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April 29, 1636

We are the fruit thereof

Silhouetted by the light he carried to lead the way, the bent man glanced back at Wilbur Craigson and pointed at the crudely mortared wall. Hunching further to keep from grazing his shaggy head against the ceiling, the aged fellow gestured toward the mismatched bricks repeatedly, as if seeking to underscore that it was, in fact, a wall of particular excellence or significance. Which it certainly did not appear to be.

After checking to see that Craigson was paying attention, his silent guide moved closer to the old brickwork, gnarled hands moving toward it as if trying to conjure forth a spirit of the earth.

Craigson produced the sap he had been carrying in his left pocket and, in one smooth motion, smashed it across the lower rear of the man’s head. Who—long gray locks bloody in the light of the falling lantern—fell, nerveless as the rocks in the wall.

Craigson quickly scooped up the guttering lantern, then produced a much smaller lamp which he had been hiding in his long cloak. He advanced the wick, lifted the lamp as the flame grew, examined the man’s wound, checked for a pulse: yes, faint but steady. Craigson set his lamp down carefully, unsheathed a long, well-made dagger, and quickly and expertly cut the man’s jugular and carotid. With both severed, he estimated that his guide would exsanguinate within two minutes. At the very most.

He retrieved the purse of silver that the fellow had received from Craigson earlier that day, reached for the bag of lime he had secreted in the windowless room some days before, and began spreading it upon the body.

By the time the wick was burning down, Wilbur Craigson was done and had propped the corpse up against the wall which abutted the one that had been the object of their visit. Dusting his hands off, and then grabbing a handful of bagged sand to scour away what little blood had spattered on them, he walked to the wall, inspected it briefly, found the section the man had been indicating when felled. Satisfied that it was adequate for his purposes, he turned, preparing to dim the light and return to the streets of Besançon. His rent for this mostly useless storage room, paid four weeks in advance, ensured that the owner would not trouble him to relocate, nor come knocking: with the city virtually overrun by villeins, aristocrats, and all social stations in between, it had been feasible, if unusual, that the room had commanded any rental interest at all.

Exiting and cinching the door closed behind him, Wilbur Craigson produced the crude iron key and fastened the equally crude iron lock. As it snapped shut, he reflected that he was becoming either dangerously sentimental or cavalier: he had used his given name when introducing himself to this man.

He had, after all, been grimly certain that the knowledge of it would die with the old fellow. But still, Craigson had long experience with just how profound the vicissitudes of fate could be: using his real name was a wholly unnecessary risk. So why had he done it?

Was it because he was finally drawing close to vengeance he had been nursing for almost two decades? Or because his poor guide had not deserved the end to which he was to come? The end which Wilbur foresaw from the moment he located him in the worm-eaten flop house, paid for with meager savings from a life of hard work he was no longer fit and able to perform?

Wilbur Craigson pocketed the key, turned, resolved not to use his given name—and risk discovery—again, not until his retribution was concluded. Which meant that now, as he prepared to return to the streets of Besançon, he would have to readopt the identity and name that he had assumed for so long it felt more natural than the one he had been born with.

It was time, once again, to become Pedro Dolor.

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