The Hoard

London, England, 1978

"This stop for The Bloody Tower! Tower of London, folks! Any more for the Tower? No, I didn't think so, not at this time of night..."

Gleaming, sheer walls greeted Angel as he stepped off the back platform of the bus. The conductor raised a hand in farewell, shouted to him again that it would be closed now, and rang the bell that indicated to the driver that all was well. The huge red vehicle pulled away into the night. Angel shook the creases from his clothing and walked alongside the wall, waiting for a cloud to obscure the moon.

When the moonlight faded temporarily, he used the cover of darkness to scale the barrier. It was supposedly impenetrable, but wasn't designed to keep out vampires. He clung to the vertical surface with his fingers, using gaps between the slabs, ancient metal pikes whose use was long forgotten, and irregularities in the stone for purchase. Within minutes he clambered on the top of the wall, and then dropped silently into the outer perimeter.

The inner wall was even easier to climb, being the older of the two, and in less than quarter of an hour he stood in the main courtyard. The White Tower loomed over him.

There were security guards but they hadn't noticed his cat-like entry into their world. He quickly scuttled along the base of the wall, keeping low, until he reached one of the round towers set into it. The curving stone cast a shadow, and he crouched there and watched for his best opportunity.

He gulped air into his lungs and tried to breathe in a sense of the antiquity of his surroundings. So few places made him feel young. But The Tower had been there for several of his lifetimes. The White Tower was almost 900 years old, and he longed to touch it, to run his hands over something so much older than he, and sense the lives it had taken. More lives than he had taken.

There were no pools of congealing blood in the courtyard now. For many years, there had been no prisoners. But the earlier victims of the Tower still spoke to him; their presence still gushed from the stones and hung in the air, kicking, guttering and wordless.

More lives, taken with more pain. Certainly, more blood spilt, without question. The Tower was the instrument of more evil than he, and he felt a mite less blameworthy inside its once foul walls.

His earlier visit to the Tower had been under very different circumstances. He remembered being shackled to twelve other men, and tossed into a moving vehicle. Vampires recover quickly from their injuries, but a blow to the head is a blow to the head, in anyone's language, and he had been unable to break free and exact a fitting revenge on his captors. Later, he woke in a dank cell with the others. Below ground level, surrounded by cold, wet, stone and putrid straw. Buried.

A disturbance at the main gate called the attention of the guards, and Angel used the chance to run noiselessly across the courtyard. He pressed himself into the wall of the White Tower, and waited, watching for any sign that he had been observed.

But security was lax these days. The Tower was mainly a tourist attraction. The Queen had her trinket box here, true, but the hoard of her ancestors was too big to be appreciated and understood, display it as they might. He didn't blame the guards, after all, who can zealously guard treasure that can never be seen as it was meant to be seen, or realised and used to pay for things that mattered? The jewels were priceless and also without value, darkened relics of a more lustrous age. They waited out the years in their vaults and their padded trays, occasionally cast into the light to astound and dazzle an uncomprehending and ignorant audience; never to be worn next to the flesh of a warm human being again. Only causing fleeting base sensation; never to be truly loved; never to be held and treasured sentimentally, beyond their worth.

The entrance was closed, of course, but Angel had no plans to enter the Tower that way. He scaled the walls of the building to the battlements a hundred feet above. On the roof was a skylight. He took off his coat and wrapped his fist in it, and punched a hole in the glass. Dropping onto the floor of a corridor, he looked for security devices or cameras, but there were none up here, where the public were not allowed to come. He headed for the stairs and descended into the bowels of the building.

The cell he had briefly occupied 93 years ago was now part of an historical tour of the Tower. The stone flags and the sloping walls were polished clean and the room was full of exhibits. A pair of shackles, an unexplained iron spike - probably a torture instrument, a set of prison clothing, a number of documents relating to the last person imprisoned in the room, supposedly one Arthur Thistlewood, one of the Cato Street conspirators, in 1820.

Angel smiled grimly to himself. "Liars..." Clearly, unsurprisingly, there had been a massive cover-up.

He stood in the doorway, and mapped the room in his mind, imagining how it used to look, seeing it in 1885 when he and twelve of his countrymen had been imprisoned here. They had been Fenian activists, the physical force that would achieve home rule for the Irish, at any price. Or that was why they were arrested, at least. Perhaps, like him, they just happened to have an Irish accent and be in the wrong place at the wrong time. An explosion had damaged part of the Tower, and the local constabulary were out for blood.

Actually, so was he, at the time. He'd fallen in with the company of drunken revellers, celebrating, as far as he could tell, some election results. There were twelve of them, and he planned to drink their ale and wait until they were too drunk to fight, and pick them off, one by one. At the time, it seemed the patriotic thing to do. If there was celebrating to be done, let it be done with his fellow Irishmen.

Twelve paces in, and five to the left. A cracked flagstone. Angel fell to his knees and started to gouge the mortar from the fissure, but it was too hard. He grabbed the spike from the display and jammed it between the broken flagstone and the fragment, easing up the smaller piece. It left a hole, just a few inches across. In the hole, under an inch of foul-smelling, black dirt, lay a silver locket.

He remembered his fury at being imprisoned. He remembered the things he had done to the twelve. Young lads, all of them. Their blood was filled with fear and righteous anger. And alcohol. As the eleventh body dropped to the floor, the last was scrabbling in the dirt and the straw, hiding his treasure under the stone. Angel recalled advancing on the boy, circling him in amusement as he shook and tried to squirrel away the locket.

"It's all right, me boy. I don't want your silver, or the lock of hair inside it. I've no real appreciation of jewellery."

"I just don't want *them* to find it..."

"The English? People never fail to astound me. You're about to die, son. Painfully, as it happens. How can it possibly matter if they take it?"

"My name, and the name of my hometown. Engraved on it. They'll trace me, tell my folks I'm a terrorist, that I killed all those people. I didn't..."

"Well, now, I believe you. I really do." He remembered hauling the boy to his feet. "And I'll take your secret with me to my grave." He sunk his teeth into the boy's neck, and drank until the strangled cry died away. "I'm due another visit there next month, as a matter of fact. I like to keep the weeds down."

Angel turned the locket over in his hands and wiped the dirt from it with his fingers. On the back, in roughly etched letters, were the words:

Danny O'Crean
Buncrana
Co Donegal

He smiled. How many O'Creans would there be in Buncrana? He'd find what was left of the family, and give this to them. He'd tell some story about his great-grandfather passing a commission to him to restore this treasure to its rightful owners, and make up a tall tale of Daniel and how he made his way in the world. If he could find them, it would be another sin atoned for, as far as it could be atoned for.

He wished they were always this easy.



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