Another snippet from the long con

Some­one did not quite slam a pint glass on the table in front of me; foamy ale sloshed out of the glass and soaked the cheap coast­er. I looked up to see Atlas sit­ting in the booth across from me. He grinned and toast­ed me with a glass of some­thing that was near­ly black. “Cheers, love,” he said. “You were a thou­sand miles away. Go ahead, drink up, it’s just Watney’s. It won’t bite.”

I returned his toast and we drank. As he’d said, it was a good bit­ter ale. I assumed he was drink­ing some­thing old that the pub didn’t even know it had in back until he’d ordered it. Atlas is tra­di­tion­al in cer­tain things, and he keeps close to the earth.

“What are you call­ing your­self these days?” I asked.

“Not Atlas,” he said. “People would think I was a body-builder. I’m going by Basil Night­lake. A good British name, wouldn’t you say? But a touch of dra­ma, so it’ll pass with the toffs who think they know what’s what.”

“Niht-lác,” I said. “Night-sacrifice. Very clever.”

He laughed. “And, of course, those who do know what’s what, such as your love­ly self, get the joke. I’ve had at least one don lec­ture me about the Sax­on roots of the name and I had to pre­tend I was impressed. But past that, not more than the odd com­ment about it being a stage name.”

Which it was, in a sense. What­ev­er Nightlake’s real name is, I’d take good odds it’s in a lan­guage that died out before William the Con­queror set foot in Eng­land. His peo­ple, who­ev­er they were, built the foun­da­tions of the Tow­er of Lon­don; the Romans came along lat­er, I think, and even­tu­al­ly the Nor­mans, but the old­est stones are still there, with his shad­ow bound and nailed inside the foun­da­tion-stone. That kind of sac­ri­fice is very pow­er­ful and the vic­tim is sup­posed to waste away, even­tu­al­ly, with­out a soul, but Night­lake sur­vived it. There have been rumors – aren’t there always rumors, with us? – about a dark pact, or some kind of tal­is­man, a spir­i­tu­al pros­the­sis, that serves in place of what was trapped inside that ancient stone. But every­one agrees that the Tow­er stands because his shad­ow holds it up.

No, not because of the ravens. The ravens showed up for the car­rion, which has always been plen­ti­ful around the Tow­er. Maybe they can also feel the death-that-should-have-been, the corpse that always fol­lows the killing of a shad­ow. But they’re not what keeps the Tow­er from falling; he is.


  • John Nowak wrote:

    I like this. 

    Inci­den­tal­ly, just about every large stone struc­ture I’ve been to has ravens, aside from the Pyra­mids. I guess there aren’t many in Egypt.

  • Ms. Grue wrote:

    So “Jack­daws love my big sphinx of quartz” was a lie all along! 

    I don’t know why there’s just some­thing inher­ent­ly creepy about Eng­lish his­to­ry. It’s hard­ly the old­est or blood­i­est civ­i­liza­tion, but there you are.

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