Through the starlight drifting into his room, he saw three long foils were now pressed to his throat. Bizarrely, he thought at first they were radio antennas and he was having a close encounter. But when the middle one pressed more sharply against his Adam’s apple, he felt what might have been a drop of liquid trickle down his neck and understood implicitly it was more than that. His bladder let go. He pressed himself deeper into his soft mattress. The sharp ends of the swords followed him there.
The light was such that he could not make out faces or details of the men who now had him trussed up as well as any entomologist had ever pinned a bug. He could just make out that the man in the middle wore a hat of some sort, though that might just have been a trick of the shadows.
His next thought was to ask them what they wanted, but he knew any movement of his throat was certain to send any one of those sharp points plunging into his skin. No, whatever these men wanted, they’d let him know when they were good and ready.
“You,” one of them said. The one in the middle. “Perfesser. Sirrah.”
He let the words linger a while, and if anything at all had been left in Cobb’s bladder, it wasn’t anymore.
“You’ve got tings don’ belong to you,” the man said, and Arthur knew suddenly that these were the men he’d been taunting. The ones who had taken the Lady Grace. But this was not what he had expected.
As one, he felt the three sharp points retract a bit, but only a bit. Just enough to allow him to get a word or two out.
“I don’t . . .” he began to say, and seconds later felt a blade beneath his ear. The man had come from nowhere. The wetness he felt on that side of his head revealed the man’s knife had already broken his skin.
“That not be the answer we come fer,” the man said. “Now, I made a promise not ta kill ya. But I made no promise I wouldn’ hurt ya. An’ I made no promise I’d let ya keep yer ears.”
With that, the knife beneath his ear pressed forward. Tears formed in Arthur’s eyes.
“An’ so, I’ll ask again. You got tings don’ belong to ya, do you not?”
The points against his throat let up once again, but the knife to the ear remained where it was. “Back room,” Arthur choked out. “Hidden door in back of closet . . . but their locked . . .”
An explosion echoed throughout the house, causing Arthur to twitch and the knife to his ear to slice further. Moments later came another thunderous clap as the door to the closet was kicked open. Arthur showed far more self-control this time.
It seemed to take an eternity, but shuffling sounds came from up the hall. “Think that’s it, Captain,” the voice said.
Forever and a day later, the sharp points to the left and right of Arthur’s neck ebbed somewhat and then were gone. An epoch after that, the knife was removed from behind Arthur’s ear. After that, the only danger to Arthur was the sharp point that had never left his Adam’s apple. He understood then that whoever wielded that sword, he was the most masterful of all.
“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods,” the man said quietly before he too removed his sword.
Arthur didn’t hear any of them leave the room. Minutes went by, then hours, but Arthur remained frozen in place until the first shafts of daylight revealed he was truly alone.
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