Authors: Charlie Higson
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #General
It had been an unsettling day. There had been some sort of disturbance in the no-go zone. Sickos were on the move. They usually kept well away from the Tower, they knew it was dangerous for them there, but today the normal rhythm had been upset and scouting Pathfinders reported seeing gangs of them as near as Aldgate and Fenchurch Street.
‘I’m gonna take another look round,’ said Kyle. ‘I’m getting itchy standing here doing nothing.’
‘All right,’ said Ed, ‘but be careful.’
Kyle grinned and slapped him on the back. ‘When am I ever careful?’ he said, and walked off with his halberd over his shoulder, chuckling and muttering to himself.
Ed felt his face, running his fingertips along the bumpy scar that ran from his forehead down almost to his chin. The wound was aching tonight, aching and prickly. He wasn’t a superstitious boy, but when his scar hurt like this he sometimes had the feeling it was trying to warn him of something. He never talked about this with any of his friends for fear that they would accuse him of turning into Harry Potter.
He heard footsteps and the jangle of metal and saw a group of kids coming through the underpass that ran under the main road next to the Tower. Jordan Hordern was at their head. He was wearing a breastplate and helmet that looked slightly incongruous with his battered old spectacles. The four boys with him all carried halberds.
‘Weird night,’ he said when he saw Ed.
‘You can feel it too?’ Ed asked.
‘Yeah,’ said Jordan. ‘Everyone’s on edge. Maybe there’s a thunderstorm coming. What’re you doing out here, anyway?’
‘Finally getting round to sealing off the station. The way things are, we wanted to try and get it all done today. The guys are just finishing.’
‘You should bring them in,’ said Jordan. ‘Whether they’re finished or not. It’s not gonna be safe out here tonight.’
‘They should be packing up now.’
They walked over to the station gates where, sure enough, the works party were putting their tools away. Jordan and his team helped them by priming the wind-up torches that they carried and aiming the beams at the tool bags.
Just as they were all ready to go Kyle came back, looking concerned.
‘You need to come and look at this,’ he said quietly.
‘What is it?’ Jordan asked.
‘See for yourself.’
Jordan told the others to stay out of sight and he and Ed and two of his guards followed Kyle back the way he had come. Keeping close together they walked past an old bit of Roman wall and along the side of an ugly modern grey brick building that offered them some cover, moving quickly and silently. When they got to the end of the office block, Kyle stopped and nodded towards the road. Ed crept forward to the corner and cautiously peered round.
He looked up the road towards the railway bridge and gasped, sucking in air and holding it in his lungs. He couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing.
He pulled back and turned to Jordan.
‘Take a look,’ he said.
Now it was Jordan’s turn. Ed waited for his response, wondering if it would be the same as his. Had he really seen what he thought he’d seen? He frowned and rubbed his scar. It was aching again. He told himself he was being stupid, he was imagining things, haunted by the weird atmosphere of the day.
At last Jordan ducked back from the corner and looked at Ed.
‘It can’t be,’ he whispered.
Ed made a move to take another look when Kyle grabbed him and pulled him back. The four of them crouched there in the darkness as two people walked past the end of the building along the road towards the Tower.
They were two small boys. They couldn’t have been more than nine or ten years old, dirty and exhausted, wide-eyed, delirious even. They looked like they could hardly stand up, let alone walk. They were soaked by the thin rain that drizzled down relentlessly.
But what caused Ed to hold his breath was that the two of them exactly resembled the boys on Matt’s religious banner. The one that everyone had laughed at when Harry Ryan had written ‘Angus Day’ on it.
The Lamb and the Goat.
One boy was slightly in front of the other, just as the Lamb had been depicted on the banner. He was wearing a filthy white sweat top and had fair hair and pale skin; the second boy had wild, dark hair and his skin was so grubby he looked almost black. He was hanging back behind the first kid like his shadow.
‘It’s a coincidence,’ Ed whispered. ‘It has to be.’
‘We should be careful,’ said Jordan. ‘They’ve come from the no-go zone. There’s something not right about them.’
Ed was getting freaked out. He’d never known Jordan to be unsure of anything before.
‘Bloody hell, Jordan,’ he whispered. ‘Don’t tell me you’re starting to believe in Matt’s crap?’
‘You thought exactly the same thing as I did when you saw them, Ed.’
‘Come off it, Jordan, they’re just little boys.’
But even as he said it Ed doubted his own words. Strange things had happened in the world. If Matt was right, that just might be God and the devil over there, walking right past them, not five metres away.
Don’t be an idiot.
Ed straightened up. ‘Stop still. Don’t move.’
The boys froze.
‘We’re kids,’ the fair-haired one shouted, without turning round. ‘Only kids.’
‘Let’s hope so,’ said Ed under his breath, then he shouted back at the boy. ‘I can see that. Where have you come from?’
‘Waitrose,’ said the kid.
Ed wanted to laugh, but stopped himself. It was too ridiculous. They hadn’t come from heaven. They’d come from a supermarket.
The little boy turned round. ‘In Holloway.’
‘North London. Past Camden Town.’
Ed tried to figure out how far that was. His geography of London wasn’t great but he was pretty sure that Camden was a fair distance away.
‘You’ve come all the way from there?’
‘Yes – I’m trying to get to Buckingham Palace.’
This was getting more and more surreal.
‘Well, you’re more than a little lost,’ he pointed out.
‘I know,’ said the boy. ‘Please, we’re very tired and hungry. We’ve been running from grown-ups all day.’ He sounded scared and shaky, not like a god at all.
‘Is it just the two of you?’
Ed and the others walked into the road and approached the boys.
‘Will you help us?’ the dark-haired boy called to them. ‘We can’t go on. These are our last legs.’
Ed whispered to Jordan. ‘You satisfied? They’re just kids.’
‘I know,’ said Jordan. ‘But you can’t be too careful. It’s been an unusual day. And you must admit …’
‘Yeah, I know, but I mean …’ Ed paused, he was trying to convince himself more than Jordan that there was nothing supernatural about these two boys. ‘You don’t …
‘You said it, Ed, they’re just kids.’
Ed went over to the boys, taking off his helmet. The boys looked at his scar with wide eyes. He knew the effect it had on people so he smiled so as not to scare them and knelt down in front of them.
‘How old are you two?’ he asked.
‘Nine,’ they both said together.
‘And you’ve made it all the way here from north London?’
‘The shrimp did,’ said the dark-haired kid. ‘I been living round about Spitalfields but I got into the tunnels and I was sore lost and –’
‘Whoa, hold on, not so fast.’ Ed put up his hand to stop him. ‘So you’ve been in Spitalfields? Who’s been looking after you?’
The dark-haired kid shrugged. ‘No one. There was some other muckers with me one time, but they’re all dead now, you can count on it. It was only me. But then I found the hobbit. We been helping each other. We’re mates.’
Ed shook his head and snorted with laughter. ‘And here we were thinking we were pretty clever living in the Tower, pretty tough. You two kids have shown us up as a right bunch of wimps.’
‘Is it safe there?’ said the fair-haired boy.
‘In the Tower?’ Ed thought about it. ‘Safe enough.’
‘You’ve been through a lot, haven’t you?’
The fair-haired boy nodded.
‘Well, it’s as safe as anywhere, I guess. Safer than out here on the streets. Safer than down in the tube tunnels, that’s for sure.’
‘Will you take us there?’
‘Sure. Why not?’
‘And we’ll really be safe? It’s just you? Just kids?’
‘There’s sixty-seven of us live there,’ Ed explained. ‘All kids. All ages. It’s not the greatest life in the world. But it’s a life. You’re safe now, mate.’
The two boys burst into tears.
Ed nearly joined them. He held them to his chest until they stopped crying, and then picked them up so that they sat against his hips and carried them towards the Tower.
As they walked along, an image of the banner came into his head once again.
Maybe, just maybe, Matt had been right all along.