It was a beautiful day in London. The sun was shining through the haze, a brief rain had lent a freshness to the air, and the Thames had not yet acquired the epic stench of summer. Pigeons circled overhead, and the black-clad ninja clans fought their endless wars across the roofs of the city. The Viscount Blackfarthing drove his curricle through the streets of London and felt that all was right with the world.
He was an understated man, not sporting the starched collar points or padded shoulders of the dandy, but most of Society were willing to agree that his quiet elegance was very much the thing for a man of his respectable but not immodest fortune. Hostesses liked him for his willingness to stand up with even the most tongue-tied chit, without going so far over the line as to actually flirt, and his card was accepted in all the best drawing rooms of the city. His clothing was of fine, if not extravagant cut, he spent no more than twenty minutes tying his cravat—much to his valet’s despair—and he was forever losing his quizzing glass.
He had stopped to take up his friend Deptford, who had been strolling near the park, and was skirting the edges of a traffic jam when a stray shuriken slammed into the seat between them.
Deptford, who hailed from Yorkshire, jumped a bit. Blackfarthing merely pulled up the horses a little and waited until a tabi-footed figure dropped from a nearby awning onto the back of the curricle. The ninja plucked the shuriken from seat, murmured something apologetic-sounding in his own language, and was gone across the top of a nearby carriage.
“Well, really,” said Deptford, clutching his hat. “That ninja had blue eyes. And freckles.”
“One of the Irish clans,” said Blackfarthing. He watched as the ninja, agile as a squirrel, bounded up the side of a nearby shop and onto the roofs, where several other black-clad figures waited. “They went there first—must be third or fourth generation by now. They say Dublin’s completely overrun.”
“My father was over there a few years back—one of Mother’s endless Lady’s Aid projects. Said the corned beef and sashimi was interesting, but they did things to an honest potato that no Englishman could countenance.” Deptford started to relax his grip on his hat, and then gripped it tighter as Blackfarthing feathered a corner with reckless skill. Any money he failed to spend on his wardrobe, Blackfarthing was more than willing to lavish on his horses, and the chestnuts between the posts of the curricle were regular fire-eaters.
The Viscount grinned, swinging wide around a cart in a manner designed to give his groom apoplexy. “It’s supposed to be good luck if they nest on your roof.”
“Pretty sure that’s storks, old chap,” said Deptford, relaxing as they approached Hyde Park and Blackfarthing was forced to a more decorous pace.
“No, it’s ninjas. My sister Eugenia—you remember Eugenia—went up to her attic looking for something and what should she find but those little woven mats everywhere and a whole pack of them settled in under the eaves?”
“Dear me!” Deptford gazed across the park at a pair of giggling young women. “Barely out of the schoolroom, by the look of them…sorry, what was that, Blackfarthing?”
The Viscount cast a tolerant look over his friend. “Ninjas in the attic. M’brother-in-law wanted to get someone in to clear it out, but Eugenia wouldn’t hear of it. Said they’d tidied up the place like you wouldn’t believe, and anyone who could make a cup of tea like that was welcome to stay as long they liked.”
“Your sister’s a great gun,” said Deptford, “but if she wasn’t your sister, I’d say she was dicked in the knob.”
“Good thing she’s my sister, then,” said Blackfarthing dryly, although privately he thought Deptford was probably correct. “Still, if you’ve got ninjas, at least you know you don’t have urchins.”
“Urchins! Gad!” Deptford threw up his hands. “Did you hear about Hallingworth?”
“Rusticating, isn’t he? Heard he went down to the country for a bit.”
“Yes, yes.” Deptford tipped his hat to a pretty young thing as they passed, and tried not to flinch under the basilisk-glare of her escort. “Badly dipped. But he was leaving some hell or other and like a fool wouldn’t call for a chair, and what should happen but he was pulled into an alleyway and set on by an urchin-pack?”
“Tore up his knees something fierce,” Deptford said earnestly. “Bitemarks all over his boot leather. Hallingworth swears that if hadn’t been wearing his riding boots, the little devils would have hamstrung him on the spot.”
(I blame all of you. No, I have no idea where I’d go with this, but at least I can stop thinking about it now.)