Edmund’s Notebook 15: New Friends

https://www.flickr.com/photos/twm_news/7447732100/

Image: A Young Scholar, Tyne & Wear Archives; Museums

A poem by Sir Edmund Moulde, in the style of Walter de la Mare, written during Sir Edmund’s Manic Period

Here sits a most marble lady,
Heavy of breast and heart was she;
I think she was the most beautiful lady
That ever read a story to me.

Her beauty doesn’t vanish nor will it pass;
It is not rare — though cold it be;
And when she crumbles, she will still remember
That time she read a story to me

Advertisements

Tayatra Asks For Help

“Please explain.” Tayatra demanded. “Does the Moulde family still own Moulde Hall?”

“Yes,” Edmund said. “At least, it does for the moment. I think the estate is in a bit of trouble.”

“Indeed,” the voice said. “Who is Patron now?”

“It’s Matron…” Edmund paused. What was her name? He thought back as hard as he could, trying to remember if he had ever heard Matron’s full name. He felt like he had… perhaps in the carriage on the way to Moulde Hall…or when he was listening to Tricknee argue with her…

“Mander,” he said, finally. “Matron Mander Moulde.”

“I do not recognize the name Mander,” the statue said after another dog and wheel. “How long have I been still?”

“I don’t know exactly how long,” Edmund shrugged. “I know Rotchild was Matron’s great-great-great-great-grandfather, if that helps.”

The dog got caught in the wheel for a long time, and then there was another longer pause where nothing made a sound. The recumbent pose that Tayatra had struck suddenly seemed less relaxed, and more sorrowful. Then, Tayatra spoke again, slowly and methodically.

“Six generations,” she said.

Edmund tried to think of something to say, but what did someone say to a statue that had been asleep for so long? He kept quiet instead. Finally, after another pause that seemed to last forever, Tayatra spoke again, her voice clear and businesslike.

“I will help you, Edmund Moulde, if you help me,” she said. “Please find as much string as you can to help with my repairs.”

The string wasn’t too difficult to find. At first Edmund wondered if he would have to return to the cellar for the third time today, and if there wasn’t any faster way to get from one to the other. Perhaps he could somehow enlarge the path the rat had taken?

Then, he remembered that he had seen large spools of thread next to gigantic rolls of cloth In one of the many storage rooms Edmund had found during his wanderings. It took him a few tries to remember which storage room it was, but since the hour was so late, he wandered freely, unconcerned with being seen by his cousins.

He eventually found the storage room on the fourth floor, and wrestled one of the pumpkin-sized spheres of thread out of the room and started rolling it towards the elevator.

Edmund pressed the call switch and the elevator slowly rose into view, the door opening to reveal Wislydale standing squarely in the middle of the cylindrical room. Surprise flashed briefly across his face, his ubiquitous glass of liquor hovering an inch under his nose, before a sly smile slithered across his mouth.

Tayatra

Edmund stared at the slumped figure of the statue.

The voice was very faint and rough, like the throat was rusty from disuse, accepting of course that this voice came from no living throat. Suddenly, Edmund felt very self-conscious. In an instant, he was no longer alone; now he was in the company of something entirely new–something with a voice.

Edmund stood, and slowly walked around the statue. It still hadn’t moved. He cleared his throat nervously.

“Can you hear me?” he asked, tentatively.

“I can hear you quite clearly,” the statue said. “However, my eye is currently blocked, and my strings seem to be hampered, preventing my movement. I hesitate to ask when you have done so much already by returning my voice, but would you able to help me a bit more?”

“You can’t move?” Edmund asked, piecing together what he could understand.

“That is correct,” the statue said, her voice wispy and tired. Edmund realized that the curve of the alcove was twisting the sound so that it seemed to come from the wall itself, rather than the base of the statue. “First, I will tell you my name to establish trust. My name is Tayatra.”

Edmund felt a chill run down his spine. Now this thing not only had a voice, but a name. He had thought the statue would simply move when he activated it–perhaps dance or write something on paper, but not speak.

“My name is Edmund,” he said nervously, smoothing his rumpled shirt down after a long pause.

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Edmund,” Tayatra said. “Now, to the repairs. Are the strings untangled and free to move?”

“What strings?” Edmund asked. “The only string I’ve found was the wick I tied to the silk cone.” There was a pause before Tayatra spoke again.

“I understand,” she said–Edmund supposed it was a she, rather than an it. “This will take some time then. Can you please acquire a large quantity of string? Tayatra will then instruct you how to use it in the repairs.”

“I suppose,” Edmund admitted, feeling uncomfortable. “I don’t know how long that will take though.”

“Surely you can simply ask Patron Rotchild for some string,” she responded, sounding as confused as a statue with ragged silk vocal chords could. “He was always willing to aid in my repairs.”

“Did he build you?” Edmund asked.

“I was a gift to him from his father, Patron Plinkerton. Has he not explained me to you? He used to constantly talk about me to his guests.” There was a pause, and a sound like a grumbling dog whose head was stuck in a rusty wagon wheel. “I must not hold his interest any longer. He has moved on to far more complicated and interesting things.”

“Rotchild is not Patron any more,” Edmund said. There was another pause as the dog got caught in the wheel again.

“My master is gone?” she asked.

The Final Piece

It looked like a small funnel.

At one end of the object was a small tube with tiny holes that Edmund recognized as designed to latch onto the catches he had found in the statue. The tube then twisted and expanded, becoming conical. The wide end of this cone was covered with two touching strips of thin silk, the edges ragged and torn from the rat’s curious nibbling.

It was grimy, tarnished, covered in dust and filth, bits of it were slimy, and as Edmund gripped it in his hands, it was one of the most beautiful things he had ever seen.

As he turned to run back down the passageway, he noticed through the haze of victory that the rat was sitting, staring at him with what Edmund imagined was a calm expression for a rat. Edmund purposefully stepped to the side, pressing himself against the wall, the piece of the statue still gripped in his fingers.

“Thank you,” he said, wondering if champion knights felt like this when they saluted their opponents after a hard fought tournament. The rat looked at him a moment longer, and then scampered past him back to its home. Edmund smiled–it felt like he had made a friend.

Edmund returned to the library, checking along the way to make sure no one saw him in his slightly dirty clothing in case they asked him what he was up to. Kneeling down behind the statue, he carefully fit the piece into place over the catches on the small pipe. When the piece clicked into place, he let out a sigh of satisfaction.

“There,” he said to himself, pulling his hand out of the machinery. “That’s done.”

He heard the air begin to blow through the tube again. As it did, the silk at the end of the cone vibrated, and a soft raspy thrumming filled the alcove. It stopped almost immediately, and then came again, twice in short sharp bursts. Edmund saw two small tines immediately above and below the cone quiver and then fall still.

Something else? There must be–but he was close now, he could tell!

The tines had the small key apparatuses on their edges, and looking closely, Edmund could see two small metal loops on the edge of the cone–the perfect place to tie a piece of string.

He found a small piece of string in the library and managed to saw it in half with the bronze letter-opener. Unable to support himself, Edmund needed to lie on his belly to reach into the machine with both hands and properly attach the string to the tines and the edges of the cone.

There was a pause, and then the air began to blow again. Edmund saw the tines twitch, the string tighten, and the cone slowly bend as the silk straightened. The tone bent and twisted around the saw-edged silk and the tines strained as the sound became thinner and quieter, spiraling and waving back and forth as the tines twisted and pulled and jerked about like fishing rods.

And what the sound said, was;

“Thank you.”

The Rats Nest

Edmund moved past the small door towards the far wall, and saw that where the wall had curved around the library, someone had miss-measured a piece of paneling. There was a gap, at least a foot wide, between the stone wall of the library and the wooden wall at the end of the passage.

As Edmund bent closer to look into the gap, he found himself staring at a large rat’s nest. At least, he thought it was a rat’s nest. It was taller and more intricate than any vermin hole he had ever seen. It was made from bits of fabric, moldy wood, strange metal sheets, and a vague smell of pungent milk. The front of this strange mound was wide, and when Edmund peeked cautiously inside, he once again saw the glint of the rat’s eye as it stared out at him…

Was it his hope-filled imagination? Or was there something else glinting inside?
It looked fairly far back, and the hole was not quite wide enough to allow his arm easy access, so Edmund unhooked the curved snuffer from the side of the candle and began to work the soft metal back and forth, weakening the joint between the bell and hook. Then, it was only the work of a moment to jam the bell against the wall and break it off with a soft snap.

His make-shift hook in hand, Edmund crumbled the rest of his bread a respectable distance away from the hole and waited, his breathing slow and steady. He only had to wait for a minute before the rat stuck its nose out from its nest and darted towards the pile of stale bread.

Quickly, Edmund slipped forward and placed himself between the rat and the small alcove that held its nest. When the rat turned around with the bread in its mouth, it froze and stared at Edmund, its whiskers quivering.

Confident he now wouldn’t hurt the rat with his hook, he bent down and carefully inserted the bent bronze snuffer into the hole, gently poking and prodding anything he felt inside. Most of it was squishy, some slightly soft. the few hard things he found turned out to be little more than rocks when he pulled them out. The rat squeaked furiously behind him as he continued to search, and he was just beginning to despair again when he twisted the snuffer and heard a soft metal clink.

His heart leapt as he twisted the hook again, and gently teased the metal object out from the nest. It was awkwardly shaped, so it took a few tries to get it to the point where he could grab and pull the object out completely, but when he finally gripped it in his hands, he had no doubt it was what he was looking for.

Hunting Between the Walls

Crumbling up the leftovers of his bread, Edmund sprinkled a little bit next to the stacks where the rat was hiding. After a moment, the crumb was gone. He didn’t see the rat come out again, so Edmund moved slowly around the stacks and tried again. And again, the rat was there and gone in the blink of an eye. Edmund moved again, and dropped some more bread. This time, he saw where the rat was running after it picked up the stale crumbs.

He carried on dropping bread and watching the rat until he saw it vanish into a small hole in the stacks. Peeking cautiously into the hole, he once again saw the glint of the rat’s eye as it stared out at him.

Edmund tried to think, conjuring a map of Moulde Hall in his mind. Was there a hidden passageway that surrounded the library? There were several walls that looked like they may have been doors once, but had been sealed up by old and strict stones or bricks. What about behind the statue? He didn’t remember finding a stone wall anywhere inside the passages, much less one that was circular like the library, but it had been dark and he hadn’t been paying close attention to what the walls were made of.

Then, in a flash of inspiration, Edmund remembered a small stretch of thin stairway that had curved all the way from the first to the fourth floor.

Pocketing the rest of his bread, Edmund picked up an ornate candle with a snuffer hooked on the side, and dashed off to the elevator, his mind already tracing his path to the nearest secret door. Within minutes, he was crawling through the thin passages between the walls, desperately trying to hold on to the image of Moulde Hall in his head. He was positive he could find the library through the secret passageways, and with any luck he might find the rat’s home too.

When he reached the bottom of the long curved stairway, he pulled some more bread out from his pocket and sprinkled it on the ground. Standing very still, and breathing as quietly as Pinsnip had taught him, he stared in the pile of crumbs in the flickering candle-light. It took a few moments, but the rat soon appeared from the gloom, grabbed the bread, and vanished again down the passage.

Edmund followed until he reached a small door in the outer wall that lead into the brightly lit passages of Moule Hall. The passage kept going, but even in the dim light he could see that it was only a short distance to a dead end.

Or rather, Edmund corrected himself, that was what it looked like.

Searching for Answers

Edmund couldn’t help but feel discouraged.

He tried to smooth the thick rock in his stomach with the remnants of the rat’s half-eaten bread, but it didn’t help. The thick crust filtered into his bowls and sat there like congealing cement. He stopped eating when he realized he couldn’t taste the food any more. Instead, he began to aimlessly flick small crumbs of the stale bread across the large library table and onto the floor.

Perhaps he would have to ask for help? He didn’t travel much further down that line of thought–Matron might be the only one who could help him at the moment, but somehow he didn’t feel she knew anything about machines, even if she would be inclined to help him, which he doubted.

All of a sudden, the rat darted out like an arrow from a nearby shelf, ran over to one of the crumbs, stuffed it into his cheek like a squirrel, and vanished again into the stacks. The little rodent could have holes all over the hall, Edmund thought. He wondered if there was anywhere the rat couldn’t go.

Where could the missing piece have gone? The clasps looked like they were designed to attach to a piece of metal, and metal didn’t rot. At least, not for a very long time. And the rest of the inner workings of the statue looked perfectly fine. Had whatever this piece had been somehow fallen off? Probably not; there hadn’t been any metal pieces under the tube.

The rat snatched another piece of rock-like bread.

It had to have been taken off, then, hadn’t it? Maybe someone had torn off the piece before covering the statue up. But why would anyone do that? If the statue had run down, why bother removing another piece? And then why hide the statue with a tapestry? Unless the Vitae had run down after the statue had been hidden, but then why cover up the statue if it could still function? The more he thought about it, the less sense any of it made.

The rat appeared and vanished.

Slowly, Edmund stood up, staring intently at the stacks as he carefully aimed and tossed another piece of bread. After a moment, the twitching of the rat’s whiskers peeked out from under the shelves followed very slowly by the head. Then, like a lightning bolt, the rat came and went with the crumb.

Or, Edmund thought, perhaps it happened after the tapestry had gone up? Perhaps an inquisitive and hungry thing, a thing used to hard bread and crunchy insects, had sniffed around too close, squeezed through one of several small holes, and maybe thought this strange thing was food? Maybe it pulled too hard on a weak spot as a result, or nibbled on the catch. Perhaps it was building a nest, and thought whatever the piece was would make for good bedding.

Perhaps, Edmund thought, just perhaps, he should follow the rat.

The Statue is Powered

Thankfully, he didn’t have to wait long before the dark fur and pink feet darted across the floor, dragging the copper wire with it. Edmund grabbed the wire and quickly slipped the rat out of its harness before it scratched him, and then left it to its feast.

Carefully, Edmund tied the copper wire to the thick copper cable that framed the furnace, and ran back upstairs to the Library. There, he threaded the other end into the small glass vial, and waited again.

Within seconds, the tell-tale flash of blue lit the room, and the copper wire glowed a faint red. Within seconds, sparks flickered in the recesses of the statue, jumping out of the small glass vial and dancing on the top of the liquid. Edmund waited for the sparks to subside before he pulled the wire out of the statue, and bent down to look closer.

The vial was glowing a steady pale blue. At first, nothing else happened. Then, with a creak, several of the gears slowly began to turn. The metallic tines began to move like teeth, shakily quivering as they jerked up and down. A sudden burst of air from a small tube hit Edmund in the chin, and then everything went still.

Edmund waited for a few moments, staring at the mechanism. Nothing else happened. He looked up at the statue, wondering if it had moved at all, but it still held the lazy pose of a sleeping woman.

There was a snapping sound, and he looked back at the gears in time to see the tines move up and down, like they were being tested. Another blast of air, longer than the first spewed out from the small curved brass tube, and then the machine fell still again. The air began to blow once more, sporadically, like a gas vein with a leak, and then stopped.

Edmund felt his chest tighten. He looked at the statue again, but it was as stable as ever. He touched it, but the cold stone didn’t move. Hoping against hope, he shoved it hard, but the rock was solid as a mountain. Despite his best efforts, the statue was still.

Edmund touched the air-tube. It was neither hot nor cold, nor did it seem broken, but there were some strange knobs on the side that felt like clasps. Was there something else missing? It was frustrating to think that he had gotten so close, only to be stopped yet again.

His heart sinking, he fell to his hands and knees and crawled out of the alcove. Part of him tried to stay positive, thinking he might be able to find some other blueprint, some diagram that could show him what piece was missing.

He ran back out into the library, looking around in all the different places where a secret clue might hide, but as hard as he tried he didn’t find a thing.

Hatching A New Plan

Somehow, just learning something else about Moulde Hall made Edmund feel better. One minor mystery solved, and once again he did it on his own–without help. It reminded him of the first time he had made his way from his room to the Foyer without Ung.

As he thought back to that night, it felt like someone else who had run in a panic from hallway to hallway. Somehow, the whole mansion didn’t seem quite as scary as it had when he first arrived.

Edmund felt a bit odd about that fact. He had seen so many strange and new things… there was something almost unsettling about how he was beginning to find them all familiar.

Another flash of heat and blue shook Edmund from his thoughts, and he ran to the shelves, grabbing one of the crank-lanterns and throwing a small coil of copper wire over his shoulder.

Without wasting any time, Edmund ran all the way back to the Library. The stone woman was still there, her head resting on the desk.

Edmund carefully began to dismantle the lantern. Using the thin blade of the letter-opener, he unscrewed every screw he could see and twisted off the small glass jar that held the tiny lighting filament.

In no time at all, Edmund had twisted one end of his wire over the filament, and was cranking away as he made his way to the alcove. Without the glass jar the light was dim and diffuse, almost less than a candle, and the glow only lasted a few seconds after he stopped cranking, but it was enough to pry off the stone cover and glance into the dark recesses of the small engine.

Cranking the lantern again, Edmund found the small glass cylinder in the back, with the two thin wires encircling it. Carefully, he threaded the other end of his own wire into the top, pushing it down until it reached the bottom and dipped into the milky blue liquid.

Holding his breath in anticipation, Edmund began to crank as fast as he could.

It took a long time before Edmund realized, as he spun the crank, that the liquid was beginning to glow a faint blue. He paused and bent as close to the statue as he could to be certain, but when the light from his lantern had faded, the faint blue faded too.
It wasn’t enough, Edmund realized. He needed more electricity from somewhere. He needed…

A crack of thunder shook the mansion.

Edmund looked up at the ceiling, an idea brewing in his mind.

There might have been enough copper wire to thread all the way from the statue up to the elevator and then down to the cellar again, but Edmund thought that his idea was safer. There was less chance of being noticed by his cousins, if nothing else.

Catching the rat had been the hardest part of the plan. Eventually Edmund had to bait it with sour crusts of bread, sneak up on it using the best of Pinsnip’s teachings to stay quiet, and lasso the rat with the copper wire. After the rat had been given a small copper-wire harness, and Edmund had been given several scratches and a few bites, he let him go and tied the other end of the wire to the statue.

Then, in the cellar, Edmund dropped a fist-sized chunk of dry bread from the pantry, and waited, hoping that the rat wouldn’t get caught, or tie itself up between the walls.

The Cellar Again

The woman was still in the alcove, her head resting on the stone desk.

Edmund crawled behind it, the faint glow of his concoction providing a small bit of light, and pulled off the stone cover. Peering in to the statue, his eyes sought out the small glass cylinder in the recesses of the machine. He saw it almost immediately, sitting almost exactly at the center of the machine with two wires dangling down into it and some strange mechanical contrivance on the bottom.

A bit of wiggling freed it from the machine’s grip, and enabled Edmund to pour the Mechanus Vitae into it. He wasn’t sure exactly how much of the liquid was required to make the whole thing work, but he only had enough to fill the vial half way; he hoped it would be enough.

Slowly, he set the empty glass down and pushed his hand through the gears and tines to fit the Mechanus Vitae back into the statue. He had some trouble getting it to fit before he realized that his hand was shaking. Taking a deep breath, he steadied his hand, and pushed the glass vial into place with a snap. As he carefully withdrew his hand from the nest of gears, the vial began to glow brighter.

Now, all he needed was some wire and a Reticulating Electolyzer. And he was positive he knew where to find them.

Another storm was brewing while Edmund made his way to the cellar. The thunder echoed around him as he sneaked down the servant’s stairs towards the large slumbering furnace.

It was a simple process, he reflected as he walked. The work of Dr. Shteen in postencardiographology had proven the restorative and energizing effects of electricity on the human body, it was no great leap to consider the effects might be similar on a mechanical automation.

What was the difference, after all?

The blueprint had proven it. The Mechanus Vitae had to involve some connection with electricity; the principles of the Pinkerton Engine wouldn’t have worked, otherwise. If he could return some of that electricity to the machine, it might–it had to activate itself.

When Edmund reached the cellar, the roaring from the furnace was louder than ever. He had no sooner taken his third step when a bright blue flash jumped from the ceiling to the ground. A blast of heat struck Edmund seconds before an explosion echoed through the cellar. Edmund clapped his hands to his ears as the sound tore through the room.

Looking at the furnace, he realized in a burst of inspiration why the furnace roared so loudly–it was open to the sky. There must have been an open chimney on the roof that connected to the furnace, with the wind causing the distant rumbling that was magnified by the massive metal cylinder.

Edmund moved closer, and cautiously inspected the side of the furnace. All along the sides were thick copper cables that descended from the ceiling and into the ground. The lightning rods on the roof were connected through the chimney.

Quickly, he pulled his hand back and stepped away from the copper.