Joshua watched the battle. It didn’t look so terrible now that he was protected and he knew Heathcliff and Lucinda and the others were safe. In fact, he began to enjoy it. He winced as a burly constable lifted an equally huge man into the air and slammed him to the cobblestones. He chuckled as a Grey Attendant bashed another man in the head with an unwieldy 15 gallon stock pot.
“Come watch this,” he said to Sophie.
Sophie just harrumphed and sat down on the dirt floor. She folded her arms across her chest and glared at Joshua.
“Watch? We’re trapped in here while those beasts try to kill each other and you think it’s fun?”
Joshua threw up his hands.
“I didn’t say it was fun. Well, it is sort of fun.”
Sophie huffed some more.
“Fine. I won’t watch. I’ll be like you and just sit around and be glum.”
“Find something else to amuse yourself,” Sophie scolded.
“What else? There’s nothing here except-“
At that moment something grabbed his attention. He walked slowly towards the corner.
Sophie watched him curiously.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Isn’t that funny.”
Joshua pointed to what had caught his attention.
It was a sack of flour there in the dark. It seemed to float, suspended in midair. Joshua thought it must be sitting on a shelf hidden in the gloom.
“Of all the things we should find here.”
Joshua stepped forward to look closer at the bag.
The bag stared back at him. It looked at him with a single red eye.
Something leapt from the corner like a blur, so thin and swift and savage.
A wild cat! Joshua thought alarmed.
But it wasn’t an animal. It was a man, an impossibly thin man with a flour bag over his head. The arms and fingers may have been thin but they held fast like iron shackles. Joshua tried to yell but Hodmedod clamped his hand over his mouth.
“Joshua, how have you been? I’ve missed you.”
Joshua wriggled free of Hodmedod’s grasp.
“Yes, Sophie. Run.”
She fled from the building into the melee outside.
“She’s not important. Hmm. Hope she doesn’t get stomped on. Cute kid.”
Joshua wriggled in his grasp. Hodmedod effortlessly flipped him over. The assassin produced a length of cord from his jacket and trussed Joshua up like a chicken.
“You’ve caused me a lot of trouble Joshua. It took me weeks to fully recover. The first couple of days I was too afraid to eat or drink anything I didn’t personally scrounge. Nothing but nettles and snails for me. That made it worse.”
When he was done he flipped Joshua back over and stared at him.
“Just one question, boy. Do you recognize me?”
Joshua instinctively shook his head. This man looked barely human, more like an apparition. He was sure he’d never seen that face before.
But I have. I have seen him before.
“What’s my name?” the assassin hissed.
Joshua fumbled for the word. He felt the name dance on the tip of his tongue.
“Hodmedod,” he said.
The assassin took the flour sack off his head and revealed a pinched, squashed face. He had large, crooked yellow teeth. One eye was dull scratched glass, the other was burning red.
“Lazlo?” Hodmedod asked.
Joshua stiffened the instant he heard the name.
“Lazlo Cippolini?” Hodmedod repeated.
A jolt went through Joshua. Suddenly all of the strangeness, all of the unexplained knowledge inside his head had boundaries and a name.
“Lazlo Cippolini,” Hodmedod repeated. “You are in there aren’t you, Lazlo? How?”
Joshua couldn’t speak.
Hodmedod sighed, “Now I may never find out. Oh this isn’t what I wanted. I wanted so much to watch over you, maybe help you some more. Did you like my kettles? They weren’t easy to move let me tell you.”
Hodmedod hoisted Joshua off the ground with one hand as if he weighed nothing. He let Joshua dangle in front of him.
“I had hoped you’d show some of your secrets. And you did. Not near enough, but well plans have changed. Time to go.”
He threw Joshua over his shoulder like a sack and started to climb. His thin fingers gripped the slightest crack or cranny in the brick. He scurried up the side of the wall like a spider until they reached the top. He crawled through a hole in the roof taking Joshua with him.
They came out into the bright light. Hodmedod stood with Joshua slung across his shoulders and surveyed the battle below.
“This is some fight. Really hurts me to leave this without getting a few licks in of my own. But today is all about disappointment. For both you and me.”
Joshua caught a glimpse of Sophie as she darted through the chaos. He feared she might be crushed or bludgeoned at any moment. But she made it to a nearby alley and safety.
Hodmedod skipped along the top of the wall with ease. The wall sloped down and took them closer to the fight.
A Brickbat spotted them. The burly man picked up a stone and just as in their brutal game, hurled it with all his might. The missile struck Hodmedod on the side of the head. The assassin staggered for a few steps and then both he and Joshua tumbled to the ground.
Joshua hit the street and rolled. Tied up as tightly as he was saved him from serious injury.
A group of Brickbats surrounded him and the unconscious Hodmedod.
“Is this the boy Bastion talked about?”
“Could be. Let’s take ‘em both to Wormsworth.”
With that, Joshua and Hodmedod were tossed in the back of a wagon. Joshua landed first. The boards smacked him in the cheek. As Hodmedod’s limp body hit, a lead ring rolled out of his jacket pocket. The ring rolled around until it came to a stop right in front of Joshua.
He stared at ring. It had a design of a mixing bowl and whisk on it. He recognized it; more than that he felt that it belonged to him.
Not to me. To Lazlo Cippolini.
He had to have it. He rolled over on his back and reached blindly with his fingers until he felt the heavy lead ring between his palms. He prayed Hodmedod wouldn’t wake up and catch him. He rolled back over quickly.
Hodmedod was still unconscious. He groaned quietly.
The wagon started to move. It rolled away from the battle. Joshua rattled around in the wagon.
He didn’t know what would happen once Hodmedod woke up; whether these thugs or the thin but powerful man would come out on top. But he didn’t want to be around to find out.
Suddenly he felt something grab him by the collar of his shirt and yank him backwards. It pulled him right out the back of the wagon. Joshua landed on the cobblestones with a thud and rolled several feet before he came to a halt. There above him stood Heathcliff on a stack of barrels with his reed pole. The line was hooked onto Joshua’s collar.
The boy flexed his bicep.
“Didn’t know I had it in me. Seriously, you’re heavier than you look.”
Heathcliff hopped down from the barrels and gobbled.
“You look just like a turkey.”
“You are a turkey. Untie me.”
Heathcliff started on the knots. He told Joshua what had happened.
“Sophie caught up with me and said you were in trouble. I ran back as fast as I could and sent her on to the Charity Kitchen with the others. I got here just as they tossed you and that scarecrow fellow into the wagon.”
Joshua stood up. The ring was still clasped tightly in his palm. He looked down at it. Heathcliff saw it.
“Nice. You got a souvenir. Let’s go.”
“Wait,” Joshua said. “We have to go someplace first.”
“The Old City.”