London, 1642. In the docks of Tilbury, East London, stood The Lords Tavern. With a name like that you could be forgiven for thinking it was a friendly place. Far from it, this was about the most unfriendly establishment as was possible to find. Filled with the dregs of life, men who would gladly slit your throat as soon as look at you. No place for a gentleman, or any man with a timid disposition. The men inside were constantly engaged in nefarious dealings of one sort or another. Fighting was commonplace.
The air inside was thick with the smoke of clay pipes, stale beer, and body odour. Strangers who unwittingly ventured in were quickly fleeced of any possessions before being thrown into the street. It was pointless complaining to the local militia; even they gave The Lords Tavern a wide berth. No, my friends, you would need a good reason to visit. One wrong move and your body would be found, like so many, floating down the Thames.
It was a Friday night in mid-March. A cold mist rolled off the river to mix with the London smog. The tavern was quite full, the men were arguing over a card game. The atmosphere was as hostile as could be. The door swung open and the slim figure of an elegant woman stood for a moment before approaching the bar. She was wearing a full-length dark blue cloak with a hood. With her gloved hand, she produced a small coin. Placing it on the bar, she ordered a large gin.
The landlord's hand was shaking as he placed her drink in front of her. He knew that this was no ordinary lady, she was someone special. Should any harm befall her it would surely mean trouble. This was no common lady of the night, she would be missed. An uneasy silence filled the air. All eyes were on her as she lowered her hood to reveal a shock of bright red hair. Her green eyes stared into the room. One of the men stood up and started to walk toward her. As calm as could be, she raised a single finger, as if to say stop, not now. Her other hand brought the glass to her lips as she downed her gin in a single gulp.
Licking her lips, she looked around the room. Her gaze fell on a man known locally as Jack the beard. Jack was a giant of a man, as his name suggested; he had a long, scruffy black beard. His scarred face laid testament to the many fights he had obviously been in. Of all the men she could have chosen, Jack was the worst, an evil man with a vicious temper. Her eyes narrowed as she looked straight at him and said, you first. With that, she started walking toward the door of the back room. Jack followed behind as the men started to cheer.
Once inside, the men started to argue over who’d be next. Their cheers grew louder as they could hear banging against the wooden door. Whatever was going on, Jack was having a party. As the noises from within grew louder, so did the cheers from the men in the bar. And then, silence. The landlord feared the worst, Jack had surely killed her. This lady would be missed, a reward would be offered. There wasn’t a man in here who wouldn’t sell his own mother for a penny. This was not going to end well.
Still there was silence from the room. One of the men put his ear to the door before turning to the others and shaking his head. Who would be brave enough to go inside? Jack was not a man to be messed with. The landlord pushed his way through the men, had a listen for himself before slowly turning the handle. The door opened about an inch before hitting something. He tried to look through the crack but could see nothing. A large pool of blood started seeping through the gap at the bottom of the door. The landlord started to push at the door, a few of the men joined in.
Several pushes later and the door was opened. Even the lowlifes of this establishment were horrified at what sight lay before them. Jack had literally been torn, limb from limb. There were bits of him everywhere. The floor, walls, and ceiling were covered with blood. His torso had been ripped open, his heart was missing. The lady was nowhere to be seen. She could not have left through the barred window. Who was she? What was she?
As the men gazed in horror at the scene of carnage, a sharp tapping could be heard on the tavern door. Still in a state of shock, the landlord went to investigate; a few of the men followed him. Someone had nailed a poster to the door. On it was news of a young lady, brutally robbed and murdered at Tilbury dock five years previously. Mary Elizabeth Harding. The authorities were looking for a tall, well-built man with a scarred face and long black beard seen running from the area. The lady was described as having long red hair and bright green eyes. She was last seen wearing a dark blue full-length cloak with a hood.