The Brotherhood Of The Five
The Isle of Thanet, 1808. One man is pushed into a kiln of molten metal beneath the looming shadow of the Shot Tower, and another is dug up from the sandy bay beyond. Who they were, and why they died so strangely, is no ordinary mystery, even for Missing Persons Finder Whilbert Stroop.
On arrival in this marshy corner of Kent, on the very edge of England, Stroop tries to piece together the puzzle of these deaths, and the significance of the objects each man died trying to protect. It is a conspiracy that began ten years before on the battlefields of Europe, and one that will claim more lives before it is done.
“The Brotherhood of Five transports the reader to a different time and place thanks to Gray’s magical inner eye.”
Alex Gray, Author
The tower, seen through the soft screes of mist afforded to Augustus, was slightly tapered, like a skinny bee skep: broader at its base, narrower at its apex, collared all about by wooden walkways buttressed by a spiderweb of scaffolding which seemed to yawn without difficulty from out the very surface of the stone. Augustus felt the marshes ache and sigh about him as the rising sun began draw the mist from off its back, hazed the horizon into pink and gold, yet still the mist clung to the Shot Tower like a pea-vine, apparently unwilling to let it go, hovering gently against the chill of the stone and the cool body of water that lay within. Augustus could see the kilns that clustered about its base, knew this was where the lead was heated and softened, poured into the barrels that were hauled up to the highest walkways, sent down the half-cut pipes that runnelled through the brickwork, splaying the liquid metal out into a curtain, dropping down upon the mesh that overlaid the thirty feet of water that filled the tower. How exactly it all happened, he did not know, but knew well enough that as the molten lead fell through the water, it formed into perfectly round, and equally weighted, balls of shot, which sank and cooled the distance down, gathering at the base onto sieved trays which were pulled out from the walls for unloading, the water cascading briefly down upon the workmen, before draining away into the moat and the spring that continually fed the tower.
He was curious to find out how the water always stayed in there and did not waste away into the ground below its feet, was looking forward to understanding something that seemed so intrinsically un-understandable, was wondering if he would be assigned to the heat of the melting-kilns, or the sweaty hauling up of the barrels, or be one of the wet-men shovelling out the newborn shot into the waiting crates. He thought it would probably be the latter, something unskilled but useful, but at the end of it, he didn’t much mind, was happy and proud to have been chosen for employment, knew steady work meant steady wages, and that could only mean good for himself and the rags of the remaindered villagers who had drawn themselves about him because of it, and were looking for him to lead them on.
Augustus Wedders thought about these things as he got closer, the mist clearing with every step he closed upon the tower. A couple of snipe rose suddenly at his tread, sent him skidding to one side with their calling, his boot-tips sliding into the wetness of the marsh. Swearing, he gained his balance, looked back up, saw the tower now only a quarter mile distant, then pushed his head forward and frowned hard and quick, unable to believe what he thought he had just seen, though knew all the same that he had seen it. With vigour, he pulled himself to standing, grasping at the bulrush stalks to keep his balance, sent his feet running and squelching and sliding through the mud, shouting out all the while, though there was no one could hear him, tried to keep his eyes fixed ahead on the open kiln vat, saw it jump and blur as he moved fast and quick, saw it for a few moments before it disappeared behind a clump of reed, a curve of path. He came into view, clear across the open marshes, only the wooden boardwalks and the bridge between them, saw a man pushing the great oaken lid back over across the top of the lead vat, and the smoke and fire that was coming up too hotly from beneath, felt the sweat smart against his skin and in his eyes, because he knew what he had seen only a moment or so before: a man struggling backwards against the lip of that same vat, his body one half in and one half out, and a second man down below, grappling with his struggling, flailing feet.
Oh God, he thought, oh God, and hoped the second man had been in time and had managed to drag the first man out before he fell. But his heart knew different, and his skin began to tighten and the blood flooded through him as on a bore, and his boots thundered on, though he felt his coat being ripped upon the brambles and the blackthorn as he came out of the thicket without caring for the path, taking only the line that was the most direct, took it because he knew that the one man hadn’t been trying to rescue the other, and that when he had drawn closed the lid upon the vat and set the fires to roaring, that the first man had already been tipped inside, and his boots would even now be kicking uselessly against the cooping, and his mouth shrieking to be kept above the warming metal, and that his lungs would already be scorched and drowning, could not allow himself to imagine what torments that man must be suffering. And although Augustus Wedders would live through that moment of realisation again and again in his nightmares, he would never come close to the absolute agony in which Simon Dan Deleon had died.
The iron-tipped cosh had caught Simon hard as he finally held out his hand to greet the man who had stepped from out the shadow of the Shot Tower, set the bones of his jaw into splinters and the blood gushing down his throat and into his lungs along with several teeth, one of which lodged against his epiglottis, made him retch and choke all in one. The blow would have felled any man, let alone Simon Dan Deleon who had already lost the back part of his skull to the wars, and he had fallen hard against the walkway of the kiln, almost into sitting, and it was a fairly easy thing for his attacker to launch his ox-strong shoulders beneath Simon Dan Deleon’s legs and flip them up behind him. Simon’s own momentum and his panic sent him scrabbling for the edge of the kiln to give him purchase, his shock so profound that for those few seconds he felt no pain, only the dreadful spasms in his throat and chest that forced his body upwards towards the air, as if he were already drowning. But that simple reflex was all the other man had needed, and Simon had felt his knees being grabbed and he found himself going up and over, winded by the knock of the barrel’s edge against the small of his back.
He felt the man grappling for his satchel as Simon laboured on the brink, but by then it was all too late, and Simon had gone too far over the edge to ever come back, and the only option left to his enemy was to dip his own hand into the swirling lead to retrieve his prize. The blunted, nail-ripped tips of Cliquot’s fingers touched the strap of the satchel and tried to take hold and pull. He grasped at it hard, biting his tongue against the pain, told himself he had suffered worse, re-envisioned the red-hot tongs coming closer and closer towards his now blinded eye as he’d screamed and tugged against his captors, the puke and bile that had set his throat on fire, the terrible anticipation of the pain and how much worse it had been when it came, the soft shame of his stools within his trousers at the final agony, when his eye was finally squeezed and burst and then pushed back into his head like a softly boiled egg. It should have given him pity for the man he had just rolled into the boiling cauldron, yet it did not, and though he regretted the loss of the satchel and what it might have told him, he did not hesitate once he realised it had gone, and he rolled the lid back quick upon the stout sticks he had provided for the purpose, before pulling them free. And down went the lid on Simon Dan Deleon’s screams and the boiling of his body within the simmering pool of lead, screams that quickly muted into mewling, mewling, like the sack of new-born puppies Cliquot’s father had once made him beat against a wall that time until they were dead, and only then did the tears begin to roll down from his one good eye as he felt a last faint kick against the wooden staves at his back where he leant in his despair, wondering, not for the first time, why exactly he had made these men’s eradication his only purpose, yet knew that without that purpose, he would be lost.