Wednesday, January 2, 2008


While my father was at the Palace, I was back at our compound behind the Museum, pretending that life was going on as it always did. My mother was uncharacteristically edgy, peering vacantly out her window instead of working, coming downstairs to fidget with the kettle.

I think my father going to visit the King over one of his own transgressions made her nervous: we lived a life of small transgressions, my father flexing the power he had as Curator in ways that would benefit the art; but we were always careful not to point this out to anyone at the Palace. This was a new thing, this discussion with the King. It might be the end of a comfortable existence.

After a time, I got tired of making the motions of work and crept away to the Labyrinth, going through the small door and down the many stairs, choosing my turnings without thought, with only the determination to get away from the world above.

The high sunlight trickled into those passages as a soft glow, only now touching the sills of the occasional small light-wells which came down from ground level. The walls of the many interlocking passages swept along, the sandy stone cool to my touch, as I counted out the turns to the workspaces. Along the sides, small chambers opened out which stored old Devices; old tools leaned against dusty corners, the remains of ancient Gear Tourniers and their methods.

As I came into the room with the Steam Beast, the light followed me, the sun poking into the gloom, touching the mirrors that ran along the far wall and illuminating it. I stopped, curious: it had already begun its change. Several parts and small mechanisms lay around its feet, and one of the tiny Devices that seemed to live in its room came up to explore my foot, which made me smile. I had no fear of the Steam Beast any longer - nothing which made such delicate pets need frighten me.

As I stood in my workroom looking around, I heard a step along the corridor, and a bright head of hair moved past the doorway to the next room. My chest collapsed on itself, my heart seeming to labor under a press, and I stepped over the little Device to follow.

I heard a sound in Ennis’ workroom and tiptoed toward it, almost unable to breathe. Who had found their way down the confusing flights of stairs to this part of the Labyrinth? I was terrified, and confused, and curious, and a little outraged, so I rounded the corner quickly to confront whoever it was.

And came face to face with Ennis, putting tools in a bag.

I must have looked stunned, for he laughed, glancing over as he reached for another of his precious tools. He looked more relaxed than I have seen him in a long time.

I am forced to admit, I could think of nothing to say. He went on laying tools gently in their places in his bag, and then tied it up and turned toward me, smiling. I had not seen him smile like that since he was burned, all those many months - nay, more than a year - ago. It brought him back to me, all in a rush. I saw him as he had been, as he was, as he would be: the boy who made me laugh, the angry youth who would not speak to me, the person who helped me.

“I have been saved,” he said to me, nearly serious. “Your father was my salvation. He took himself to the King and brokered for my freedom. I am to be allowed to pursue this Gear Tournier life, but I must do it properly, and am being sent to a college in Wurzen to learn my trade. By the time I get back, the Duke will have forgotten about me, and I will have a legitimate degree to allow me to work.”

I tried to smile at him, but I could feel the edges of it wavering. “In Wurzen? For five years? But - but there are colleges here in the Capital! Must you be gone so long?”

I was so intent on my distress that I did not see him looking at me kindly, nor notice that he walked over and put his bag down; but the next thing I knew, his hands were clasped warmly on my arms.

“It won’t be so long,” he said gently, “I have already learned so much, la? Maybe a year, or a little longer.” He looked down at me, and I could see the small traces of his scarring along one cheek and down the edge of his mouth. “I will miss you, and your wild ways.”

I stood confused, while a long finger of sunlight found its way into the little room, touching the boxes on the shelves behind him, catching the top of his head in a flicker of gold. Wild ways? Me? But when I looked up, he was leaning down to kiss my cheek, like a sweet older brother. His hands were there on my arms, and then not. He picked up his bag and smiled again. “I will come and see you, when my time is up,” he said, and touched my hand. “You watch over your Da for me.”

And with that he was gone, and I was left there with the little shaft of sunlight, struck by my own ignorance, and his.


While Eleanor was sick I had plenty of time to think of the many things which had happened to me. I feel a thousand years older than the girl who worked so hard to make the Beetles for the Midsummer Festival.

My father was gone for the better part of the day at the constabulary, trying to convince them to let Ennis go. At the end of the day, he came home to find us sitting around the kitchen table drinking cups of late cha with Ennis' mother and father, who sat stiffly at the table and stood up quickly as my father walked in.

He shook his head tiredly. "They will not hear reason," he said. "There is someone of consequence who has insisted on this, and they cannot go against it, though they are very polite."

"Did you see Ennis?" asked his mother Elsa, a short, lined, impatient woman with a mad sort of humor who had had Ennis later than most.

My father sat down, while my mother brought him a cup of cha.

"I did," he said. "He was doing well enough. They are very kind to him there, treating him with great respect. They told me they had never seen a Festival Device like his."

Ennis' father Mokul, a tall man from the far Eastern mountains, looked as if he did not know whether to look proud or stern. "Yes, well," he said, his face going redder, "I don't know where he got the makings for that. It were, indeed, a wonderous effort. But I'd just as soon that he stayed in the stables, if he's gon' to go and get himself in gaol."

My father cleared his throat. "Well, hmm, I'd meant to talk to you about that. I gave him the tools and the makings for that Device. I saw in him the makings of a great Gear Tournier, and I suppose I became carried away. I apologize for that," he said.

Ennis' father and mother both stared at him with their mouths open, and I saw my father blush, for the first time in my life.

"He did so seem to need it..." he faltered. "In any case, I felt it was my duty to try to get this cleared up."

Mokul stood up, looming over my father, a slow flush spreading across his face, and I was somewhat amused to see a fleeting look of anxiety cross my father's face. But the big man simply seized his hand and pumped it up and down. "Always looking out for him, you was," he said, smiling, his sharp nose wrinkling with glee. "I do have much to thank you for."

My father, looking bewildered now, smiled back. "Well, let us see if I can winkle him out of jail first, shall we?" he said kindly, returning the man's clasp.

"I have no fear for that, sir, no I don't," said the stableman, and with a bow he took his wife and left.

We were all left looking at one another doubtfully.

The next day, my father went to the Palace. Once again, he was gone for most of the day, and we waited fretfully, for it is rare for my father to ask for an audience with the King, though we live so near and my father works so closely with him on the Festivals. This time (I had from him later) he waited a long while, an unusual circumstance. He spent most of it sitting in a small lounge outside the King's personal study while the King met with someone inside.

My father said he heard raised voices inside the room, speaking back and forth for awhile; and then the door opened, the guards stood smartly to attention, and out came his old enemy the Duke of Aneth. He looked at my father with dislike and swept out, leaving a strong smell of fennel behind him.