But instead of a pistol or knife, the man pulled out a folded sheet of parchment and set it on the table. Nicholas glanced down at the red wax seal, the sigil of the Linden family stamped into it, then back up at the man. Sophia snatched it up, turning it over and shaking the folded parchment as if expecting poison to trickle out.
There was movement outside—shadows gliding against one another, fading in and out of the night. Sweat broke out at the base of Nicholas’s skull, his mouth shaping into a silent warning as a nearby guard was knocked out in an instant, crumpling to the ground; shadows swept in around him, covering him, dragging him away.Not killing him, so as to avoid changing the timeline? He and Sophia had played a dangerous game in how careless they’d become, risking change after change to ensure their own survival. These…travelers? These warriors, men and women, were decidedly not careless.
Nicholas strained his ears to catch the murmuring on the other side. Once his eyes adjusted well enough to the darkness, he was able to count four figures of varying stature, all sweeping toward the door like a high tide. It might have been the thrumming fear in his mind playing an unwelcome trick, but he could have sworn the ring on his finger grew warmer with each step closer they took.Sophia pointed up, but Nicholas shook his head, competing thoughts racing to best one another. There might be more soldiers on the second level, and to get out of the stables, their ultimate goal, they would need to jump onto a nearby building—but none were near enough, and all were taller. He didn’t fancy breaking his neck after nearly being drowned and stabbed already in one night.In battle, you could fight a foe head-on until both of your ships were in splinters around you. But, when outmaneuvered, there was always the potent combination of creating a distraction of some sort and escaping at full speed, hopefully with the wind on your side.
His idea was almost absurd. In spite of everything that had occurred, or perhaps because of it, Nicholas felt a grim smile touch his lips. It hadn’t made sense to him why they would store wine here in the stables, other than to hide it from the people outside who desperately needed it. But what if the wine wasn’t for men at all, but for the elephants?They’d pour it down the elephant’s throats, see, Hall had told him and Chase, miming the gulping. Get them good and primed. The wine would send them into a rage, enough to trample any men who stood in their way.
Nicholas ducked down, peering one last time through the lock to see if the men had moved. As if they’d somehow heard him, one of the men—the one nearest to the door—shouted something. Sophia clucked her tongue, likely at the viciousness that coated the nonsensical words.
I have a thought, Nicholas told her. About what to do—May I have the flashlight? she asked, holding out her hand.
He passed it to her, but tried to tug it back at the last second. What are you planning? You’ve got that deranged look in your eye—Etta yanked it out of his hand and sidled up over the wall, then down the short hill that brought her to the wooden dock.
The boatman stood up, stepping out of the boat, a leering smile on his face. His eyes skimmed over the place where the strap of her dress had ripped, exposing one shoulder. Little English for little lady.Etta mentally gagged as she returned his smile with one of her own and said, in what she hoped was a sweet tone, Yes, little lady in desperate need of help. Will you be a hero and help a girl out?