The snow that had began as Constable Rowan had left the station earlier had now shrouded the borough in a blanket of white, lending it an almost fairy-tale appearance. Which was appropriate, given where Rowan had to go next.
He had sent Dr. Stone back to his lodgings and returned to the station to file his initial report, then collected his cape and ventured back onto the snowbound streets.
Having safely navigated the icy pavements, he pushed open the gate to the park known as Blackwell Common and trudged beneath the frosted trees towards the carillon at its centre.
It was assumed by most that this was a memorial to one of the innumerable foreign conflicts that Britain had involved itself in during the early part of the Queen’s reign, and, on the surface, this was true. But appearances can be deceptive, as this was also the Dark Tower, seat of power of the Night Mayor. Although given the recent incursions by members of the Court of Shadows, this power appeared to be waning.
Rowan approached the iron doors at the base of the tower, swallowed apprehensively, then raised the knocker.
“First for the princess, in the tower alone,” he murmured under his breath, as the knocker dropped for the first time, “second for the king, on his gilded throne, third for princes, sent on their quest, fourth for the supplicant, who is your guest.”
As the final echo of the fourth knock began to fade, the doors slowly and silently opened.
“Who seeks audience with the Night Mayor?” Came a sibilnt whisper from within.
“Stanley, scion of the House of Rowan,” stated Rowan.
“Enter and ascend.” Said the voice.
Rowan climbed the internal staircase and reached the upper chamber, dimly illuminated with floating tapers. A tall, angular figure detached itself from the shadows and stepped forward.
“Young master Rowan,” said the Night Mayor, “it has been too long since your last visit. What matter brings you to my court?”
“You know very well why I’m here,” snapped Rowan, “your people have been causing disturbances on the streets – first Jenny and now, if I’m not very much mistaken, the red-legged scissor man. You are supposed to be in control of the Court of Shadows, but I’m not seeing very much of this control being evidenced.”
The Night Mayor turned from Rowan and approached one of the windows.
“The World is changing, Master Rowan.” Sighed the Night Mayot. “I watch from my tower in my haven of green as the industrious nature of you mortals eats up the world I am familiar with. It is not one I understand and so, when the Court break the accords, I do nothing. I feel my time is past – there is no place for me in your world. The people no longer believe.”
“No,” sad Rowan, “that’s not true. You can adapt and change – embrace the new world and take your part in it. The red-legged scisdor man has changed. He used to punish children, now he’s abducting them. There will always be a place for magic in the world!”
The night Mayor turned and regarded Rowan.
“You truly believe…” he breathed in wonder. He stepped foward haltingly, his fingers questing, as though trying to grasp smoke
“Tell me where I can find him and I’ll share my belief with you,” said Rowan gently.
“He’s in Gimballs department store, with the children. Be gentle with him – he is no longet the avenging tailor of yore.”
Rowan reached out and took the thin, bony hand of the Night Mayor, closed his eyes and let his belief flow. He heard a gasp and felt the hand flex in his, filling out and transforming from cold flesh into warm metal. He opened his eyes and watched as the tattered robe dissolved into moths, which fluttered briefly before being burnt to husks by the heat radiating from the figure before him.
He removed his hand and regarded the transformation. Where once had been a shadowed and gaunt figure, reminiscent of a cowled monk, there now stood an imposing figure of iron and brass, steam leaking from its joints and fire flickering in its eyes. The figure flexed its iron hands and flashed Rowan a grin, illuminated from within as though from a furnace.
“I am reborn!” Boomed the Night Mayor, “a new incarnation for a new century! I thank you, Mastet Rowan, for this gift. I am indebted to you and I always pay my debts. The night wears on, though, so you must hurry – for if you do not secure the children before the break of day, they will be gone from this world.”
Rowan bowed to the Night Mayor and began his descent. He now knew where the children were and who had them. However, he would require some help and, based on the book he had seen in the children’s room, he knew exactly whose help he required…