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OMFG short story! (Part 2 of 2)

January 27th, 2009 (12:14 am)

Rump looked vaguely nauseous at the possibility of his master walking the streets at this hour.  Edmund would be entirely safe, of course; people who can tear a boar's head from the rest of its body tended to gain quite a reputation.  However, travelling without an entourage was entirely unfashionable in this age; the kind of act that saw the offender plummet awkwardly from the diving board of society (and despite what Lord Gray’s newspaper would have you believe, the swimming pool at the bottom is really two inches high and frequented by piranhas).

“Oh, my Lord—sir—you couldn’t possibly take such a menial task upon yourself—,” said Mr Rump, before his babbled protest was silenced by a wave of Edmund’s hand.

“With that thinking, Walter, our poor Sir Antonio will never get his dinner."  And it would serve the bastard right if he starved to death, added Edmund to himself.  There was no stopping him now though.  He had to do something, or he’d go mad.  Servants’ work was better than no work at all; otherwise there would be no servants.  Unfortunately, Mr Rump was also correct; the possibility of tonight’s banquet being seen to have not gone absolutely perfectly would lose him friends or, at the very least, face.

Edmund dismissed Mr Rump, commanding him to return to his tomatoes.  Once the haggard secretary had left the room Edmund opened the glass door leading onto the balcony, braced his boots against the wall, and with one acrobatic, twisted leap jumped up to grab the side of the roof, using his momentum to pull himself up.

From here he could see all the way across the City.  His sense of direction wasn't as great as it was in the wild, and his senses were deadened somewhat by the thickly greased layer of smoke that rose up out of the workshops and Company halls.  This high up the twilight smog was so bad it made his eyes water, but he could see well enough in the dark to make out the City's two most prominent landmarks, the Great Cathedral and the White Tower.

It was a mile by road to the Bank, but he came in at well over seven foot and he wore a rather striking uniform that included a large number of dangly metal bits; he was sure they had a name, but the aristocracy was too shallow for him to immerse himself completely within it.  The only possible option was to reach the bank without using the street, and that required some skills that even servants didn’t have.

Edmund tensed himself, and then ran as fast as he could towards the edge of the castle.  His raw instinct took over, and he leapt down as soon as he felt nothing but air beneath his feet.  It was a long drop to the next roof, but Edmund had a lot of practice, and it was a simple matter to expertly roll into another run as soon as he hit the roof.

His next jump took him over Little Trinity Lane, and then over Garlick Hill onto the Skinners’ Hall.  Streets began to blur beneath his feet, and the dusty brickwork crumbled whenever his boots smacked against a wall to gain momentum for the next jump.

He was already half-way there, after what felt like little more than a minute.  The solid bricks of Cannon Street station thundered under his feet for what seemed like a second before he vaulted over Walbrook.  He’d made his next jump before his instinct-driven mind had processed the destination, and when he landed he had to suppress the urge to immediately jump off.

The Mansion HouseCrap.

He moved as silently and as quickly as he could, but he couldn’t help but feel that someone was watching him for every second that he was on there.

It threw his mind off the next jump, the yawning chasm that was Poultry.  It was a titanic effort at the best of times and, thoroughly unnerved by the presence cautiously regarding him, he twisted too late.  He smacked painfully into the side of the building opposite, and a twisted pipe was the only thing that stopped him from falling to the street below.

Perhaps this hadn’t been the best idea in the world.  He would probably have to work on thinking these plans through before he bounded out like an excited pup.  Nevertheless, suspended five stories above the ground is hardly the ideal place to question one’s mode of operation, so he put all doubt out of his mind and crawled up the wall to the top of the roof, finding purchase in crumbling holes in the brickwork.

Thankfully, it was only one more jump to the Bank.  His sides ached, and it had been a while since he had felt thoroughly breathless.  He was glad for it; the lack of excitement recently had made him careless.

The Bank was a colossal building, and although Edmund had been in it before he could only attempt to gauge the approximate location of the Governor’s office from the outside.  Padding across the roof, he hung down from the gutter and hopped in through an open window in what he knew was the same floor as the Governor.

He landed in a corridor.  A score of senior clerks looked up from their desks, their sunken eyes adjusting from the documents they were editing.  The large double doors leading to Sir Antonio’s office were at the other end of the corridor.  Damn.

The clerks shuffled nervously as he walked through them.  There was some silent confusion over whether they should be blocking his path.  Eventually, some consciousness shared between them clearly determined that nobody, not even the Lord Lieutenant, could just walk into the Bank unhindered, especially if he came in through a fifth floor window.

“May we help you, Your Lordship?” said one of the clerks.  Edmund didn’t see which one.  Perhaps it didn’t matter; maybe they all spoke with a single voice.

“Probably not,” said Edmund, waving his hand dismissively in the air, vaguely hoping that it would displace the growing crowd of clerks.

It didn’t.  Clearly, this wasn’t going to be enough.

“I’m here for an audience with the Governor,” he said, trying a different tactic.

This threw the clerks again, and they were clearly unsure how to react.  What they needed was the conviction of seniority.

“Do you have an appointment, My Lord?” The speaker had an air of authority resembling a raging gale, stifled by the gentle wheezing sound produced by his actual lungs.  He was taller and slightly more smartly dressed than the other clerks, and clearly operated as something of a lord high functionary among them.

“I said I was here for an audience, not an appointment.”

“Mr Upstair, Your Lordship.”  It took a few seconds for Edmund to realise that he was giving his name.  It knocked his demeanour briefly, but he managed to recover before blinking.

 “Thank you, but I don’t care,” said Edmund.  He carried on walking towards the Governor’s office, but the clerks had found their totem, and were banding together to block his path.  The Chief Cashier, Head Clerk or Lord High Henchman, whatever purpose Mr Upstair fulfilled, hadn’t even granted him the courtesy of turning to follow him.

“The guards were under strict and careful instructions not to let anyone in without good reason—I, myself, saw to that,” Upstair continued.  “I trust you will therefore be able to provide me with your reason for being here, at this hour?”

Edmund’s grin showed off his teeth.  He hoped it had the same effect here that it had on deer moments before he smacked into them.  “Well, if the guards let me through, and you so carefully instructed them, I must have a very good reason.” He could see why this rhetoric had caught on.  Once you knew the rules, it was rather fun.

Mr Upstair was clearly not a man with a sense of humour, however.  “Sir, I must insist that you—”

“I am going through this door now.  Those of you who want to get out of the way may do so.  It doesn’t make any difference to me if some of you don’t.” Edmund always tried to keep his temper.  You never knew when a situation might explode needlessly.

“Believe me, My Lord, you might find yourself eating those words soon,” said Mr Upstair.  There was a jagged sniggering throughout the corridor, too confident for wiry men facing a man once described in the Gazette as “like an ogre, only bigger”.

Edmund’s spine tingled.  He’d heard rumours that Sir Antonio protected himself against some of the more rambunctious guild leaders, and it would be just his luck if he employed assassins, or worse, as his personal secretarial staff.  If he wanted to avoid things turning nasty, he’d have to do something clever, for a change.

“Fine,” he said, turning on his heel.  “I’ll just ask Lady De Winter to deliver the message herself.  Of course, I’m sure you’d be just as happy to block her path, so I’ll have to advise her that she’d also be wasting her time.”

It was a bluff.  He shouldn’t have used it, but it was entirely worth it to see their calmly composed faces collapse in horror.  Instantly all the clerks were back at their desks, scratching intently, and Mr Upstair was smiling broadly and motioning him towards the door.  He didn’t bother to knock.

“Good evening, Lord Lieutenant.” Sir Antonio didn’t bother to look up from his desk.

“Antonio, you son of a bleeding whore!  Do you explicitly order your clerks to insult me?”

“I wouldn’t say that, Edmund.  May I ask why you’re here?” Antonio may as well have stuck his finger up at him.  Edmund vaguely wondered what Ophelia would do to him if he slammed the Governor of the City’s central bank up against the wall and removed his spine in a manner that would have made bloody torture seem like master surgery.  The Wolfyule banquet probably wasn’t worth it, however, though if it had been the Modranach banquet things could have turned out somewhat differently.

“Would you like to come to dinner?” he said, in lieu of a savage beating.

That surprised Antonio.  He finally glanced up, and noticed Edmund’s scuffed uniform that demonstrated the Lord Lieutenant’s dedication to visiting him at this notice.

“I’m somewhat detained by the pressures of work right now, but I’m sure I could make an appearance at some later date.” Antonio was speaking carefully, quickly and calmly assessing the possible results of this conversation even while it was happening.

“I wasn’t inviting you out of courtesy.  Lady De Winter expressly wanted you to be there.  The heads of some very important financial institutions, including Messrs Thompson and French and the Governor of the Banque Royale are going to be there.”

        Antonio arched an eyebrow, raised high enough to contain his umbrage within a vault of decorum.

“Heavens, Edmund.  You, of all people, scared of Lady De Winter?”

“I am, and you would be a liar if you did not feel the same.”

Antonio leant back in his chair, and looked down again.  Like Edmund, he never visibly lost his temper, and there were times when they no doubt shared their distaste of some of their responsibilities.  But Antonio was willingly part of that machine, whereas Edmund constantly fought against it.  Ultimately, they were just too different.

That wasn’t going to stop them getting along, though.

Antonio sighed, and pinched the bridge of his nose.  “As it is an explicit request from the Sheriff—which I confess I had not appreciated when you sent your invitation,” he waved in the general direction of the waste paper basket that, Edmund assumed, contained his beautifully crafted invitation, “I am certain I could accommodate you on this occasion.  I will be present forthwith.”

        Edmund secretly let out the deep breath he had been accumulating since Rump had knocked on his door.  He resisted the urge to sag, and merely muttered a grunt to acknowledge Antonio’s acquiescence.  He turned to leave.

“Would you like the use of my carriage for your return?  I imagine it’s a lot safer than running about on the City rooftops?” said Antonio, his soft features now baring an entirely unfriendly smile.

“Not today,” said Edmund, “after all, you’ll need it yourself very shortly.”

He left through the window in Antonio’s office, just in case the Governor had arranged for him to be ambushed by his sinister clerks.  He took a different route back to Baynard’s Castle.  It was slightly longer, but avoided the anxiety of having to cross over the disquietingly barren roof of the Mansion House.  He was fairly sure that nobody had noticed him by the time he reached the Castle walls.

Nevertheless, when he arrived back at the balcony to his chamber, a large pitch-black raven was waiting patiently on his desk.  It stared accusingly at him, proffering a black envelope with the letter E stamped in bright red ink on the side.

Edmund was vaguely tempted to eat the messenger, but assumed that eating his master’s pet raven would not be taken as an amusing attempt to diffuse his transgression.

 

“Edmund—while I respect your dedication to your duties as Lord Lieutenant, I am distressed that you feel you have to put yourself in harm’s way.  I therefore hope that, in future, you do not feel obliged to repeat tonight’s little performance.”

 

It wasn’t signed.  It didn’t have to be.  Not many men used a black raven as a private postal service.  Remembering the bird, Edmund glanced around to see if it was still there.  He quickly spotted it perched on the balcony, waiting for an answer.

Edmund smirked.  “Alright, I apologise.  It won’t happen again.”

The raven evidently accepted this, and immediately took off in the direction of the Mansion House.

Edmund sighed, and sat down at his desk.  He stared at his door, and sincerely hoped that nobody and nothing would disturb him for the next hour.