Henry Talbott pressed his back tightly against the brick wall of the alley. He counted as he inhaled slowly, relaxing his shoulders as he exhaled, his breath visible in the cool night air. There was a youth in his chestnut eyes; in the darkness of the alley he appeared a man of twenty five though he was nearing forty. He’d lived an active life, a dangerous life, and it was reflected in his musculature but somehow had not altered the youthful spirit of his face.
He did not move, waiting for the sound of footsteps which should have come. They will come– patience, he told himself, closing his eyes to focus again. He did not open them for several minutes when, finally he heard it; the sound he’d waited for, boot steps on gravel weighted by a uniform and gun. The sound intensified as its originator came closer, his form appearing at the end of the alley.
Henry pressed his cheek against the cold of the brick, watching the man from the precarious cover of the alley’s obscurity. In a moment the guard passed, but Henry had no time for relief as the receding footsteps of the guard then stopped, just beyond the alley’s entrance. Has he seen me? Henry reached into his belt and removed a dagger with his left hand, bending his knees in preparation. He did not like killing, but he was prepared to, had killed before. He told himself that he killed to save them, that it was justified in order to save them all. It was a lie, one he’d told himself until he believed it. He needed it the way other people needed their beliefs in a higher power, in magic and prophecies. Armed with this lie, his blade steady in his hand, his grip firm, Henry Talbott waited.
On the street the guard stood, digging in his pocket for a light for his cigarette. He was nineteen and picked up the habit when he’d joined the Royal Guard. His mother was as angry with him for his smoking as she was proud of her boy for making it into the service of the King. Inhaling, he looked skywards towards the new moon, exhaling in short bursts to make smoke rings which meandered skywards before dissipating. Shoving the matches back in his pocket, he adjusted the strap of his gun which weighed uncomfortably across his shoulders. A minute or two passed like this, before the young guard finally set off down the wide gravel street again, safe in his boredom, not knowing how close to death he had come.
Henry sheathed his blade, adjusting his wool cloak as he moved to the end of the alley. He pressed his back against the wall again as he slowly peered around the corner and into the deserted street. His path clear, he moved in a silent sprint across the street where he reached the smallest of the city’s river docks. Reaching his boat was precarious, as the torch lights on the dock would provide him no cover should a tower guard be looking; but this was a risk he’d taken many times before. He leapt the three steps leading onto the dock in a bound, then sprinted to the end where the skiff was waiting.