Lord Finch ~ Chapter 1


A/N: Blame the plotbunnies. After reading Katica Locke’s “Silk Stockings,” MrsJohnReese commented, “oh my lord finch is…” – which, when I first glanced at it, looked like “Lord Finch.” And the rest is… this story. My humblest apologies to those eagerly awaiting updates on my others.


Once upon a time, there was a castle called Finch Fortress perched at the top of a steep hill, with a moat around the outer wall, a rose garden between the outer wall and inner wall, and all sorts of booby traps in between and all around. The castle had to be guarded so closely because Lord Finch was rumoured to have piles and piles of treasure, which many thieves tried to break in and steal. Most of them were caught by the guards or the booby traps, though, and were fed to the dragon that lived in a cave across the valley. In a way it was a good thing that there were so many thieves, since the dragon might have started eating the peasants in the village below if it got too hungry.

Late one night, Lord Finch was awoken by a commotion in the courtyard, so he made his laborious way down the long flight of stairs – for Lord Finch had old war wounds that ached when the weather changed and made him limp. The Captain of the Guard, a serious-faced man named Sir Donnelley, met him at the foot of the stairs.

“Your Lordship, we have captured a brazen thief who tried to infiltrate the castle last night,” he reported after giving a smart salute. “He fell through the trapdoor into the Pit of Doom, but – by some extraordinary skill, I must admit – he managed to toss a grappling hook to the other side and suspend himself from the rope, thereby escaping the Spikes of Death. We have pulled him out and thrown him into the dungeons.”

“Good heavens! He survived?” Lord Finch gasped in surprise. “I must make modifications to that trap immediately. I suppose the thief must be executed…”

“Of course, my Lord.”

“I do abhor executions, but it’s probably for the best… Fusco has been getting grumpy lately…”

“The sentries reported that they could hear his stomach growling a few days past, my Lord. It is high time we fed him some… er… expendable human.”

Lord Finch nodded in resignation. “Yes, I suppose so. I will go down to the dungeons to tell the prisoner his fate. At least we will feed him a good meal before he becomes the dragon’s dinner.”

After slowly descending yet another flight of stairs to the dungeons, Lord Finch was led by Sir Donnelley to the cell where they were keeping the prisoner. As they entered, two of the guards – Carter and Szymanski – were patting him down for weapons, keeping his hands out of mischief by means of a pair of manacles hanging from the ceiling. So far they had divested him of three knives, five vials with what looked to be poison in them (the skull-and-crossbones labels were a dead giveaway), a bolas with rather weighty balls, a boomerang, and a small crossbow with a quiver full of lead-tipped arrows. Carter was in the act of pulling out a sturdy coil of wire from a hidden pocket in the man’s tunic, which was only loosely tied with string at his throat, revealing a smooth expanse of taut muscle beneath.

“My, that’s… a lot of weapons,” Lord Finch observed, nervously eyeing the prisoner’s hands to make sure they were securely fastened. “Well. Now that we’ve captured you, we’re going to have to execute you, I’m afraid,” he explained. “We can’t have thieves running around the countryside, you know, stealing from unsuspecting people and disturbing the peace. We’ll give you a good meal today, but once you’re done with that – and no later than an hour before sunset, so you needn’t bother dawdling – you’ll be taken to the Lair of the Dragon, where I’m sure you will… uh… be very satisfying for Fusco. At least you’re tall, even if you haven’t much meat on you, so he should have a good time crunching your bones. But don’t worry, you’ll be quite dead by then, I’m sure.”

The prisoner, who had winced at the description of his fate, did not seem at all comforted by Lord Finch’s reassurance. “Would it make any difference if I told you that I’m not a common thief after your gold, but a hired assassin sent to murder you?”

“Ah… well… I’m not sure,” Lord Finch said, startled and perplexed. “We don’t really have a precedent for… er… assassins… do we, Donnelley?”

“No, my Lord, but I don’t think the dragon would mind one now and then,” the Captain gravely replied.

“I can tell you who paid me to kill you, Lord Finch,” the man said in some desperation. “If you would give me your word of honour that you won’t kill me or feed me to your dragon or throw me back down that trapdoor, I’ll tell you who wants you dead and why. I can also give you a pretty good description of the next assassin he’ll send to kill you so you can be prepared.”

“Oh… Well, that sounds reasonable,” Lord Finch began, but he was interrupted by Sir Donnelley.

“Your Lordship, we do not need to bargain with a lowly criminal. He is in our hands to do with as we please. We need only whip him a few times to get that information out of him, and then we will be free to… er… dispose of him in the usual manner.”

“Ah, well… that sounds rather… unpleasant,” Lord Finch said hesitantly.

“It won’t take more than a few lashes, my Lord,” Sir Donnelley promised. “You need not watch if it makes your stomach queasy.”

“I see… yes, I suppose that would be best. You know how to interrogate hardened criminals like him, I’m sure…”

As Sir Donnelley ushered him out of the cell, Lord Finch heard the two guards talking inside.

“You be the good cop, Szymanski – I’ll be the bad cop.”

“Why do I always have to be the good cop?”

“Because you’re more convincing. You could probably even get this guy to switch his car insurance…”

Lord Finch was climbing the stair more slowly than he usually would have, feeling some unnamed emotion towards the prisoner – pity, he decided – so that he heard the first few cracks of the whip and the muffled cries of the man as the implement met its mark.

“How… distasteful,” he murmured to himself and hastened up to his room. But the cries of the hapless prisoner kept ringing in his ears long after he had ceased to hear them, and the way that the deep-set, expressive eyes of the man had pled for his life haunted Lord Finch’s memory. The glimpse he’d gotten of the man’s chest lingered in his mind’s eye as well.

“It’s really rather a shame… quite a handsome man, too, for being a criminal, although he could use a shave and a bath… I suppose an assassin is a different kind of criminal than an ordinary thief, come to think of it… But who would want to kill me? This is all very… unsettling…”

The more he thought about it, the more troubled he became, until finally (not ten minutes after he’d settled into his large, comfortable bed) Lord Finch got up, put on his spectacles and bathrobe again, and began toiling back down to the dungeons. It had taken the better part of an hour for him to return to the cell, but the whip was still cracking at regular intervals, making Lord Finch cringe every time he heard it.

“For the last time, I will NOT tell you,” he heard the prisoner declare as he neared the door. “If I tell you, you’ll just kill me – or feed me alive to the dragon, which is worse. ARGH!!”

The last exclamation was in response to another snap of the whip. Having opened the door in time to see the procedure being implemented, Lord Finch was horrified. He could not take his eyes off of the angry red lines left on the prisoner’s bare back.

“Stop! Stop! This is too brutal, too… barbaric,” he protested. “Plus you’re getting blood everywhere! Think of poor Zoe the chambermaid, who’ll have to clean this up afterwards. It would be much more civilized to simply spare this man’s life in exchange for the information – not to mention a whole lot less… messy.”

“But… my Lord, what about Fusco?” Sir Donnelley asked.

“I’m sure there will be another thief to feed him before long – there always is. No, Donnelley, I’ve decided against this course of action. Whether thief or assassin, I won’t have any of my prisoners tortured like this.”

Faced with a direct order, the Captain had no choice but to obey, so he nodded to Szymanski to stop whipping the prisoner. Carter moved to put the man’s tunic – which they had cut apart with one of his own daggers – back on his shoulders, but Lord Finch stayed her hand.

“It will infect his wounds if you do that,” he explained. “See how filthy it is! No, that will never do. We must first wash his cuts to make sure they heal properly, then find him another shirt. Phew… He could do with a bath, too, and a shave.”

The man looked at Lord Finch with his lips quirked up into a half-grimace, half-smile.

“I’m sure I’m no bed of roses at the moment, but with a decent bath I’d smell no worse than your soldiers’ breath,” he said. “It’s sweaty work, hanging on to a rope for dear life. Your trapdoor was ingenious; the spikes below were… impressive.”

“You’re the first one to survive them, actually – or to avoid falling all the way down. Which is just as well… It’s a nasty business, cutting up the ones who do fall on the spikes so they can be removed and fed to Fusco,” Lord Finch informed him as he inspected the man’s strong, yet now striped and bloody, bare back. “I give you my word of honour that we shan’t kill you, or torture you like this again, if you tell us who hired you and why he wants me dead.”

“You won’t feed me to the dragon or drop me onto the spikes?” the man asked in his surprisingly smooth, cultured voice. “Because technically, it would be the dragon or the spikes that kill me… You wouldn’t try to wriggle out of our agreement on a technicality, would you?”

“No, of course not – we won’t kill you or harm you. Or put you in any situations that might kill or harm you,” Lord Finch added. “A true gentleman’s agreement, I promise.”

“All right then, I’ll tell you,” the man replied, visibly relieved and standing up straighter to face Lord Finch. “I was hired by Count Snow to kill you, since he figures that King Ingram would be so grief-stricken at your death that he would put Snow in charge of this fortress. Then Snow wants to use the treasure to outfit his own army and overthrow King Ingram.”

“Why that’s… that’s… dastardly!” Lord Finch cried. “I can’t believe… Well, yes, I can, but… honestly!

“If I don’t return by nightfall, Snow will assume that I’ve failed in my mission and send in his next assassin,” the man continued. “This one is a woman – a beautiful woman with dark hair and cold eyes. Don’t let her beauty deceive you: she’ll kill you in a heartbeat and won’t so much as blink. She was planning on getting into your castle by pretending to be a gypsy dancer.”

Sir Donnelley immediately told Carter, “Go down to the village and see if there are any gypsy caravans passing through the area. Take enough men with you to question them and capture any suspicious dark-haired dancers.” Turning to the prisoner, he asked, “Are there any distinguishing features about this woman? Any moles, tattoos, or piercings?”

“Nothing out of the ordinary. You’ll just have to look for her eyes. Only a cold-blooded killer has eyes like that.”

“If she’s anywhere to be found, I’ll find her,” Carter assured her superiors before leaving.

“Well, now that that’s settled,” Lord Finch began, looking at Sir Donnelley expectantly.

The Captain looked back at him, unfazed and immovable. “As you wish, my Lord, the man will not be tortu—er… interrogated any further, and will not be killed or fed to the dragon,” he stated. “However, we cannot release him from this cell to walk about the castle, for he might decide to assassinate you and finish his mission for Count Snow.”

“Ah… yes, I see… That would be most… unfortunate,” Lord Finch responded.

“Wait – so you’re going to just keep me here?” the prisoner protested.

“Lord Finch promised you your life and safety. He said nothing about your freedom – or lack thereof,” Sir Donnelley pointed out.

“That’s a technicality! I thought we had a gentleman’s agreement,” the man said accusingly, glaring at Lord Finch.

“Well, ah… this does put me in a rather awkward situation,” Lord Finch answered. “But if it’s any consolation, we will feed you well – for today, at least. After that it might be bread and water for a while… but once this issue with Count Snow is taken care of, we might be able to… er… negotiate a better arrangement. Maybe.”

Lord Finch hedged on that last statement since Sir Donnelley was indicating with his eyes and raised eyebrows that he did not think it was a good idea, but Lord Finch figured that once Count Snow – who, he hoped, was the only one who wanted him dead – was out of the picture, there would be no-one else to hire the mercenary to kill him, so it would be quite safe to let him go. In addition, he was thinking that he would very much like to see the man washed up and shaven.

“I’ll have Zoe tend to your wounds and bring some hot water so you can wash up,” he said to the still-prisoner – who was silently but obviously fuming – hoping that it would put him in a better mood. “It’s just a temporary arrangement.”

“Can I at least have my hands out of these?” the man asked, giving the manacles a shake. “I’ve already had to spend half the night with my arms above my head; my shoulders are aching.”

“Oh, of course, of course!” Lord Finch replied, although Sir Donnelley quickly added, “Once we remove all these weapons and secure the door.” The man rolled his eyes at that but seemed satisfied enough. Szymanski and the Captain began carrying out the knives and such, leaving Lord Finch alone in the cell with the man.

“So, uh… How and why does one become a hired assassin?” he asked, feeling somewhat uncomfortable just staring at the half-naked man without saying anything. Although he found that he could not stop staring.

“I didn’t set out to be, of course… I was a hunter – and a pretty good archer if I do say so myself,” the man responded with easy confidence. “Then one spring, I was asked by Count Snow to track a madman. He’d suddenly snapped and killed his wife and family, then fled to the hills when the soldiers went after him, so I was asked to help. I found him just as he was about to attack an old couple that lived at the edge of the next village and had to shoot him dead. That one I don’t regret…”

The man fell silent for a moment before going on. “The rest of the jobs I did for Snow… well, he told me that it was all for a good cause, and for the most part I believed him. But lately… I’d been having some doubts. When he asked me to kill you, I thought right away that he was just after your treasure, but I agreed to do it because I needed the money. Then when I saw Cara – that’s the other assassin; I’ve worked with her on some jobs before – going in to talk to Snow, I eavesdropped on their conversation. That’s how I found out that he wanted to build his own army and stage a coup d’état. Cara’s in on it because she thinks he’ll make her his Queen, but I’ve a feeling she’s in for a surprise. And I wouldn’t want to be in Snow’s boots when she figures out that he’s only been using her.” The man barked out a short laugh. “They’re both so conniving, they deserve each other!”

Lord Finch was troubled by so much talk of crossing and double-crossing, but he was intrigued by the clear intelligence of this man to see through it all. “So then… why were you going to kill me? When you knew it would only help Count Snow try to depose King Ingram?”

The man shrugged, as much as he could with his arms held up in chains. “I needed the money. I tried going back to hunting in the woods around my cabin – which is pretty high up into the mountains – but what with all the development and deforestation in recent years, I couldn’t find enough game to make a living. It’s nothing personal, you know… I’d never met you. Plus I’ve never met the King. If he wants to stay on the throne, it’s his responsibility to be prepared for the likes of Snow. I’m sure there are plenty of them out there.”

“Unfortunately, there are,” Lord Finch agreed, “but I want you to know, this land would be a far worse place if King Ingram were overthrown. He is a good man and kind, who only wants what’s best for his people.”

“So you say,” the man responded. “Like I said, I’ve never met him so I wouldn’t know.”

“Your Lordship,” Sir Donnelley announced, startling him, “we’ve removed all of the prisoner’s weapons to the Keep. If you would like to step outside, I will secure the door and allow Szymanski to release the prisoner’s hands.”

“Oh, ah… Is that really necessary?”

“His mission was to murder you, Lord Finch,” the Captain reminded him. “Even now, he could seek to take your life and claim his reward.”

“He missed the part where I explained that it wasn’t personal,” the prisoner put in, almost as an aside to Lord Finch. “But come to think of it, he’s right – if I were foolhardy enough to try to escape from this fortress when I couldn’t even get in without getting captured.”

The sarcasm was lost on Sir Donnelley, who instantly tried to get Lord Finch away from the man (who was still chained) and drew his sword.

“All right, here’s my next offer,” the prisoner continued with a smile that, while it mocked Donnelley, also had something distinctly wolfish about it that sent shivers up and down Lord Finch’s spine. “If you promise to set me free – outside of this castle, to go back and live as I choose – I’ll swear to never attempt to kill Lord Finch again on my word of honour.”

“We cannot take the word of an assassin,” Donnelley shot back before Lord Finch could say anything.

“I was afraid of that,” the prisoner sighed. “Can’t blame a guy for trying, though…”

“Um… By the way,” Lord Finch said rather hesitantly, turning back at the entrance to the cell, “what is your name?”

The man looked at him for a moment with an unfathomable expression, then answered, “John. John Reese. And I’m entirely at your service, my Lord Harold Finch.”

“John… of course…” Lord Finch murmured as Sir Donnelley closed the cell door behind them.


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Leave a comment

6 Comments

  1. Mamahub

     /  2012/07/22

    Squeeee!!! I love this AU!!! LORD FINCH-YESSSSS!!! The possibilities are endless and super exciting!!!

    Also, methinks the author heartily enjoyed creating fantasy-alternate characters! Dragon Fusco! King Ingram! And may I please refer to the villain as Count F-ing Snow??!! 🙂

    Favorite lines: “You be the good cop, Szymanski – I’ll be the bad cop.”

    “Why do I always have to be the good cop?”

    “Because you’re more convincing. You could probably get this guy to switch his car insurance…” ROFLMAO!!!!!

    MOAARRRRRR!! SOOOOOON!!!! 😉

    Reply
    • I’m so glad you like this! 😀
      Yes, you may call him by whatever expletives you like — they are all warranted!
      It IS fun to give the characters whatever importance *I* would place on them. 😉

      Heeheehee… Just HAD to put that one in! 😉

      Reply
  2. rainiejanie

     /  2012/07/22

    This is sounding really good so far.

    I was convinced that Root was going to be the next assassin, I forgot about Cara.

    Fusco’s a dragon?! Funny!

    Reply
  3. managerie

     /  2012/08/01

    Quote: Because you’re more convincing. You could probably even get this guy to switch his car insurance…”

    Ha!

    Reply

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