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Authors: D. M. Cornish

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BOOK: Lamplighter
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Rossamünd blinked. The hedgeman was such a kindly fellow he did not want to gainsay him.Yet he knew Master Craumpalin would never give him something that was crank. To question his old dispensurist’s scripts was unthinkable.
“It has done what I suppose it was meant to do,” he offered guardedly. “I have no complaint.”
Add the benthamyn.
“And good that is!” Critchitichiello kept smiling. “Yet I tell you. Up till a-now its parts are all just as they ought—a simple base for a nullodor, but put a-this in”—and in went the tiny benthamyn pellets, six parts, just in time—“and suddenly it’s like a-no nullodor I’ve ever heard made. It might foil some noses, but not a nicker’s sniffing.”
Rossamünd nodded patiently. He had no answer for the hedgeman. Instead he watched in silence as the mabrigond and dust-of-carum were added in right and timely proportion.
“Don’t a-mind me, Rossamündo, my fine a-fellow,” the hedgeman said perceptively. “Just a curious old noddy am I . . . I’m-a sure this no-stinker answers for what you are a-wanting it for.”
Rossamünd certainly hoped it was so.
Critchitichiello poured the deep blue liquid into a fine new bottle and Rossamünd reached for his wallet.
Taking payment, the hedgeman looked beyond him with twinkling eye. “That sweet lass has been a-watching you for a little while,” he said mildly. “Is she your sweetheart?”
Sweetheart?
Rossamünd looked around and saw Threnody standing beneath a lantern already lit against the dim afternoon. She was leaning against it and looking his way very, very intently. “Oh, that—er . . . She isn’t my sweetheart, Mister Critchitichiello,” he said emphatically.
“Ah.Too a-bad for thee.Though . . . ,” Critchitichiello said with a flourish of a bow, a conspiratorial whisper and a glance at Threnody, “. . . if you’s a-needing an amorpoti—a lover’s brew—just remember your a-friend, Critchitichiello.”
With a blush and a garbled farewell Rossamünd quit the awkward scene.
Threnody pulled a cryptic face as he approached. “What have you had that ledgermain making?”
“Mister Critchitichiello is no ledgermain,” Rossamünd came back, still tetchy. “He’s the genuine article, a true dispenser.”
“Ledgermains. Imperial fumomath. However you like it, lamp boy,” she insisted. “That does not answer my question, does it? What did the man make you?”
“It’s a . . . a nullodor. For my salumanticum.”
Threnody stroked at her lips. “A nullodor! A waste of good parts. What do you need a nullodor for?”
What has everyone got against them? First Critchitichiello, now Threnody.
Rossamünd did not care to quibble. Craumpalin had given it to him and told him to wear it, and that was good enough.
In silence they entered Makepeace Stile together.
As douse-lanterns approached and while Threnody polished her teeth with expensive dentifrices, Rossamünd decided it was time to write his own letter back to Fransitart.
Dormitory Master Fransitart
by the care of Lady Praeline
Versierdholte
Halt-by-Wall
Boschenberg City
Hergoatenbosch
4th of Heimio, HIR 1601
Dearest Master Fransitart,
I have got your letter and read its most terrible and sad news. I wept for you all, especially the little ones and Master P and the poor Madam, but am so glad to know that you and Miss Verline and Master Craumpalin (his poor dispensury!) still live. Though you might feel that you should not have survived the fire, it is too sweet a consolation for me that you survived to share your regret. And though you have all taught me to return evil with good, I cannot help but wish foul ends for that dastard Gosling. I can hear you scolding me in my head even as I write this. What is to become of you all now?
The other reason I write to you is to tell you that I have been sent early to my first billet, a place called Wormstool, far east along His Most Serene Highness’ Highroad, the Conduit Vermis—almost the last place before the blighted Ichormeer. Can you believe it that I shall be so close to such a terrible place? Though it is a long way out from Winstermill, I shall probably be already established there by the time you get this. When you do travel, please come to me there—I am sorry it is so far away.
I am delighted that Master Craumpalin might be with you when you see me, though I most solemnly wish it was under better reasons.
Please give my most loving regards to all I care for. Tell Miss Verline I am safe. Tell Master Craumpalin I still wear his Exstinker. A hedgeman made me some more today, and he was baffled as to how it worked. He seemed good at his trade but perhaps not as good as our own dispensurist.
It is wonderful to hear that your health has improved with Master Craumpalin’s help—may you stay in fine fettle always, from your old charge, and with love,
Rossamünd Bookchild,
Lampsman 3rd Class
Makepeace Stile
Makepeace
The Idlewild
 
I do not wish to alarm you, but some nights ago I fought with a rever-man in the cellars of Winstermill Manse. This is the second I have ever met and they are broken and disgusting things that only need to be destroyed. I worry for a friend I left behind. His name is Mister Numps, a retired seltzerman. Please look in on him if you pass through the manse.
Tell Miss Verline that I love her and her new niece very much.
Of Discipline and Limb!
21
THE BRISKING CAT
knavery
offices where a person can go to hire a teratologist or three or as many as are needed. Such establishments gain their name from the term “knave,” that is, any person who sells services to any paying client, as opposed to a spurn, who serves a retaining lord or master. When entering a region for the first time, a teratologist may register at the local knavery to make it known that he or she is about and going on the roll offering services. In doing this monster-hunters are agreeing not to shop their skills through other neighboring knaveries or their own advertisement, thus denying the knavery its commission. The knaving-clerk will take a request from a customer and offer a selection of monster-hunters to solve the dilemma. Once the teratologist has been selected, he or she is approached with an Offer of Work, which may be accepted or rejected.Work is more steady for teratologists who use the knaving system, though they usually make less money for service rendered.
 
 
T
HE next day, thick with rain, was an early start again. Leaving his letter with the Post-Master at Makepeace Stile, Rossamünd followed Threnody as she dashed to the post-lentum waiting in the foreyard of the cothouse. Back and shoulders becoming rapidly sopped, the young lighter did his best to shield his bandaged crown with his satchel.
Traveling certificates and nativity patents approved by the officious gatemen, they passed through Makepeace to continue. Rossamünd saw little of the town through the obscuring downpour, only narrow buildings with glowing, narrow windows, water spouting from the edge of every horizontal surface on to even narrower streets. A soot-grubby child no more than ten scurried from eave to eave past the slow-going lentum—a char-boy, perhaps from Gathercoal, come to serve an errand in this cleaner town. Wondering what hard labors were this small lad’s lot, Rossamünd caught his eye and they traded mournful glances.
Out the other side of Makepeace the road broadened and they discovered the lamps ahead had been left to shine on in the storm-dark morning. This was most certainly not good traveling weather, and the lenterman kept the pace slow for fear of skidding off the road.
The scene continued cozily pastoral: fortified farmsteads glimpsed at the end of private, tree-lined drives nestled among thickets of domesticated trees and were surrounded with fastidiously tended fields and drystone walls.
Every six lamps or so were low concrete-and-stone strongworks, squat boxes with loopholes and steps that went into the earth down to three-quarter-buried iron-bound doors. Rossamünd had never seen the like, and no one at Winstermill had ever talked of such things.
The sun was one quarter along its meridian when they met a convoy of large covered drays trundling the opposite way in a long line, every one under the guard of a skold or scourge. Drawn by great trains of flanchardt-covered oxen, each bore hundredweights of finest-grade charcoal from Gathercoal, likely intended for Winstermill, High Vesting and the settlements of the southwest. It took the long end of fifteen minutes to pass the last dray.
They ate middens with stores granted from Makepeace Stile’s pantry (a rind of hard, smelly Nine-cheese from Tuscanin ; apples; strips of dried, river-caught fish) and Threnody went back to reading.Taking pointed notice of the book, Rossamünd read the small white letters printed on its burgundy cover
—The High and Illustrious Ladies of the Magna Scuthës.
“What is that book about?” he asked absently.
The girl made as if to continue reading but, after a pause, she marked her place, closed her book, laid it primly on her lap, cleared her throat and looked up. “It is about the adventures of city women and their flash swells.”
“Flash swells?”
She looked owlishly at him for a moment. “The rich young men who live such fun and easy lives in the cities.”
“Oh, you mean dandidawdlers.” Rossamünd thought of the frilly, fussy fellows he had observed making a nuisance on the streets of Boschenberg. “Is it interesting?”
“I
think so, yes, though Mother doesn’t like books such as these.”
“Why not?”
“She
says they’re full of vile gossip and innuendo and
she
says they grossly exaggerate the successes of the protagonists without making enough of the consequences of their foolishness.”
“You sound like you’ve had this said to you often.” Rossamünd gave a mild grin.
“I could recite to you all of Mother’s words better than the
In Columba Alat,”
she returned wryly.
“The In Columna what-tat?”
“In Columba Alat,”
Threnody explained, with uncharacteristic patience. “ ‘The Wings of the Dove’—it’s our cantus, the rule we—I mean the Right—lives by.”
“How does it go?”
“I don’t know.” Threnody grinned. “I’ve forgotten it.”
“But I thought you just said you knew it well,” Rossamünd returned a little dumbly.
Threnody sighed long-sufferingly. “I do.” She picked up the duodecimo and opened it again. “I was just making a jest,” she said, and went back to reading.
“Oh.” Rossamünd frowned. “Sorry.”
Soon after, the horses were watered at the cothouse of Sparrowstall. Blackened spikes ran in rows along every ridge-cap and gable, set there to prevent weary birds or overadventurous nickers from taking roost.
A little over two hours further and they arrived at Hinkerseigh, much larger than Makepeace, with thicker walls and higher, more numerous bastions all filled with well-tended great-guns. It was a growing town—nearly a city, its people squeezed for room; some of the less well-heeled had been forced to build beyond the safety of the town’s stony curtain.The Mirthlstream flowed right into the place under the wall to drive many waterwheels of industry within as it passed through. As it was a client-city belonging to the Imperial state of Maubergonne, Hinkerseigh’s taciturn gatemen were dressed in harness of orot and gules—orange and deep red.They scrutinized Rossamünd and Threnody’s documents cursorily and waved the lentum through.
The carriage crawled down the narrow main street, moving little faster in the midst of the cram of traffic than a town-and-country gent out on a lazy Domesday ramble. At a coach-host, the Draint Fyfer, the lentermen stopped to change teams. The broad, covered yard was thronged with public coaches and private carriages; horns hooting, sergeant-yardsmen bawling, under-yardsmen obeying, porters and box-boys and mercers scurrying. Exiting the lentum first,Threnody dashed off into the rain with little more than an “I’ll be back!” and was gone before Rossamünd could call after or follow.With a shrug he took a midday meal and waited alone.
BOOK: Lamplighter
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