The old man ran his finger around the edge of his glass ‘til it sang. The other Guild Masters reached for their own and did the same until the banquet hall filled with the clear ringing sound. The guests quietened down and turned towards the main table expectantly. Guild Master Wort Turner rose.
“There is a portrait; you will have seen it when you came in.
Indeed, it is difficult to miss.
It is the portrait of one of the most important of our Guild.
He may not have been there at the beginning, but without him...”
Even after all these years, remembering Thomas Meade still affected him deeply. The older man sitting to his right, laid an understanding hand on his arm. The Guild Master smiled at him and continued,
“We are surrounded tonight by poets, storytellers, and imaginaries from around the land.
All of us, without exception, owe our existence to this man.
Indeed, we would not hold the place in society that we do,
and even these hallowed halls would not be here, if it were not for him.
Which, for two reasons, is ironic.
Born in a time when there were no stories, tales, no fables, and no chronicles,
Thomas Meade was a man with so dark a reputation that even night shrank from him.
Let us be truthful - he was a killer.
A silencer of dreamers and a destroyer of creation.
Tonight, we celebrate Thomas Meade, a man who, when our memories begin, was,
as we are fond of saying here - a man in search of a story.
Stand with me and raise your glasses – to Thomas Meade.”
Borgin Drauma – The City of Dreams
The burning-dead-flowers smell of solder hung sharp in the air. It was paradise.
On Thomas Meade, smiles died early deaths. But he’d been friends, if you could call it that, with Keg for a long time, so at the sight of Cornelius Keg, Master Device Smith, hunched over and intent on the mechanical brains of a tiny box chronometer, he smiled. Or rather, his mouth jerked up on one side.
“You’ll have to wait. I’m—”
“Right in the middle of something,” interrupted Meade. “You’ll say that when the Devil comes for your soul, Cornelius.”
The smith shot a sarcastic look from under his greying, bushy brows at the dark wide-shouldered shape of the man towering in his doorway, picked up a fine screwdriver and went back to work. His workbench was cluttered with glass bottles, some filled with anonymous sizes of brass screws, one lying on its side, its contents spilling out on the ironwood bench. Other bottles, stuffed with copper springs and small iron gears, stood within reach. A tin of screwdrivers, a fine, black-tipped soldering iron – still smoking, leather finger-press bellows, scraps of sketches held down by lumps of ore and half-finished mechanisms all lay waiting to be needed.
“Is there any milk to drink?” Meade asked pushing the door closed.
Keg hunched up a petulant shoulder and jerked his chin at the massively chased, silver samovar on the shelf.
Meade swung the satchel off his shoulder and thumped it down on the end of the workbench. Dust coughed and hung in the air before sinking back with a sigh. Dropping his hat on top of the bag, he unhooked one of the samovar’s silver cups and twisted the tap. The sour taste of the liquid did little to quench his thirst. Another swig was even less helpful. He tossed the cup back on the shelf and surveyed the room.
Large mechanisms stood, one could almost say lurking, each decorated with small tags carrying the name of the device and their owners in a delicate calligraphy of twirls and ink. But, some of these marvels of copper, brass and bronze were the smith’s own creation. And nowhere in Borgin Drauma could there be found devices like those of Cornelius Keg.
Meade liked being here. It amused him. He was always impressed, even slightly intimidated by the craftsmanship almost casually littering the place. And he wasn’t often amused or impressed, and outside of this room, never intimidated.
There was one particular device he’d never seen before. Its long, curved arms rotated in delicate arcs around its spine, rising and falling as a brass ball dropped from one spoon-like appendage to another. He sauntered over to get a closer look.
“What’s this?” Meade flicked the sharp end of a flat copper coil. It bounced nervously.
“Leave that alone.” Keg’s voice was as pointed and anxious as the coil.
Meade bent down, inspecting the device more closely. Deep inside the vibrating centre of its heart, a dozen tiny cogs clicked their way through tight, neat arcs around the device’s power source. The pulsating lump of resin was held in one of the most delicate, intricate clasps he’d ever seen.
“What does it do?” Careful not to touch any of the working parts, Meade stretched out his forefinger until the resin was within reach. He could feel the silence tighten behind him. His mouth twitched again. A sharp blue light crackled wickedly through the air.
“Sst!” He jerked back his now blistered finger.
“Serves you right,” Keg grunted. He put down his fine screwdriver and twisted the telescopic monocle on the headgear strapped to his forehead away from his left eye, until it hung, drooping slightly, an overweight antenna on a mildly demented bug, the other lenses sticking up bizarrely on their own stems.
“You’d better show me what you’ve got, then you can go and leave me in peace.” He climbed down from his tall stool, muttering under his breath.
Although Meade was over six feet, Keg was short by anyone’s standards. He made up for it with genius. There was a reason Cornelius Keg was the Master Device Smith. No one could turn blueprints into devices as easily, or as magnificently as he could. An unspoken competition existed among the city’s Most Worshipful Guild of Device Smiths to create a blueprint that would finally foil his legendary skill. It gave him immense satisfaction to continually prove them wrong. There was no part he couldn’t build, no matter how small or convoluted.
Meade pulled a fine linen column out of his satchel and, unrolling it as he went, carried it across to the large, oval survey board standing under the only window in the room. Keg followed, climbing the two or three stairs curling up against the wall on the other side of the table, bringing him almost to Meade’s eye level.
“There’s no maker’s mark on it,” said Meade as he flattened the blueprint. Keg twisted the clips on the table’s edge to hold it in place. Even these were miniature masterpieces. Copies of the stone gargoyles, those tragic, extinct beasts that jutted out from the corners of the Patent Master’s Hall.
“Well, that may not matter much. Every smith leaves his or her signature in one way or another.” Keg rubbed his hands together in delight. “What have you brought me this time?” He pulled on a pair of fine, almost transparent silk gloves, cracked his knuckles, carefully placed his hands on the board and bent over with anticipation. Closing his eyes, he breathed in deeply, savouring the aroma of the ferro-gallate. Meade knew that for Keg, there was nothing more intoxicating than a new blueprint; that he revelled in the ritual of the first examination.
Meade leaned against the thick wooden pillar behind him to wait for the sigh of satisfaction that always concluded the little ceremony.
It didn’t come.
He glanced at the small man. Keg had gone completely still. He almost wasn’t breathing. His face grew paler, filling with a deepening fear.
Meade’s eyes narrowed, a frown tightened on his forehead. He pushed himself upright. “Keg?”
Keg dragged his gaze off the plan and stared at him, horror etched into his skin. “What did the Patent Master say when he gave it to you?”
“He wasn’t in a good mood.”
“Death?” Keg’s voice was almost a whisper.
Meade wasn’t sure he’d heard right. Nobody spoke to him like that. “What?”
“Get out!” Keg’s voice rose.
Meade stepped forward, looming over the table. “What is this device?”
Keg erupted, scrabbling at the desk, ripping the blueprint violently off the board. Small bits tore, trapped under the gargoyles’ tight fists. “Get out! And take this infernal thing with you!” He was hysterical, shaking and pale. He scrunched up the blueprint, throwing it at Meade.
An eyebrow leapt up Meade’s forehead. “Keg, what is it?”
“I will have no head with this. Get out. Get out!”
Meade had never seen the smith like this. It was an odd mixture of rage and fear. He didn’t need to push the smith for more information right now. He could easily come back another time. He tucked the crushed sheet into one of the cavernous pockets of his greatcoat, shoved on his hat and swept up his satchel as he strode out.
In the street though, he paused and looked back into the workshop. The door was taking its time in closing. Behind it, the room stood in shocked silence. Golden dust motes, disturbed by his abrupt exit were drifting, searching for a place to settle back down. The samovar pinged.
Beneath the table, Keg clutched his knees to his chest, rocking himself backwards and forwards, whimpering, tears rolling slowly down his face.
Copyright Elaine Dodge 2013