured at his left wrist. The shirt cuff was unfastened and rolled back. He didn’t remember doing that. He didn’t remember the other times.
Merrick was already setting out lint and a roll of bandages, as well as a bottle of volatile-smelling spirit.
“I’ll have some if you’re pouring. Ow.”
“I reckon that’s enough killing yourself for one evening.” Merrick dabbed the raw wound with the raw alcohol. “Jesus, this is deep, you’d have done yourself for sure with anything sharper. My lord—”
“I don’t know. I was reading a book, thinking about getting dressed. I didn’t…” He waved his right hand vaguely, and slapped it down on the worn tabletop. “God damn it.”
There was silence in the kitchen. Merrick wound bandage carefully round the bloody wrist. Crane leaned his right elbow on the table and propped his head on his hand.
“I don’t know what to do.”
Merrick gave him a steady look from under his thin brows, and returned to his work.
“I don’t know,” Crane repeated. “I can’t—I don’t think I can do this any more. I can’t…” I can’t bear it. He’d never said the words in thirty-seven years, not even in the times of hunger and degradation. He wanted to say them now.
Merrick frowned. “Got to fight it, my lord.”
“Fight what? Give me something to fight, and I’ll fight it—but how the hell do I fight my own mind?”
“It ain’t your mind,” said Merrick levelly. “You ain’t mad.”
“Right. I can see how you reached that conclusion.” Crane made a sound that was a little, though not very much, like a laugh. “After all these years, after he’s bloody dead, it looks like the old bastard is finally getting rid of me.”
Merrick began rolling up the lint and bandages with care. “You’re thinking about that word again.”
“Hereditary,” enunciated Crane, staring at his narrow-fingered hands. “Hereditary insanity. We might as well put the name to it, no?”
“No,” said Merrick. “Cos, I’ll tell you what word I’m thinking of.”
Crane’s brows drew together. “What?”
Merrick’s hazel eyes met Crane’s and held them. He put the bottle of spirits back down on the table with a deliberate clink. “Shaman.”
There was a silence.
“We’re not in Shanghai now,” said Crane eventually.
“No, we ain’t. But if we was there, and you started going mad all on a sudden and off again, you wouldn’t be sat there whining, would you? You’d be right out—”
“To see Yu Len.”
Merrick cocked his head in agreement.
“But we’re not in Shanghai,” Crane repeated. “This is London. Yu Len is half the world away, and at this rate I’m not going to make it to next quarter day.”
“So we find a shaman here,” said Merrick simply.
“No buts!” The words rang off the stone floor and tiled walls. “You can go to some mad-doctor and get thrown in the bedlam, or you can sit there and go mad for thinking you’re going mad, or we find a bloody shaman and get this looked at like we would back home, because hereditary my arse.” Merrick leaned forward, hands on the table, glaring in his master’s face. “I know you, Lucien Vaudrey. I seen you look death in the face plenty of times, and every time you either ran like hell or you kicked him in the balls, so don’t you tell me you want to die. I never met anyone who didn’t want to die as much as you don’t. So we are going to find a shaman and get this sorted, unless you got any better ideas, which you don’t! Right?”
Merrick held his gaze for a few seconds, then straightened and began to tidy up. Crane cleared his throat. “Are there English shamans?”
“Got to be, right? Witches. Whatever.”
“I suppose so,” said Crane, trying hard, knowing it was pointless, knowing he owed it to Merrick. “I suppose so. Who’d know…” His fingers twitched, calling up memories. “Rackham. He’s back, isn’t he? I could ask him.”
“Mr. Rackham,” agreed Merrick. “We’ll go see him. Ask for a shaman. You got any idea where he is?”
“No.” Crane flexed his bandaged wrist and rose. “But if I can’t find him through any of the clubs, we can just hang around all the filthiest opium dens in Limehouse till we meet him.”
“See?” said Merrick. “Things are looking up already.”