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Authors: D. M. Cornish

Lamplighter (9 page)

BOOK: Lamplighter
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“Your pardon, surgeon.”
With a small start, Surgeon Swill stood and faced the woman. He looked at the group a little confusedly. “Come, come,” he said, finally fixing his attention on Rossamünd, “let me look you over.”
“Ahh . . . not me, sir.” Rossamünd gestured nervously to the stretcher-borne Pandomë.
Surgeon Swill looked to the calendar. “Very good. Leave her here.”
The porters laid the bier on the closest empty bed and retreated promptly without so much as a good-bye, leaving Rossamünd and Threnody with Swill.
Threnody stepped up, chin high. “I’ll have you know, sir, that I have been under the steady knife of the finest transmogrifer in or outside the Empire. Before I submit her to your ill-learned investigations, quacksalver, I would have you understand this: my mother is the Lady Vey, and should you mishandle my sister, your days of lawful practice shall end.”
Rossamünd looked at the floor. This was surely not the way to go on if she was seeking to become a prentice-lighter.
The surgeon looked at her coldly. “Moving about the odd organ is enough for
to claim great talent, but there are subtler things one can do with a knife. My ill learning will be learning enough to set your sister to rights.” He took up a weird-looking monocle, its protruding end a completely opaque black smoothness, and squinted it into his left eye. It was an even stranger instrument than Rossamünd had seen Doctor Verhooverhoven wearing at the Harefoot Dig when treating Europe so ill from spasming. It was some kind of obscure biologue, he was sure, designed to make a surgeon’s or physician’s work more effective.
Threnody stood close and watched suspiciously as Swill bent over the bed and scrutinized the injured, unconscious Pandomë, peering pedantically through the monocle at every cut, gouge and contusion. The epimelain hovered, waiting to serve any command. Swill worked in silence but for a periodic “mm-hm” and the scratching of stylus on paper as he made notes of what he discovered.
Fascinated, Rossamünd shuffled forward to get a clearer sight of what the surgeon saw.
Swill straightened and pinned him with a wintry eye. “Stand back, prentice! It is not necessary for
to see so closely. Indeed, all of you—please give me space to work.”
Threnody bridled. “Tell me, surgeon, can you mend her?” she asked sternly. “Or should we wait for Doctor Crispus?”
Swill straightened and, after a pause where he clearly calculated his answer, said sourly, “I might serve under him, young madam, yet I can tell you I have observed and performed things
Crispus would not credit as possible. What the good doctor has spent a lifetime acquiring, I learned in months. So, to you, dear, I say ‘yes’ to your first inquiry, and ‘no’ to your second. This has become intolerable! If you want the best for your sister-in-arms, then I must be allowed to labor in quietude. Do me the service of leaving!”
Spreading his thin arms, Swill went to usher them out of the surgery. To Rossamünd’s dismay, Threnody was clearly reluctant to depart and made to stand her ground. Swill balked at her stubborn immobility, and only after a foolish, pointless standoff did she allow herself to be guided out to the less gruesome side of the door. It closed with a deliberate thump.
“Do you know much of this Grotius Swill fellow, lamp boy?” Threnody demanded.
“He seems competent enough, miss. I think he is supposed to be under Doctor Crispus’ charge,” Rossamünd offered helpfully, ignoring the girl’s imperious tone. “I must confess I’ve never been ill enough to need either his or the doctor’s work.”
Threnody looked less than satisfied. “He did not seem to be under anyone’s charge to me. He’d better do right: I made no idle threat in there.”
Rossamünd was not in the smallest way impressed. “I ought to return you to your Lady Dolours,” he said simply.
At the Lamplighter-Marshal’s duty room the smiling registry clerk Inkwill greeted them.
“You’d best go in, m’lady.”
Threnody entered into the mystery of the duty room, leaving Rossamünd without a word of thanks or farewell.
“You might want to idle here, Prentice Bookchild,” suggested Inkwill kindly. “I think that young lass will be needing more guidance shortly.” This was an unwelcome hint, or so Rossamünd thought, that he and his fellows might have to put up with this pompous peerlet for a good sight longer.
As he waited an unwelcome pressure built in his bladder, but Rossamünd dared not leave. Instead he paced the Forward Hall uncomfortably back and forth, pressure growing, until the door opened with a bang. Sergeant Grindrod emerged from the duty room looking grave. He nodded brusquely, said nothing and moved on. Soon after,Threnody stalked out, followed by Dolours and the Lamplighter-Marshal himself. “What say you, young fellow? We’re going to have a lady in our midst!”
The Lamplighter-Marshal had clearly come to his decision. Threnody was to be the first girl prentice at Winstermill.
also known as a fusee or carabine or harquebus; a lighter musket with a shortened barrel that makes for simpler loading, is less cumbersome to swing about in thickets and woodland, and saves considerable weight. Its shorter length also makes it handy as a club when the fight comes to hand strokes. This makes the fusil a preferred weapon of ambuscadiers and other skirmishing foot soldiers, and also comes a-handy for the drilling of smaller folk in the handling and employment of arms.
HE morning did not improve after its irregular beginning. Rossamünd took Threnody to the Room of Records, where she gave all her particulars and was paid the Emperor’s Billion; the master proofener, where she received her two quabards—one full dress and one for continual day wear; the library, for her books on matter and drills and regulations; the armory, for her fusil and fodicar; and every other necessary place. Throughout, she showed nothing but arrogance and high-handed rudeness. She near drove the normally good-natured Inkwill to distraction with each painfully extracted detail for the register. She wrangled with the proofener’s yeomen over the constitution of regulation dress. She insulted the librarian over a matter book, insisting it was arrant drivel, that the books
had learned from back at Herbroulesse were far superior. She quibbled with the wool-slippered master armorer over the one-sequin pledge required to secure her firelock and fodicar. And throughout she ignored Rossamünd in the manner of someone used to the attendance of servants.
He had led her from place to place without complaint and with an ever-sinking feeling and the sharp jabbing of an overfull bladder. Joyful relief had come only when he finally showed Threnody to her own newly appointed cell where her luggage waited for her. While she changed to a lighter’s harness, Rossamünd made a quick dash for the jakes and returned in time for her to emerge with a wrinkled nose.
“Ugh! The stench of too many boys, too close together,” she said.
Rossamünd stayed mum. He had spent his life with too many boys, and it had made him insensible to any such odor. “Come along,” he said instead, and guided her up to the dim, high-ceilinged mess hall in the rear quarters of the manse, where a roll of drums declared middens was about to be served. There the other prentices arrived as a mass and, as they lined up, stared in open wonder at this newly presented lantern-stick before them.
Threnody went forth now in a rich, elegant variation of the gear of a lamplighter: silken platoon-coat, quabard, long-shanks, galliskins and a black tricorn sitting prettily upon her midnight tresses—all of the finest tailoring, as sumptuous as that of any of the Master-of-Clerks’ flunkies. The other prentices, by comparison, looked like drab weeds.
Threnody ignored them all as she had ignored Rossamünd. In their turn the boys kept unashamedly at their gawping, some turning puzzled looks on her fortunate companion.
Rossamünd felt anything but fortunate as he received their middens meals, served by two short, fat cooks from the pots hanging in the gigantic fireplace at the farther end of the room. Steaming with faintly appetizing smells, the larger pot was, as always, full of skilly, a savory gruel of leftover meat; the smaller with vummert, a mash of sprouts and peas.
Threnody scowled at the food, at the cooks, at the boys and at the hall as she sat at one of a pair of long tables that filled the mess.
“Are . . . are you all right, miss?” Rossamünd asked cautiously, painfully aware that she had just occupied the usual seat of a less-than-friendly lad known as Noorderbreech.
“Yes.” Threnody’s voice cracked a little. “No . . . What care is it of yours—”
“Look here, miss, I . . . ,” complained Noorderbreech, leaving his place in the line of unserved boys. “Look here, normally I sit there.”
Threnody did not move, did not even give a hint she had even heard.
“And—and that would be my apple,” Noorderbreech insisted.
A look came into Threnody’s eye that Rossamünd recognized—a haughty, dangerous look. She glanced at the fruit mentioned, which sat on the table before her. It appeared to be the same as all the other apples placed evenly along the benches for the prentices to take away with them when the main meal was done. Threnody picked it up with a study of feminine grace. “
apple, do you mean?” she said, and bit into it deliberately, daring Noorderbreech to retaliate.
The lad puffed himself up as threateningly as he might.
Uncowed, Threnody crunched away as happily as if she were on a vigil-day hamper. Every boy—and the kitchen hands too—held their breath.
“Give me my apple, girly,” Noorderbreech growled, “and go take yer place at the far end. This is where we sit.”
“This apple?” She took another bite. “You mean
apple, don’t you? . . .
Have it then!”
The apple flew the full length of the bench in a well-aimed arc. It landed with a
and a
right in the midst of the hottest coals of the fire.
Everyone became very, very still. Some even stopped chewing.
Rossamünd wanted to shrink in on himself.
“I’ll sit where I like and eat what I please, you loose-jawed bumpkin,” she hissed with such vehemence spittle flew.
Wide-eyed, Noorderbreech stumbled back, mouth agape as if he were trying hard to prove Threnody’s insult true, finding for himself a vacant place at the far end of the other bench.
The prentices sitting near Threnody shifted away, afraid or glaring. No one other than Rossamünd dared put himself too near. Angry mutters began to stir. Rossamünd did not know what to say and fixed his attention on his food, avoiding every other eye in the room.Yet the filling of stomachs finally took priority even over so shocking an event as just witnessed. The hubbub of general chatter and the patter of forks and spoons on plates swelled once more.
Threnody made to eat as if naught was wrong. “Who can eat this glue?” she snarled eventually, pushing the slopping pannikin of skilly away in disgust. “Must everything be against me today?”
“Against you, miss?” Rossamünd dared after a few pensive chews.
“I save us from the ambush of those ungotten baskets,” she suddenly fumed, floodgates inexplicably let free, “and all
Dolours can dwell upon is the possibility of bad things that never even happened! We were thrown about inside the drag, tumbled roughly in its wreck, and Dolours so unwell she was scarce capable of fighting. What else was I supposed to do?”
Remembering the startling and dangerously incompetent effect of her wild witting, Rossamünd could not quite see how Threnody had done any more than make a bad situation worse. The way he remembered the play of things, it had ultimately been Dolours who had saved them all, the lamplighters included. Indeed, given that the prentices had dispatched two of the horn-ed nickers themselves, Rossamünd figured a little more gratitude might have been shown. Still, he held his tongue: he would not gainsay a woman in her distress, especially not one as fiery as this. She had done her bit, and had not flinched from the fight—and none should fault her on that. This girl had passion. All she needed was practice.
BOOK: Lamplighter
4.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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