The Devil's Looking-Glass - By Mark Chadbourn Page 0,1

waited. The robed one nodded, the skulls clacking in his hair, and the nearest swordsman whipped his blade into the air and plunged it into the sailor who knelt in front of him.

Serrano cried out as the seaman pitched forward across the sandy boards. Deortha knelt beside the unmoving form, his lips and hands moving in harmony, and a moment later the slain sailor twitched, jerked and with a long shudder clawed his way upright. He swayed as if the ship rolled in a stormy sea, his dead eyes staring.

‘Por Dios,’ Serrano exclaimed, sickened.

‘Meat and bones,’ Mandraxas said. ‘No wits remain, and so these juddering things are of little use to us apart from performing the most mundane tasks.’ He waved a fluttering hand towards Deortha. ‘Over the side with it,’ he called. ‘Let it spend eternity beneath the waves.’

The captain screwed up his eyes at the splash, silently cursing the terrible judgement that had doomed them all. ‘Let this be done with,’ he growled in his own language.

Mandraxas appeared to understand. ‘There will be no ending for any of you here,’ he said in a voice laced with cold humour. ‘You, all of you, will join your companion with the fishes, never sleeping, never dreaming, seeing only endless blue but never understanding.’ His words rang out so that all the sailors heard him. ‘But, for the rest of your kind, their ending is almost upon them. Listen. Can you hear the beat of us marching to war? Listen.’

A sword plunged down; a body crashed upon the deck. And another, and another, the steady rhythm moving inexorably towards Serrano. He sobbed. It was too late for him, too late for all mankind if the cold fury of these fiends was finally unleashed.

‘In England now, the final act unfolds,’ Mandraxas said above the beat of falling bodies. ‘And so your world winds down to dust.’

Serrano looked up as the shadow fell across him.

CHAPTER ONE

BEDLAM RULED IN the eight bells inn. Tranquillity was for landmen who sat by warm firesides in winter and took to their beds early, not for those who braved seas as high and as hard as the Tower’s stone walls. Here was life like the ocean, fierce and loud and dangerous. Delirious with drink, two wild-bearded sailors lurched across the rushes, thrashing mad music from fiddle and pipe. With shrieks of laughter, the pockmarked girls from the rooms upstairs whirled around in each other’s arms, their breasts bared above their threadbare dresses. The rolling sea-shanty crashed against the barks of the drunken men clustered in the shadowy room. In hazy candlelight, they hunched over wine-stained tables or squatted against whitewashed walls, swearing and fighting and gambling at cards. Ale sloshed from wooden cups on to the boards, and the air reeked of tallow and candle-smoke, sweat and sour beer. The raucous voices sounded lustful, but underneath the discourse odd, melancholic notes seemed to suggest men clinging on to life before they returned to the harsh seas.

When the door rattled open to admit a blast of salty night air, the din never stilled and no eyes turned towards the stranger. He was wrapped in a grey woollen cloak, his features partially hidden beneath the wide brim of a felt hat. Behind him, across the gleaming cobbles of the Liverpool quayside, a carrack strained at its moorings, ready for sail at dawn. The creak of rigging merged with the lapping of the tide.

The new arrival closed the door behind him and demanded a mug of ale from the innkeeper’s trestle. A seat in one of the shadowy corners called to him, away from the candlelight, where he could watch and listen unnoticed. If they had not been addled by drink, some of the seamen might have recognized the strong face from the pamphlets, the close-clipped beard and black hair curling to the nape of the neck, the dark eyes the colour of rapier steel.

Will Swyfte was a spy, England’s greatest spy, so those pamphlets called him, the bane of the Spanish dogs. Only the highest in the land knew his reputation was carefully constructed for a country in need of heroes to keep the sleep of goodly men and women free from nightmares of Spanish invaders and Catholic plotters, and other, darker things too. Swyfte cared little. He did his dark work for Queen and country without complaint, but kept his own machinations close.

He sipped his drink and waited. As the reel of the shanty ebbed and flowed, he caught

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