Excerpt: Window Wall
Excerpt Window Wall by Melanie Rawn
Mieka Windthistle arrived at the kitchen door of Number Eight, Redpebble Square, with a frown on his face. It was not an expression that suited him. Yet with the exception of the hours he spent onstage, these days it seemed all his face could do was frown.
He conjured up a smile for Mistress Mirdley and for Derien Silversun, but the frown returned when the Trollwife, busily slicing carrot bread, told him why a huge basket was being filled with baked goods.
“Tea. It’s his Namingday. He won’t come here, so Derien’s taking it to him.”
Cayden’s Namingday. Thoroughly ashamed of himself, Mieka didn’t bother to pretend that he hadn’t forgotten. Dery, seeing the expression on his face, only shrugged and said, “I don’t think he wants to remember, himself. Which is stupid, of course. It’s not as if he’s turning fifty or sixty—he’s only twenty-four. But I’m sure he has nothing planned.”
Mieka slouched on a stool by the worktable and felt his frown grow even deeper as he regarded his tregetour’s little brother—who admittedly wasn’t so little anymore. Not that Mieka had been around to notice. Redpebble Square hadn’t seen much of him these last two years. He was no longer welcome when Lady Jaspiela was at home; indeed, she hadn’t spoken to him or even acknowledged his continuing existence since he’d attempted a bit of softening magic on her. How she’d been able to sense it, what with the Hindering put on her long ago, he’d no idea. But sense it she had.
Today Mieka had arrived just after lunching, confident that he wouldn’t be running into Lady Jaspiela. This was her day, every fortnight, for visiting the Archduchess whenever the latter was in Gallantrybanks. Mieka made it his day for visiting his brother and sister-in-law at the glassworks. Sometimes—well, rarely—he called in at the kitchen door of Redpebble Square, where Mistress Mirdley provided tea and Derien provided conversation. Cade no longer lived there. He had taken his own flat just after Touchstone’s third Royal Circuit. And even though Mieka saw him every single day when they were traveling and at least twice a week for performances in Gallantrybanks during winter, he had to go to other people to find out what Cade was thinking.
Not that either Mistress Mirdley or Derien knew. That was made clear when the boy slumped down in a chair beside Mieka and said, “He hasn’t been round to see us in almost a month. And it’s not that long until Trials, and then he’ll be gone on the Royal again, and—and I miss him.”
So do I, Mieka thought glumly.
“There’s an item about him in the latest Nayword—did you see it?” Dery made a long arm to snag the broadsheet from a pile by the kitchen fire. “Not that he talked to Tobalt Fluter, either.”
Mieka had read the piece, just a few lines about how Cade would doubtless have new and startling plays to be performed in Gallantrybanks and at Trials. The tone of it had been just slightly sardonic, as if Tobalt was annoyed that he could no longer get an interview from the eminently quotable Cayden Silversun.
Mistress Mirdley had finished wrapping the carrot bread. “Here, and take some of this honeycomb along with you. He always liked it when he was a little boy.”
Mieka was appalled to see sudden fierce tears in her eyes. He leaped to his feet and threw his arms around her. “I’ll bring him back here soon, I promise I will—and with three pages of apologies in rhymed couplets set to music for being so horrid to you!”
She shook her head and extricated herself from his hug. “He’ll come round when he comes round. And it’s a few dozen more turnings he’ll be doing before that happens. Is that basket full? Tuck a cloth in, then, and get along with you.”
“Did you put in something for Rumble?” Dery asked.
“Of course. A nice bit of fish. Go!”
Cayden’s only companion in his flat—well, his only steady companion; there were plenty of girls, all of them transitory—was a ginger-striped cat named Rumble, inexplicably brought home as a kitten by Blye’s cat, Bompstable. It was as if, Jedris had remarked, Bompstable knew Cade required some sort of company, and went out to find a suitable candidate.
In the hire-hack, with a hamper of food between them, Mieka looked at Dery and asked, “Could we stop off someplace maybe? I really ought to bring a gift.”
“Well … can you make it quick? Mistress Mirdley will be furious if I’m out after dark. And I want to spend some time with my brother,” he finished in a voice much too grim for someone not quite twelve years old.
Mieka directed the driver to take them through a convenient shopping district. For a full quarter of an hour, he turned from side to side in the hack, peering through the windows, desperate for a shop that caught his imagination.
“You’re giving me a neck ache,” Dery complained. “He won’t mind if you don’t bring him anything. I’m sure he’d rather nobody remembered at all.”
Especially after what happened last year, hung unspoken between them.
When Cayden turned nineteen, Dery had given him a silver hawk pin and Mieka had taken him to see the Shadowshapers at the Kiral Kellari. On his twentieth Namingday, he’d been at Fairwalk Manor, giving Mieka no opportunity to celebrate. To make up for that, Mieka had thrown a lavish party at Hilldrop Crescent for Cade’s twenty-first. His twenty-second had been another Shadowshapers show—the one where Princess Miriuzca had shown up with
Lady Megueris Mindrising, both of them dressed as young men. And a grand lark that had been; an exploit Mieka wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to surpass … though Cade had once had an Elsewhen about his forty-fifth, something about bubbly wine and a surprise party and a diamond in Mieka’s ear. Forty-five; Mieka couldn’t imagine it. But Cade had seen it, and by his scant telling, it had been a wonderful evening.
Last year they’d all gathered at Blye’s glassworks, ostensibly to watch her make their new withies but in reality to present Cade with the complete table service for eight she had spent weeks making. She had forbidden them to transport the plates, bowls, cups, goblets, and platters to Cade’s flat that evening, relenting only when Mieka promised a doubling and tripling of the cushioning spell his mother had taught him. Problem was, he’d had quite a lot to drink—although so had everyone else, raising the new wine goblets again and again, then deciding that the brandy snifters also deserved a try-out, and of course there were those bottles of Auntie Brishen’s whiskey that needed sampling in the cut-crystal glasses, and … the conclusion being that Blye had had to spend another week replacing the broken items. Mieka still winced with the memory of the crashing and splintering of two inadequately cushioned crates down four flights of stairs. And one couldn’t mend glass with an Affinity spell, not and have it hold water ever again.
There were plenty of things that needed mending after these last two years. Nothing that was permanently broken, or at least so Mieka told himself with grim resolve—well, except in Alaen Blackpath’s case. The loss of his cousin Briuly two years ago this Midsummer dawn had shattered him. A month later, he’d shown up at Sakary Grainer’s house in
Gallantrybanks with a glass thorn in one hand and a little gold velvet pouch of dragon tears in the other, and announced to Chirene, Sakary’s wife, that if she didn’t run away with him that very night, he’d begin using and wouldn’t stop until she was his or he was dead.
Romuald Needler, the Shadowshapers’ manager, had succeeded in hushing up most of the scandal. But the fact remained that Chirene had taken her children and gone to live with Chattim Czillag’s wife, Deshenanda, until the Shadowshapers returned that autumn from the Royal Circuit. Alaen wasn’t dead. Yet.
“Here, stop,” Mieka said suddenly, and hopped out of the hire-hack before it had come to a full stop. “Won’t be a tick-tock!” he called over his shoulder to Derien, and hurried inside.
The shop featured all manner of decorative collectibles. Mirrors, figurines, clocks, imagings, paintings, exotic flowers from faraway lands preserved under glass or with magic. But Mieka knew exactly what he wanted, having seen it displayed in the window, and a few moments later emerged with a wrapped package almost as tall as Derien.
“What is it?” the boy wanted to know as the hack started up again.
“Not it,” Mieka said. “Them.” He teased a corner of the paper wrapping to show a glint of iridescent blue.
“A round dozen of ’em.”
“But, Mieka, aren’t they horrid bad luck for theater folk?” An instant later, he understood. “Whistling past the urn-plot?”
“Exactly. Because if what we’ve been having is good luck in the theater, I’ll risk it. Me Mum calls it unsympathetic magic.”
“Do the opposite of what you really want to happen? That’s a little crazy, y’know.”
Not that anything truly awful had happened onstage—unless one counted Cade’s last new play. That had been over a year ago now, and the reactions had been … regrettable.
Nobody, including the rest of Touchstone, really understood what he’d meant to do. Mieka’s analysis was that whereas theater patrons didn’t mind thinking a bit, both during and after a play, they didn’t much enjoy thinking as a grim hour-long slog through far too many ideas.
“Turn Aback” was in Cade’s hands an exercise in stupefying boredom. Boy and girl in love.
Girl dies in tragic accident. Boy tries to broker a deal with the Lady to go get her; Lady is moved by True True Love and says fine, but on your way out, you mustn’t look back. Boy girds himself to travel into whichever Hell girl inhabits (though why she deserves any of them is left unclear), journeys through various unsavory provinces of punishment, increasingly nasty but not gruesome or bloody or even scary. At least Mieka could have had some good old gory fun with that sort of thing, been creative with the dragons that feasted on flesh that healed in an hour, or that poor stupid pillicock forever putting sand into a leaky hourglass, or the one about somebody standing lip-deep in a lake of shit.
Cade’s Hells were all intellectual (which didn’t surprise Mieka one bit, but made for a colossally dull play). Boy is distracted from search for girl by philosophical conversations with the tenants of each Hell, blither blather blether. Boy finally remembers what he’s there for, finds girl, fingers burned and bleeding as she spins molten gold into straw. Boy leads girl back to the entrance gates. She trips on a rock (silly cow). He looks back to make sure she’s all right, and just as their Eyes Meet with Longing and then with Sudden Horror, she vanishes. The End.
Tobalt had tried to put an interesting interpretation on it—something about how Cayden Silversun had woven scholarly moral speculation into a heartbreaking love story—but even he knew it was a bad play. Touchstone had performed it exactly three times. Then Mieka, Rafe, and Jeska all rebelled, and the script was mercifully scrapped.
But the fact remained: Cayden Silversun had failed.
He hadn’t liked it much.
Derien subsided into a corner of the hack, and Mieka read The Nayword during the rest of the drive to Cade’s place. The broadsheet had grown in recent years from one very large page folded in half to three very large pages folded in quarters—more the size of a book, really, than the standard broadsheet. It wasn’t the same old Nayword anymore, as its front page trumpeted.
WHAT TO READ—WHAT TO SEE—WHAT TO WEAR—
WHAT TO AVOID!
In this issue:
Special reports from our correspondents
at Court, throughout the Kingdom, and on the Continent
PRINCE ASHGAR and PRINCESS MIRIUZCA welcome a daughter
Exclusive interview with VERED GOLDBRAIDER
Complete coverage of this year’s Trials hopefuls
Student unrest at Stiddolfe after a rise in fees
With: ideas and advice from our regular columnists on all the latest in theater, books, dress, food, wine, gardening, and interior design
Mieka felt rather smug about the theater and fashion sections, considering that Touchstone (with the Shadowshapers) constantly innovated in the former and were known (with the Shadowshapers) as exemplars of the latter. He was even more smug about the gardening, because one of the regular columnists was his sister Cilka. Just fourteen, still in school, and already an authority (under a pseudonym, of course) in her field. Their mother, Mishia, wasn’t terribly surprised; her own sister Brishen had started up a little herb shop at the age of fifteen. The Greenseed Elfen line obviously dominated in them both. Cilka and Petrinka were already doing a brisk business in sculpted hedges, as prompted by Mieka’s description of such at Princess Miriuzca’s home castle on the Continent, and would someday take over Grandfather Staindrop’s gardening business.
As for “design”—for certes, Cade never paid any attention to advice columns about interior design, or exterior either. Rather than the grand town house Mieka had once envisioned for him, he had taken a corner room on the top floor of a building near the Keymarker, one of the old abandoned manufactories refitted as blocks of flats. The view was spectacular—from his windows one could see the Keeps in one direction and the Plume in the other, with the rooftops of Gallantrybanks spreading between, though these rather blocked any sight of the Gally River—but the hike up four flights kept most people from visiting very often. Mieka knew that was precisely why Cade had chosen it.
The staircase was stone to the second floor, then wood—nice and sturdy, according to Jed and Jez, who had insisted on examining the place before Cade signed the lease. Originally the top floor had been fitted out as a dormitory for the workers. Mieka shuddered, as he did every time he visited, at the idea of waking before dawn, working all day, and trudging back upstairs for food and sleep without ever once having breathed fresh air or seen the sun. A great many manufactories had moved out of the main sections of Gallantrybanks as the city expanded and the demand for urban housing increased, and there was no reason to believe that conditions were any better for workers even if the places were now in the countryside.
A knock on Cade’s door elicited an annoyed, “What?” Derien grimaced, tried the handle, found it unlocked, and traded scowls with Mieka.
“On the other hand,” the boy murmured as he opened the door, “except for the books, what’s he got worth stealing?”
“I heard that,” Cade said from the depths of his big, soft, overstuffed chair. “The brass is bespelled to recognize you. I’ve forgotten her name, but she was rather good at useful little tricks.”
Mieka resisted the urge to roll his eyes. There were lots of girls whose names Cade had forgotten. That there wasn’t one at the moment was obvious; the place was a mess. Clothes, glassware, paper, books, broadsheets, spent candles, towels, pillows, empty bags that must have contained food at some point because there was nowhere to cook—all manner of clutter was spread about the room.
Jez had built Cade a platform bed that was seven feet long, four feet wide, and six feet off the floor. The little cavern beneath was where he huddled at a desk to write. In the winter there was a firepocket to keep his feet warm, and in summer all the windows were left open to cooling breezes, but it was dark under there when the lamps weren’t lighted and there was nothing to look at but bricks and the bed’s wooden scaffolding. The other features of the flat were Cade’s big black upholstered chair, some uncushioned wooden chairs that did not encourage visitors to linger, a huge standing wardrobe to hold Cade’s vast collection of clothes (nearly as impressive as Mieka’s), a massive carpet given him by Lord Kearney Fairwalk, a small table that seated four, a cabinet for the glass dinner service made for him by Blye, another cabinet behind a latticework willow screen for the piss-pot, and bookshelves—also built by Jez—almost to the twelve-foot ceiling.
Of decoration there was very little. No placards advertising Touchstone, no tapestries, no paintings, no imagings. His Trials medals—two Winterly, three Royal—were in glass boxes on the bookshelves, and Mieka had the feeling whenever he saw them that the only reason they weren’t stashed in a drawer somewhere was that Blye had made the boxes. The counterpane made by Mieka’s wife and mother-in-law was crumpled at the foot of the bed. The only color in the room was the rug, its greens and blues like a forest pond in the middle of the city. The peacock feathers, fanning out in a jar or vase, would be an improvement.
Derien ignored Cade’s mood, putting on a smile and wishing his brother a happy Namingday. Cade expressed his gratitude indifferently. Mieka busied himself clearing off the table and setting out Mistress Mirdley’s tea. The search for a kettle took some time, and he kept his expression carefully neutral as Dery tried to engage Cade in conversation. Mieka went out to the landing where the spigot was, and encountered Rumble coming up the stairs.
“Anything to report?” he asked the cat, who curled around his ankles a few times before stepping lightly into the flat. “Big help you are,” he muttered, and hoped that Dery could coax Cade into some semblance of good manners.
No such luck.
When he got back, Dery was reading bits from The Nayword. “There’s something in here about Briuly, too.” Before Cade could say he didn’t care, Dery read out, “‘Still no word on the whereabouts of Master Lutenist Briuly Blackpath. His family is initiating legal proceedings to have him declared dead so that his estate can be sold to pay his debts.’”
“You’d think,” Cade mused, one finger scratching idly at his pathetic excuse for a beard, “that Lord Oakapple, his esteemed cousin or whatever he is, would pay up Briuly’s debts just to keep the family out of the law courts. But I never did get exactly how they were related, so perhaps it doesn’t signify.” He turned to Mieka. “How was Lilyleaf?”
“Fine. Croodle sends her best.”
Nodding to the new silver bracelet on Mieka’s wrist, he said, “Very nice. What did you give your lovely lady?”
“She saw a pink pearl in a shop. I had it made into a pendant.” It had cost a bloody fortune, too, but that was a small price for peace in his household.
Derien was the one who conjured up Wizardfire to heat the water. There was an iron ring for the kettle above a small iron cauldron, and the glances the boy gave his brother told Mieka that this was a new skill. Cade didn’t comment on it at all. In fact, nobody said anything while the water had boiled and the tea was brewed. The three of them sat there like polite strangers who have exhausted every topic of conversation and could find no reason to keep up any pretense of being interested in one other. As Cayden bestirred himself to pour out, Mieka considered various methods of shocking a reaction out of him—any reaction at all. But he’d been trying that, hadn’t he, for going on two years now, and with what results? Rarely, a response of the Do that again, and I’ll feed you your own balls marinated in plum sauce variety. Mostly, a look of mild contempt for his childishness. It was infuriating.
“Uncle Dennet died.”
Cade looked up from pouring out. “I hadn’t realized he was still alive.”
“Well, he was,” Derien went on. “And now he’s not. First we learned of it was when the Shelter sent his ashes to Redpebble.”
Mieka searched his knowledge of Cade’s family tree, and came up with Dennet Silversun, elder brother of Cade’s father Zekien, mad as a sack of snakes.
“Wasn’t he the one wounded in the war?” Mieka asked.
“What a refined way of phrasing it,” Cade observed. “He was seventeen and got in the path of somebody’s spell. He’s been in a puzzle house ever since.”
“Almost forty years,” Derien added. “It’s called the Shelter and it’s supposed to be very nice, very clean and kindly—”
“—as insane asylums go,” Cade interrupted. Then, with a nasty little smile, he said, “That’s our fate in the theater, Mieka. Forty years surrounded by madmen.”
Mieka eyed him thoughtfully. “Y’know,” he said at last, “you’re being a right pain in the ass. You’ve been being a right pain in the ass for a long time, and everybody’s tired of it. Write yourself some new lines, why don’t you?”
Cade’s smile spread fractionally. “I prefer to improvise.”
Mieka paid no heed to the pleading look on Derien’s face. He’d had enough. Long ago, he’d had enough. Setting down his cup, he snatched up a slice of carrot bread and made for the door. “Rehearsal tomorrow at the Kiral Kellari,” he said by way of farewell, and took the stairs three at a time.
Emerging into the thin spring sunshine, he found himself in luck at last: a hire-hack was just pulling up at the building’s front door, which meant he wouldn’t have to go searching. He signaled the driver with a raised hand, but the man shook his head.
“Hired to return,” he said, just as a boy of about ten jumped out and, on seeing Mieka, demanded, “Cayden Silversun?”
“Top floor. What’s the worry?”
“There’s been an accident. Mistress Windthistle sent me to fetch him at once.” He yanked open the front door.
“Wait—which Mistress Windthistle?”
But the boy had vanished.
Mieka’s mother, his sisters, his wife, Blye—all of them and plenty of others besides were Mistress Windthistle. He dithered in place for a moment, then asked the hack driver, “Where’d you come from?”
“Originally? Ambage Road. In this case, Lord Piercehand’s new gallery.”
“The woman who hired you—was she little and blond?”
“That she was. Bit of the Goblin about her, mayhap, but nothing to notice outright.”
Blye. Something had happened to Jed or Jez. “Cayden!” he shouted. “Cayden!”
* * *
It took forever before he and Cade and Dery were in the hire-hack driving towards the river. The traffic leading to the bridge was maddening. Even if a gallop had been legal, carts and riders and other hacks were so thick that only a walk was possible—and even so, their progress was in fits and starts. The boy Blye had sent was up top with the driver, yelling,
“Make way! Make way!” every so often, which had no effect except to infuriate everyone else, all of them going nowhere in a hurry.
The interior of the hack was silent with the tension of ignorance. Cade had explained tersely that on the walk downstairs he questioned the lad, who knew nothing except that there had been an accident and Mistress Windthistle had sent him with orders to bring Master Silversun.
Finally, with the Gally River in sight, Mieka could stand no more. “Get out,” he ordered Cade and Dery. “We’ll hire a boat. It can’t help but be faster.”
Scrambling down the embankment, they ran for a dock. Mieka dug in his pockets for coin, cursing himself for spending so much on those damned peacock feathers, coming up with enough to hire a craft that looked more or less able to hold the three of them plus the boatman. He forestalled the man’s attempt to haggle the price by saying, “Double when we get there. Just hurry!”
“Double? Easy enough to say, young sir!” Then he took a closer look at tall, Wizardly Cade and short, Elfen Mieka. “I know your faces from someplace, don’t I?”
“They’re half of Touchstone,” Dery put in. “They’re famous and they’re rich—please, I promise we’ll pay you double if you just get us there quickly!”
“Touchstone.” After further scrutiny, during which Mieka strove to look as much like their placards as possible (though, truth be told, there was never any mistaking Cade’s nose), the man gestured them into the boat.
Mieka hated boats. By the time they reached the site—a nice plot of land beside the river, nothing but the finest for Lord Rolon Piercehand—he had chewed his lower lip almost raw. Dery leaned forward in the prow, the way a rider leaned into his horse’s neck to urge speed. Cade squeezed in beside the boatman, took one of the oars, and rowed white-knuckled. By the time they reached the site, Cade’s hair and shirt were damp with the sweat of effort.
A gift to the Kingdom of Albeyn, it was, this new gallery to display a selection of Piercehand’s foreign plunder. Castle Eyot wasn’t big enough to hold the jumble of wonders and oddities and some genuinely beautiful things collected by His Lordship. On progress a year ago, Princess Miriuzca had professed herself enchanted with the place and very prettily persuaded him to share his haul with the public. The Palace would be lending certain of the Royals’ own hoard of paintings and statuary. Whether or not the Princess had also managed to steer some of the contracts for building the place to Windthistle Brothers was a matter of conjecture, but it remained that Jedris and Jezael were doing the wooden parts of the building and Blye would eventually be making the windows.
The foundation and exterior stones were golden yellow, with two curving grand staircases leading up from the street to the main entrance. Scaffolding laced the stone shell together: a few walls, unfinished interior columns, steel support beams. Arches and balconies abounded, some completed and most not. But the most notable feature was a tower, tall and spindly, made of stone and rising two hundred feet into the air. Word had it that when the gallery was finished, the tower would be topped with a solid gold statue brought back from some remote land by one of Piercehand’s many ships.
Currently the only decorations were clouds of dust.
“Right,” said the boatman. “So where’s my double the fare?”
Mieka and Cade scrambled up a few stone steps to the embankment as Dery snapped, “What you already have is all you get! My brother did half the work!”
Mieka blinked; for just an instant, the boy sounded like Lady Jaspiela. In the best possible way, of course.
“Rich!” the boatman sneered. “Famous! Rich and famous coggers is what you are! Come back here and honor your word!”
They left the boatman cursing unoriginally behind them. The crowd was all streetside: a mass of craned necks, like astonished cats peering out a window. Mieka got a good grip on Cade’s elbow and an even better one on Dery’s, and forced a route through the tangle. As he pushed and shoved, Mieka heard snatches of conversation, none of it pleasant. Speculation about how the scaffolding collapsed; contention that the scaffolding was intact but the stonework had crumbled; assurances that both wood and stone were to blame; estimates of how many had died. He wished he had Cade’s height, because then he might have seen the two red heads that were his only concern.
Suddenly they were at the Human barrier that kept the crowd from pressing forward. Not constables, but Lord Piercehand’s own liveried guards, dozens of them linking arms and looking grim. Mieka confronted the one directly in his path.
“I’m Mieka Windthistle—”
“Good for you.”
“But my brothers are—”
“Nobody gets in. Not until the physickers arrive.”
“They’re not here yet?” Cade demanded. “All these people, and not a single—?”
“Some ugly old Trollwife is tending the injured, that’s all. Stand back.”
It was Blye, dusty and frantic, running through the maze of stacked stone and cut boards. Cade tried to push through. The guardsman snarled. Cade snarled right back. A brief tussle ensued, during which Derien ducked down and darted between guards. Mieka tried to follow, and got a knee in the ribs. As he doubled over, Cade’s snarl turned to a roar.
“Stop it!” Blye shouted. “I’m Mistress Windthistle and these are my brothers! Let them by! Damn it, let them by!”
In the end, it was not a raised voice or angry words that got them through. It was Hadden Windthistle, in a calm, soft tone, saying, “Gentlemen, would you allow these young men through? Much beholden to you.”
A sliver of space was made. They slipped through. Mieka looked in wonderment at his father and asked, “How’d you do that?”
Hadden only shook his head. But as they jogged towards the building, Cade leaned down and whispered, “Didn’t you see that guard’s face? Your father magicked him!”
Copyright © 2015 by Melanie Rawn