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The Queen's Necklace -- Sample

Discussion in 'Teresa Edgerton' started by Teresa Edgerton, Sep 30, 2014.

  1.  
    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

    Joined:
    Nov 1, 2004
    Messages:
    12,721
    Location:
    California
    Prologue

    On a chilly autumn morning in the year 6509, a nondescript hackney coach jolted through the muddy streets of a great northern city and came to a halt in a dismal little square. The door flew open and two women—as discreetly colorless as to their gowns, hats, cloaks, and gloves as they had been in choosing a coach—stepped down to the slippery cobblestone pavement. The taller of the two dropped a few bright coins into the hand of the driver up on the box.

    "Wait for us just here." Her voice was low and intense, with the accent of one accustomed to command. A filmy black scarf thrown over her wide-brimmed hat concealed her face and shoulders, but her figure was straight, her movements graceful. There was a rustle of silken petticoats under the sober skirts of her gown.

    When the driver protested against keeping the horses standing, she silenced him with an upraised hand. "Our business is urgent—so may be our hasty departure."

    Turning sharply on her heel, she started down the nearest narrow street, shouldering her way through a knot of rough-looking men unloading beechwood casks from a wagon. Her companion followed in her footsteps, darting nervous glances to either side.

    A thick, oily fog had descended during the night, making it difficult to read the hand-lettered cards in the shop windows. But as she passed a tilted sign post, the smaller woman cried out. "Val—it is the wrong street. I knew there had to be some mistake."

    "Hush, Sophie. It is a quarter of a mile distant. If there is trouble later, the driver should know as little as possible."

    Sophie lengthened her steps, trying to keep pace. "But such a neighborhood. Could Chimena, even Chimena, abandon her child in a place like this?"

    "If she was desperate enough. If they were pressing her very hard, and it was the only way to keep the child safe."

    The street grew narrower and narrower still, finally dwindling to a dirty footpath. Val disappeared in the oily dimness up ahead; somewhere behind, Sophie thought she heard footsteps: the slow but firm tread of a very large man taking long, easy strides. She felt a sudden twinge of panic.

    Then, a freshening breeze blew cold and sweet full in her face; the fog lifted. The ground seemed to fall away, and the path opened on a vast blue-grey expanse of mud and sky and water, and what appeared, at first glance, to be an infinite network of piers and catwalks and floating bridges, connecting a likewise infinite number of ramshackle little buildings built up on stilts, a shanty town made up of mud and ooze and sticks and every sort of flotsam and jetsam. They had reached the great mudflats west of the river Scar.

    The two women descended a flight of rotting wooden steps and set out briskly across the piers and catwalks.

    The houses, though flimsy, were two and three stories high, with unsavory little shops down below. There were ale-houses and opium dens and gin shops advertising their wares in crooked letters: DRuNK FoR a PEnnY, DEaD DRuNK FoR TWo. There were greasy little cookshops redolent of squid and pickled seaweed. There were decaying hulks of ships and smacks and fishing hoys, stranded in the mud ages past, now converted into more of the wretched little dwellings. Smoke rose lazily from a few chimneys, but most of the interiors looked cold and dark.

    Gazing around her in wonder and disgust, Sophie came to a startling conclusion. "This is Goblin Town," she said.

    "Yes," Val replied in a low voice, as they crossed a narrow plank bridge between two of the piers. "This is Goblin Town. A miserable existence to be sure—yet on dry land, these vile hovels would be so many fire-traps. Out here in the damps, where even seasoned firewood is slow to burn, the creatures feel safe."

    Sophie looked down at the murky chemical stew that bubbled and seeped below the bridge. "But living right over the water! How can they—?"

    "We are ninety miles from the sea. The river here is a perfect hell-broth of plagues and poisons," said Val, "but no more noxious to Goblins than it is to Men."

    She came to a sudden stop before an untidy erection of driftwood and shingle. A dirty bow-front window jutted out from the worm eaten woodwork, and a number of faded signs had been stuck up at random. Bottle, Bone, & Rag Shop, said one. Old Clothes. Fine Costumes for Gentlemen, Ladies, Goblins, & Goblines. To Be Had Cheap, said another. And a third, equally faded but originally done in a bolder hand: Old Iron Bought, Books Bought, Curios & Antiquities Bought & Sold. Inquire Within.

    "Unless I am mistaken, this is the place."

    It was two steps down to the entry. The door creaked loudly when Val pushed it open, and a bell tinkled dully at the back of the shop.

    Inside, the stale air caught at the back of Sophie's throat and made her cough. On every side there was dust and clutter: tottering piles of books and papers; heaps of old clothing, dark with mildew; a jumble of broken furniture; pyramids of chipped crockery, tarnished silver, ancient tea kettles.

    And bottles everywhere—medicine bottles, ink bottles, scent bottles, dusty wine bottles with the dregs still in them, bottles of blue glass and green, bottles of every conceivable description—glinting in the light of a battered horn lantern hanging from a rusty iron bracket.

    Sophie shivered at the sight of the bottles with the crusted sediments. Once she had held a similar vessel between her trembling hands, a slender glass phial containing a handful of silvery ashes, and a strip of parchment scrawled with the terrible message: Your Maglore Princess is dead. Abandon the Dangerous course you follow, before you Destroy us all.

    "Chimena is gone. Betrayed and murdered by our own kind." Val's voice, directly in her ear, brought Sophie back to the present. "We can only hope she was somehow able to preserve the child."

    Something rattled the papers in another part of the room; there was the sound of a hasty scurrying departure down an unseen aisle. A row of skeletons at the back of the shop, dressed up in ragged finery and suspended from a beam, began to sway like so many bodies on a gibbet. Then a second door creaked loudly open, and a grotesque figure came into the light. Sophie drew in her breath.

    He was an old, old Goblin of a type not often seen: a Wryneck, all gangling limbs and long body, with a hump at the back of his neck that caused his head to thrust forward. He was the very picture of shabby Goblin respectability in a loose, snuff-colored coat, drab waistcoat and breeches, and grey woolen stockings, yet there were silver buckles on his shoes and his frizzled white hair had been tied back with a large black satin bow—marks of superiority far beyond the aspirations of his humbler Goblin neighbors, the Ouphs and the Padfoots.

    When he caught sight of his two visitors, he started visibly. "Ladies—" he began. Then his sharp old eyes seemed to detect something and he bowed very low. "You have come for the child?"

    Val lifted up her veil, drew forth a long, gleaming, pearl-tipped hat-pin, and fastened the veil back over her hat so that the silken folds fell down behind. "That remains to be seen. There are many questions which must be answered. The first one is: how such a child ever came under your protection."

    The Wryneck bowed again. "She was left in my care, madam, soon after she was born. The mother gave birth in a room above this shop, lived here for a time, then left in haste the following summer. Alas, I can no longer say that the child remains under my protection. I did what I could for her as an infant, but as she grew—she became unmanageable."

    Val stepped forward into the light. There had been reason for the concealing veil; if her face was not beautiful, yet it was memorable, with bold dark eyes, a high-bridged nose, and a vivid red mouth.

    "Such children are often difficult; they are powerfully inclined to be stubborn and willful. Unless, that is, they are left in the care of those who know how to discipline them." Val made an impatient gesture. "So the child proved unmanageable. What then?"

    "She turned feral. She lives for the most part out of doors, though she comes inside when the weather is bad. She is here now." Again there came a rustling among the moldering piles; a musky, bestial odor seemed to penetrate the dead air.

    Sophie glanced nervously around her. But Val moved swiftly. Heedless of all—the rising dust, the scattered papers, the sudden clattering of the disturbed skeletons—she swooped down, caught hold of a retreating scrap of dirty cloth, and pulled a ragged child into the light.

    The child shrieked and began to struggle. But a few sharp words, a smart blow to the head, and it cowered submissively at Val's feet.

    "As I said—unless they are left in the care of those who know how to discipline them."

    Sophie looked down at the child. So dirty, so wild, so abject. Stunted as it was, with a pinched face and tiny claw-like hands, it was the size of a Human child just learning to take its first steps—but there was something about the bright, wary eyes that betrayed a considerably greater age and experience.

    Sophie cleared her throat. "When was it—she—born?"

    "Eleven years ago, madam, almost to the day."

    The women exchanged a significant glance. "For all that, we must make very certain." Val turned her brilliant dark eyes on Sophie. "Did you bring those things I told you?"

    Sophie searched in her little jet-beaded purse and finally came up with a white handkerchief and a silver phial. Meanwhile, Val produced a second wicked-looking hat-pin. "I'll hold her while you prick her."

    Another struggle ensued, when the child guessed their intentions, but one dirty finger was eventually pierced; three drops of blood were squeezed out on the white handkerchief. Sophie unstoppered the silver phial and poured the contents over the red stain.

    "Ahhh—" breathed the Wryneck, as the linen began to steam where seawater touched blood.

    "Maglore in any case." Val panted softly as she knelt on the floor with the child crushed against her chest. "She's no Ouph or Padfoot with that straight back and tiny feet. And perhaps, cleaned up, she may resemble Chimena. Who else knows of her existence?"

    "The Humans who frequent Goblin Town have seen her, certainly, but they pay small attention to feral children, of which there are so many in the neighborhood. Aside from that—I imagine every Goblin within five miles of this place knows what she is, but they will say nothing."

    "And do you tell me that no one else ever asked uncomfortable questions?"

    The Wryneck shook his head. "There were Men who came—I will call them Men; they never told me otherwise. They asked many questions about the mother. I told them what I knew of her, which was essentially nothing, and as they did not seem to know there was a child, I saw no reason to enlighten them."

    Val rose to her feet, still keeping a hard grip on the little girl's arm. "We will take the child with us, as you suggested in your letter. No doubt you will be glad to be rid of so tiresome, so dangerous a charge."

    "Let us say," said the Wryneck, bowing, "that I shall be glad to place her in the care of those able to protect her."

    Val moved toward the door, leading the child by the hand, while Sophie trailed behind with the phial and the handkerchief. But the old Goblin stopped them, asking to speak a private word to Val. She considered for a moment, then sent the others on to the coach without her.

    (continued next post)
     
  2.  
    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

    Joined:
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    Messages:
    12,721
    Location:
    California
    The rag-and-bottle shop was suddenly very quiet as Val faced the old Goblin across a pile of broken furniture. "I suppose you expect to be rewarded," she said, her lips curling into a scornful smile.

    In the pale yellow light of the horn lantern, the Wryneck looked immeasurably ancient. Val wondered how old he might be; his kind were fabulously long-lived, even among Goblins. It was impossible that his life and memory stretched all the way back fifteen hundred years to the glorious days of the Maglore Empire, but it was just possible that, as a very young Goblin, he had spoken with those of his own kind who had lived then and did remember.

    "A reward? Madam, you wrong me. Rather, I wish to be unburdened of another responsibility that has been mine—most reluctantly mine—these ten years and more."

    He disappeared into a room at the back, and reappeared several minutes later holding a small brass coffer. Placing the box carefully on a pile of books, he opened the lid and drew out a necklace: a double string of milky white stones. They looked like pearls, but they were not pearls, and Val knew they were something far colder and infinitely more perilous. At the point farthest from the clasp, linking the two strands together, there was a heart-shaped pendant of clouded crystal.

    "Perhaps you have seen this before?" said the Wryneck.

    Val reached out and took the cold stones into her hands. Even through her black gloves the chill penetrated. Yes, she had seen the necklace before. Itwas not one of the Great Jewels, which the Maglore of old had invested with such awesome power, but these artificial stones had been created at the same time and of the same elements as those in the greater Jewels. Though potent enough in its own way, it was doubtful the necklace had ever been intended as anything more than an amorous plaything for a Goblin princess, who had far greater forces at her command. It had never been more than a toy to Chimena, who had used its peculiar properties to attract and entrap, and sometimes to torment, her numerous lovers.

    Holding the necklace, Val felt a queasy sense of wrongness. For a moment, it was as though she could actually see inside the old Goblin: the long, thick, fibrous spinal cord, glowing with the scintillating colors of the astral light—that complex structure of tiny vessels which was the rete mirabile, at the base of the brain, busily transforming the red blood into a pure, subtle spirit—most ofall those delicate branching nerves, which she might set vibrating either in ecstasy or in pain with the barest intention—

    A shiver passed over Val's skin, and she looked away. "How did you come by this?"

    "It was sent to me by the mother, a few months after she left. I understood it was to be passed on to the child."

    Val gazed down at the necklace, with a deep sense of revulsion. It seemed a peculiar gift from a mother to her innocent newborn child. "You might have sold this any time these last ten years."

    The Wryneck looked at her reproachfully. "The necklace was not mine to sell. Madam, I'm only an humble shopkeeper, but I come of a distinguished family, an honorable race. My father and grandfather were philosophers, scientists—"

    "Well, they must have been," Val interrupted him. "They could hardly have been otherwise."

    "As you say," he agreed, blushing faintly. Wrynecks were as shy about discussing the details of their dry scientific conception as other creatures, more conventionally conceived, were reluctant to discuss theirs. "I, on the other hand, am as you see me—yet I am an honest Goblin. I had an idea this Jewel had never been profaned by Human hands, and I wished it to remain so."

    Val slipped the necklace into the front of her gown. "If you are wise, you will forget that you ever saw these stones, the child, or her mother."


    ***


    Back inside the coach, she pulled out the necklace and showed it to Sophie. Sophie shuddered distastefully, screwing up her face. "Oh Val, you had the thing there right next to your skin! I remember how Chimena—"

    "Yes, yes. It is a wanton's plaything, but I doubt I'll be infected with a taste for perversion just by touching it." Nevertheless, Val wrapped the necklace up in a handkerchief before she slipped it back inside her gown.

    "Will we sell it?" asked Sophie. "But how can we? Dangerous to sell, but much more dangerous to keep!"

    The hackney lurched into motion. "I haven't decided. It is the only thing the girl will ever have of her mother's. And who knows—it may prove useful." Val looked down at the child, who had curled up under the other seat and apparently fallen asleep. "What a vile little thing she is. It will take months to undo the neglect of so many years. The first step will be to break her will."

    Sophie smiled wistfully at her friend across the coach. Though they appeared much the same age, that appearance was deceptive. Val was considerably older and had played an important role in Sophie's upbringing. "I daresay it will go hard with her if she doesn't learn quickly."

    "It will go hard with her regardless. She will be controlled; she will be disciplined. I'll not see her grow up to repeat her mother's mistakes."

    Sophie raised her voice in order to be heard over the creaking of the wheels. "What of the Wryneck? Poor old fellow. Must we have him silenced?"

    Val considered for a long time before she spoke. "I think—not immediately. It might cause others to draw dangerous conclusions. And perhaps not at all."

    Sophie was amazed. "Compassion—from you, Val? I hardly expected it."

    Her friend passed this off with a wave of one thin white hand. "He is honest and loyal; I believe we may rely on his discretion. Besides, like the necklace, he may prove useful."
     
  3.  
    The Judge

    The Judge Truth. Order. Moderation. Staff Member

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    Well, that's certainly whetted my appetite!

    (And I love the way you get the Gin Lane "Drunk for a Penny" quote in there!)
     
  4.  
    HareBrain

    HareBrain Big Rabbit of Chrons Staff Member

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Poshville, West Sussex
    Oh, yeah, that's the good stuff ...
     
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