Earlier in the day, the stranger gave the innkeeper a list of required sundries. The heavy gold purse the stranger dropped on the counter also bought his silence. To his eternal credit, the innkeeper didn’t flinch when he read the items. On it were some obscure alchemist’s supplies with local plants and herbs. Odd? Yes, and not terribly difficult to get. But the last item was the most important:
A fresh corpse.
Though reluctant, the innkeeper obliges. “By nightfall… and the price is double for the last item here.” The innkeeper slams a brass key onto the counter. The stranger nods his agreement and retires to his room to prepare.
Hours later, the church bell rings, signalling the closure of the town gates. Instead he brings a young girl, about eight years old; whom he said was orphaned from a neighboring village. The innkeeper refuses to do the deed himself and demands additional gold to keep quiet about the girl. The stranger obliges and flips the innkeeper a gold coin high in the air. As the innkeeper looks up to grab it, the stranger produces a strangely ornate dagger from the folds of his tunic and then in a swift motion cuts the innkeeper’s throat.
The girl does not seem affected by the sight of the innkeeper being slain. The stranger tells her to leave, but she refuses.
“What is your name, girl?” he asks.
“Alice, mi’lord, Alice Perrers. I’m not really an orphan.” She looks around the room in a child’s wonder, unfazed by the grisly murder she just witnessed. She stands over the body looking into his lifeless eyes stretched wide open in shock. Alice kneels down and forces them shut. “He took me from my father and hurt me, you know” she states in a cold tone. “I’m glad he can’t hurt me anymore.”
The stranger looks down at her in bewilderment. Surely the child is touched by some malady of the mind. No one as innocent as she should be this calm after watching a man’s lifeblood surge from his neck in front of their eyes, yet there she stands, as if awaiting a sweet for reward. “He said you needed me for something important, but I guess he won’t be able to tell me what it was now.”
The stranger chuckles and indulges the child. “Indeed, I did need you, my dear, for something important, but no longer. Your tormentor will make a suitable replacement. Does the manner of his death not turn your stomach?” he asks.
“No, mi’lord,” she says, “My true father was a sheriff. I’ve seen many a highwayman executed. A little blood has never bothered me any. That man killed my father.” She jumps up on the straw bed staring back at him, as if to ask silently with her large and curious eyes, what are we going to do next?
The stranger walks to the bedside and kneels in front of the girl, taking her hand in his and speaking to her as a father might speak to his child about a difficult subject. “Young Alice, if you continue this journey with me, I can promise you a great adventure, but you must always play your role. You see, there is a man—a very important man who has wronged me in a terrible fashion. I have returned to England after many years to see his crime punished. You will see things that will amaze and bewilder your young mind, but you can never give away any of my secrets. Does that agree with you?”
She looks up at the ceiling with a grin, playfully pondering the offer. Then a wide smile crosses her soot-smudged face. “Since you took away the man that hurt me, I agree. I would very much like an adventure!”
The stranger stands back up and crosses to the table, stepping across the innkeeper’s twisted body. He pulls a satchel from his saddle bag; a large, burlap-wrapped box tied with a bit of twine. Alice hops down from the bed and stands next to him as he carefully unfolds the wrapping. Underneath, to her amazement, is a jewel-encrusted book made of gold.
“I’ve never seen anything so beautiful, Mi’lord!” she exclaimed, wide-eyed. “What is it?”
Now was his turn to have a wide grin. “It’s called The Necronomicon. The ancient Book of the Dead.”
“What’s are you going to do with it?”
“Alice, my dear, I’m going to use this to destroy Edward the Third, the King of England, and you’re going to help me.”