Who Speaks for the Damned (Sebastian St. Cyr #15) - C. S. Harris

Chapter 1

Somer’s Town, London

Thursday, 9 June 1814

A lone and trying desperately not to be afraid, the child wandered the narrow, winding paths of the tea gardens.

Ji could hear laughter and the voices of other garden visitors in the distance. The day had been hot—unusually so for June, the child heard people say. But the sun was beginning to sink in the clear lavender blue sky, lengthening the shadows beneath the arbors and hinting at the chill of coming evening. The scent of roses and peonies drifted sweetly on the moist air, stirring unbidden memories of the shady walkways and placid canals of the Hong merchant’s private gardens. A wave of homesickness washed over the child, bringing a painful lump to Ji’s throat, and the sting of threatening tears.

Ji swallowed and pushed the dangerous thoughts away.

Ji had grown up hearing tales of the faraway misty islands of Britain, and somehow in the child’s mind the British Isles had blurred with the Garden Islands of the Eight Immortals. Ancient Chinese legends told of island palaces made of gold and silver, where there was no pain or winter, where the rice bowls were always full, and those who ate the fruit of the enchanted trees would live forever.

“Britain’s not like that, child,” the man called Hayes, his face taking on a pinched look, had warned Ji. “It’s not like that at all.”

“Then what is it like?” Ji had asked. “Is it like Canton?”

“No. It’s not like Canton either.”

A gust of wind rustled the leafy branches of the lime trees overhead, jerking the child back to the present. Ji fumbled in the pocket of the strange clothes Hayes had insisted the child wear ever since that wretched day when they’d rowed out to the ship in Canton’s harbor and sailed away from everything Ji loved. Everything familiar and beloved except for Hayes.

“Give me until seven,” he’d said after they’d eaten a dinner of thinly sliced roast beef and hot bread and butter in one of the tea gardens’ boxes.

“How will I find you? Or know what time it is?”

“Stay close to the pond,” he said, handing the child his watch with a smile. “I’ll find you.”

The child hadn’t been worried. Not then. But now Ji flipped open Hayes’s watch and saw it was nearly half past seven.

Where was he?

Something dangerously close to panic bubbled up within the child. Ji began to walk in ever-widening circles around the tea gardens’ ornamental pond. Past the bowling green, past the river, where late patrons lingered at the tables and chairs set out beneath the row of willows. Then a high brick wall loomed ahead, forcing Ji to curve back around.

It was there, in a small clearing not far from the wall, that the child found him. He lay facedown in the grass, one arm curled up at his side, his blue eyes open but staring blankly.

And from the torn, blood-soaked cloth of his coat protruded the work-worn handle of a sickle, its sharp, curving blade buried deep in his back.

Chapter 2

H alf an hour later, in the exclusive part of London known as Mayfair, Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, sat cross-legged in the middle of his elegant drawing room floor. The heir to the powerful Earl of Hendon, he wore formal knee breeches, a white silk waistcoat, and a cutaway dress coat, for he and his wife, Hero, were planning to attend the Prince Regent’s reception for the visiting Allied Sovereigns later that evening. But they always tried to devote the hour before dinner to their sixteen-month-old son, Simon.

“Where’s the watch?” Sebastian asked the boy, bringing two closed fists from behind his back.

Golden eyes sparkling with anticipation, Simon pointed to Sebastian’s left fist, then squealed in delight when Sebastian uncurled his fingers to display an empty hand.

Simon tapped Sebastian’s right fist. “D’ere!”

Sebastian opened another empty hand, and the baby laughed so hard he fell over backward.

“Isn’t that cheating?” asked Hero with a smile.

“Not a bit of it. It’s teaching him that things aren’t always where you expect them to be.”

“I think it’s teaching him that his father sometimes cheats.”

“Another valuable lesson,” said Sebastian as the child scrambled behind his back to pounce on the missing watch.

“He’s going to chew on it,” she warned.

“It won’t be the first time.”

A warm breeze shifted the curtains at the open windows, drawing Hero’s attention to something in the street below. As Sebastian watched, a faint frown creased her forehead.

“What is it?” he asked.

“There’s a child out there, by the lamppost. He’s been