James took the Duchess by the arm as he navigated the arteries of the Commons. It was not the most glamourous arcade for demonstrating his talents, but an effective one. Unmarked streets, their signs long since pried loose and sold for scrap, often ended in murderous cul-de-sacs and treacherous avenues. Dead end was apt here. Knives and ill intentions were the law.
So it was strange that they met with no unkindness during their trek. They were certainly making little effort to be stealthy. Though they walked in silence, James’ footfalls projected into the swallowing fog. In fact, he seemed to be making an effort to attract attention. James usually moved with a cat’s grace, making no sound in action. It was a trait that many found disconcerting and more than one of the Duchess’ household staff had developed a nervous condition since the Tallyman had come to haunt Briarwood Park. But there was something even more unnerving about the sound he made now.
His footfalls echoed like funerary church bells. Solemn. Final. Of course, that was the point. Centuries of evolutionary social pressure had imprinted to the point of instinct in the minds of the Commoners. The lambs and jackals that roamed these narrow streets knew to fear the wolf’s approach.
Tanner was not well known in the Commons. No one was really. But his presence was felt. The darkly dapper man with the echoing tread was a spice they knew, even mixed in the mire of filth and urine. More than one loose tongue had spread the rumor that James was a Practical, or some other faceless agent of the Inquisition. The slander would make him smile.
Whether through the armor of well-tread caution or simple fortuitous chance, the pair remained unmolested in their march on the Commons. Finally, the rebounding echoes of their passing dissipated as the street opened up into a wider fare and more fog. As church bells fell into silence a new sound took up the refrain. Sounds of strings and brass through stone. Sounds of curses both of joy and malice from the other side of a rough, wood door. The stomp of heels on floorboards. Life.
A ship to the castaway, the Bawdy Pathist rose out of the mist with sails of linen thick enough to keep out the daylight. Pausing at the threshold, dancing shadows flitted through gaslight under the door, James turned to the Duchess. One eyebrow raised. In all things Tanner served, would this?