(Broken Instrument) CHAPTER 5: MOODY: RAVEN 1 MOODY 0

Part of London
Part of London

Parts of it (London) would have resembled a vast building site, while other areas were left to slow neglect and in Stow’s words, became ‘sore decayed’.

London: The Biography

Peter Ackroyd


Moody caught the eye of one of the murder as he was leaving through the Iron Gate. The murder knew Moody well, marked him ever since he’d taken one of them down with a well aimed rock, then stomped to death the broken winged one. So this one gave voice, informing the rest of the murder as to its intent, and took ebon wing.

It swooped across the open meadows surrounding the Tower walls, following Moody as he left the Tower Liberty and made his way down Thames Street. It spilled air and landed on the topmost timbers of a house being raised from the ruins of an old religious hall. Pausing to search for bugs in the oaken timbers, still green and oozing sap, it cocked its head this way and that, beady bright eyes observing both wood and busy street below. Moody could change his doublet, his hat, duck behind this wagon and that chair vendor with his wares strung high on a pole, do all these things and confound a human pursuer. But the eyes above tracked all those maneuvers and never lost sight.

And then those eyes espied a woman taking scraps out to feed chickens penned in the end of a long yard behind a house. Its shadow brushed unnoticed over Moody and it landed, pinions fluttering, in the midst of the scraps, scattering the other birds gathered there. It lingered until driven off by rocks and cries.

Looking to regain sight of Moody in the warren of busy streets, it circled high. Wharves and quays, bustling with men taking cargo on or off the ships crowded in the Thames. It slipped through the air, over the small forest of masts bobbing in the river and curved back over the main thoroughfare running parallel to the river. And there was Moody, conversing with a man in front of the Customs House, the two of them standing a little apart from the crowd of men going in and out of the large building. Moody got his questions answered quickly enough and moved on through the press of men.

Fish guts! Cawing excitedly, the black shape landed among the white gulls, a coal in snow. They squabbled and fought, gobbling down whatever Billingsgate leavings came within reach. Pecking the eyes out of a fish head, it abruptly remembered the object of its ire. Allowing a gull to shoulder it aside, it took to the air again.

Wings sweeping, it flew up into the smoky air. Too high and its keen eyes couldn’t pierce the foul murk. An adjustment of feathers sent it down lower, arcing across street and rooftop. Further up Thames Street, Moody slid into the crush of people, carts, hackneys, sedan chairs, and other conveyances clotted at the approach of the London Bridge. No one crossed the Bridge quickly.

Unless one had wings. It flew out onto the river, paralleling the Bridge. In the two arches closest to the shore, giant waterwheels groaned and turned, pumping water into the heart of the city. Just as it reached the mid-point of the Bridge, out from underneath it shot a wherry. A stream of uninterrupted obscenities poured from the mouth of the oarsman as he kept the small boat from overturning in the racing water between the arches of the Bridge. The passenger was a white faced and silent counterpoint to the swearing oarsman, his hands locked in a clawed grip on the cushioned bench.

Letting loose a jeering cry at their struggles, the raven flew upward to the middle of the Bridge, where there was a space in the line of shops and houses that encrusted the structure like barnacles. There, it rested for a while, cleaning its feathers, on the peaked roof of a goldsmithy. Its eyes scanned the mass of people slowly moving in both directions, the rich people in their fine clothes entering and leaving the shops. The bright white ruffs especially caught the eye. Head cocked this way, then that, it kept watch for that specific shape, the particular way of walking, that would show itself to be Moody.

There! Down there he edged his way past a noble lady leaving an apothecary’s with her cluster of servants and muscle, dodged a sedan chair, continued across the bridge. It took wing again. And was immediately assailed. High piercing cries heralded the swallows’ attack. They spun out of their mud nests clumped high under the eaves of the house on the edge of the Bridge. Spun and dove like feathered spears, plucking at the raven’s wing and tail feathers. A hard turn to the left, down and under and through an arch of the Bridge. It put on a burst of speed and quickly pulled away from the swallows, who broke off their pursuit. The raven curved back to the Bridge, to the Great Stone Gate at the south end and to the tasty morsels it knew waited there.

The head spiked directly above the gate was old, hardly anything left but yellowed bone. But the next one over was newer, fresher. Clawed feet sank deep into the decaying flesh as it worked its beak into the scalp. With a jerk of its head, it tore loose a long strip and gobbled it down. A few more of these and the skull began to gleam white. It picked up some of the maggots squirming there. The scalp shifted rottingly. It squawked and flailed its wings to regain balance.

Looking down, it spied Moody walking out the Gate, off the Bridge, and into Southwark. It launched itself off the spiked head and fell down towards the mass of people. Winging its way low, just above the bobbing hats and hoods, it made directly towards Moody. And at precisely the right moment, it let loose with a mighty stream of shit. A most satisfactory besmirching, all over Moody’s head, shoulders, doublet, hat. As it flapped away, up into the smoky London air, the Tower Raven heard Moody scream imprecations and it gave voice to a number of derisive caws in response.

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