He had never been this close to the monument. Once a Roman temple, then a church, then a guard house and lookout post, it had degenerated, by the time of His Majesty's accession, to a picturesque column, still rising above the more modern buildings and tilting slightly, like its Pisan cousin. It was unclear by what superstitious reasoning the King's physicians thought that the tower's spectacularly bedecked fires, fuelled with the purest oils, it was rumored, improved or at least prolonged the Monarch's health, but that he himself believed this was indisputable. "So long as the flame burns in the Tower, the flame burns in my soul," he had proclaimed. The Reverend shielded his eyes while trying to make out the lines of the building itself, but heat had so bent the surrounding air it was like trying to stare into the sun.
"Such times," he muttered. He drew out his invitation to once again verify the address. He remembered Jesus asking from the dream, What are you doing later tonight?
"Dining at 22 Ennismore Gardens," he now answered.
Twenty feet below, in one of the tunnels that honeycombed the city, Inspector Jenkins was supervising the dragging of a small cart. The floor, worn with use, eased the wheels' progress, but still the load was heavy and the two laborers, wearing rope harnesses, strained with all their might.
"Come on, men," Inspector Jenkins said weakly.
Usually firm at giving orders, it unnerved him to see human beings reduced to animals, used as beasts of burden. But even the specially trained horses that worked in coal mines would be no good here. The roar of the flames was overwhelming. They were practically under the Tower itself.
Wonder what he meant? the Inspector mused, breathing through his mouth to evade the stench. He had been rather flattered, on his last visit to the Palace, to have that young lad, who now seemed ensconced as a permanent resident, invite him into his rooms for tea. Never got such consideration from the Prince, certainly, nor even a glance of acknowledgement from his surly coxcomb of a manservant. But the lad--he could not help but think of him as the son he never had--plied him with all sorts of questions, as well as the most marvelous gooseberry jam. It was gratifying to have one's work appreciated. The Inspector had found his tongue ranging freely over the assorted details of his job, for those, most of all, were what he took pride in, whereas the Prince, like a general directing a vast battle scheme of which his mission was only a small part, never asked after such particulars. On his way out, when the lad's arm was casually linked with his own, the Inspector could have sworn he detected a kind of surreptitious squeeze or, dare he say it? A caress.
"Hell!" one of the men swore.
"Now look what you have done," the Inspector said. "And just when we were almost there."
"It wasn't loaded right, I tell you," the other complained.
"Well, they are not easy to stack," the Inspector allowed. "No, don't put down your rope. Then it will take even longer."
Quickly, without thinking, he went round to the side of the cart, bent down, picked up the body by its armpits, and heaved it back on top. A woman, he could not help noticing. The whole mess slid queasily, like a pile of fish.
"Now, gently," he called, looking in vain for something to wipe his hands on.
Of course the lad is lonely, he reasoned, as the wheels creaked back to life. Isolated as he is there in the Heir's Wing. A prisoner. Though a pampered one. That buttered toast, brown as a bear cub on both sides. And that jam. The berries hand-picked. You could tell.
One of the King's physicians came out to receive the shipment.
"This is all?" he asked.
"For now," Inspector Jenkins said defensively. As the man continued to examine the condition of the corpses, he ventured to ask, "And how is His Majesty's health?"
"As well as can be expected," the physician replied, without looking up.
"I wonder," he went on uneasily, "exactly how this helps. The burning of the bodies, I mean. It seems a bit...primitive, doesn't it? Like something in the Old Testament, something heathens would do."
Now the physician did look up.
"You are?"
"Jenkins. Inspector Jenkins of His Majesty's Investigatory Service."
"And when, Inspector Jenkins, did you complete your medical studies?"
"Well of course I did not, but still...common sense says that turning a tower into a massive crematorium won't have much effect on an old man dying in his bed a mile off."
"Dying?"
"That is what some say."