Upon a Quiet Afternoon

For this particular day, Lady Merriwether Fawkes sits in her conservatory, the great room where most of the festivities of The Masque of All Souls will be centered. A writing desk has been brought in for her and a tea service sits on a tray at her elbow, a cup of golden green tea steaming fragrantly in its saucer. An intermittent stream of young persons passes into and out of the room, which is open to the softly lit patio and garden just without. They are carrying invoices, calling cards, room decor, cleaning utensils and supplies, personal letters, business communiqués, the inevitable bouquets of fresh flowers from any of a dozen or so devils at the Brass Embassy, as well as other errata that go toward the production of the Monday’s Masque and, less happily perhaps, to the eventual closing of this house.

The bustle is contained and orderly, with quite a bit of good humour and japing among Esther’s young nieces and nephews, and even a few laughing sallies from the lady herself. It’s a good day to be quietly preoccupied with such matters, as they are mostly to do with celebration and shared joy. The only thing which might make it better is shared company — and for that, Scarlet has said she would come.

“Esther dear, do remember to bring in fresh tea when Scarlet arrives, please. I’m afraid I’ve drunk most of this pot already.”

“Of course, milady,” the housekeeper replies, a faint note of reproval in her tone — as if she could forget such a detail, even with all the uproar the house is in….

Merri hides a grin and, with a swift glance at the pocket watch open upon her desk, returns to her invoices, humming a sprightly tune.

[Cue Scarlet!]

Where the Heart Is…

I have been told all my life that home is where the heart is. If so, then this lovely old townhouse is no longer my home. How very strange this is to contemplate! The walls and floors, drapes and furnishings, most of all the people who live here with me day by day, nothing has changed — except, for the first time since I purchased the lease, my heart is no longer here. In the main it lies in the keeping of the man who owns a tea shop in the bazaar, in the spacious rooms he and his dear life’s companion keep above it, likely nestled still in their bed, though it is scandalous to say as much, I suppose.

Like Gabriel, I find I grow weary of always doing what is seemly. That wayward heart of mine is a most unseemly creature, for it loves where it will, as many as it will. In these latest choices, it has chosen well at last.

My thoughts range backward into memory, as is only proper when one whom one has loved is lost completely. Dear Scarlet came to tell us the news, showing extraordinary strength in the doing of it for she was quite clearly distraught and had been for some time. First Lamont, then Henrik — it was no mystery to me, her wild sorrow, hatred for the zee, even the unstated regrets she felt about ever opening her heart or learning to love at all. I could not even tell her that yes, this is the price of loving, that sometimes we must lose what we love. I have lost so many, my parents and older brother before I even knew what death was, my grandparents… and then my beloved child. Love and loss are so intricately intertwined, but how does one express that to a dear love already lost in her grief? I could only hold her and let her feel it for herself — let her feel that in spite of her losses, Love remained, she was surrounded by it, held by it, even in such abject sorrow.

In truth, I lost Henrik some time ago. I have had that time to heal my heart of the loss, so that when the news came yesterday it was… an odd, somber re-echoing of what had already come to pass within. Though I have heard some strange stories and many rumors about what happened between us, none of it came close to expressing how truly strange and… poorly functioning… our love was. I still maintain that he was all the things I’ve said and thought of him: honourable, good, intelligent, loyal to his friends, and I doubt he had an enemy in the world except perhaps for the man who murdered his brother, who will now escape all deserved justice for that crime, I suppose.

He and I…. dear God. We simply were not good chemistry. We did things to each other in proximity that… warped us beyond easy recognition of our true selves. I only recognized this clearly after he and Theodor last went to Venderbight and I was left here to pick up the remnants of my life without him. It was terribly, profoundly illuminating to discover that in losing him, I’d regained myself at last. What remained was, somehow, not to succumb to the weakness of character which I still harboured, and which still insisted upon his love, and upon my love for him despite all reason and good sense.

And then… to have to insist upon it to him, when that weakness in me wanted nothing more than to weep (again) and capitulate (again) and say “yes love, I’m so sorry, we’ll try once more.” Refusing to surrender to that was, I think, the second hardest thing I have ever done, and possibly not done entirely well, but it was done. I could once again be the woman I knew myself to be and set aside the pangs of regret which returned to haunt me at the very oddest moments.

I will set it forth here though: I was never angry with the man for aught he had done to me, or said for that matter. There are things for which I perhaps should have been angry, and one thing which angered me later, on another’s behalf — but it does no good to rehash the past. Done is done, and he is gone now. If I can thank him and bless his memory now it is mostly for his soul’s selfless ability to show me, once again, what I do not wish to be in love, as a lover.

Life, and love, goes on. I hope to find Scarlet in the bazaar this afternoon for tea, because I love her and because the loss of Henrik has affected her horribly. I hope to spend time with beloved Gabriel again, and sweet-hearted Sevashke, if he is able. There are old friends to be kept, and new ones to be made, nightmares to be banished, wounds to be mended, scandals to be put down, suspicions to be eased. There are still lectures to be given at University, silent dances at court, fights on the docks, and spires to be marked in the Flit. Most of all, for me at least, there is a card game to be assembled, and a Heart’s Desire to be won. The dead must know that the living remain, and continue.

One hopes they are at peace with that.

The Theft of Papers, Part 7

It is finished at last.

The party at the Topsy King’s court afterward was nothing short of uproarious.

Giddy and shaking in the emotional aftermath, Merri allowed Carlo and Harry to treat her like a conquering hero, though she knew right well she was no such thing. It took her three tries, finally raising her voice sharply, to get Carlo to send word out through Spite and the Docks to let her beloved friends know they were in the clear — for her part, anyway. Once assured the word would reach Theodor, Henrik, and Scarlet, she relaxed back onto a pile of… well, it was best not to think too closely about what was actually in that soft, welcoming pile. She ate something that wasn’t dead rat. The Topsy King shared a bottle of Greyfields “First Growth” with her — Merri was grateful, for the symbols on those tall black spires still whirled dangerously just beneath the surface of her thoughts.

She reached for her bag repeatedly, looking past the collection of old London street signs to assure herself the folders were still there, and that they were intact. The work on the parabola equation, and the encrypted notes… on the Correspondence. They were there, they were there. She’d make up her mind later if she wanted her notes on Hell and devils back from the Brass Embassy, after she’d rested, eaten properly, and knew that her friends were well.

On reflection, she didn’t know if it confused her or reassured her that the Bazaar’s offices were laid out in such stereotypically human fashion — a bureaucracy by any other name. It was a fairly straightforward caper once she was inside: Find the desk to which the materials had been assigned, recover them, and go. It was the getting in, and back out again, that took a level of mastery she had not been sure she owned.

Well, not before. There in the aftermath, she knew she owned it and was strangely rather proud of it. Walking over rice paper and bat bones without a single sound!! No one would ever know she was coming now, unless she wished them to know!

All the thieves were toasting her, some suggesting other robberies, others talking about courier routes and the like. Merri just smiled and nodded, hardly hearing any of it. When they were all sufficiently drunk, she gathered Harry and Carlo up and, with much relief, headed home. For a bath. And a hot meal. A decent cup of tea! And gentle, lovely music.

And, wistfully, hopefully, word from her dear ones that all was indeed well, before she slept at last.

The Theft of the Papers, Part 5

We did it! But, wait... what?

In the end, the most difficult part had been finding her works in the hundreds of thousands of texts secreted away in that place.

“Hssst. Merri.” Harry was crouched just ahead of her, moving like a ghost-spider atop the ranks of shelves. She could just see him jerk his head toward a table that was partially shadowed at the end of the hall. Piled upon it were courier’s bags and boxes, all of them stuffed full of newly arrived, freshly confiscated material from the scholars, revolutionaries and malcontents of Fallen London. With a nod, she sidled past him, using a hand signal to tell him to keep watch for approaching guards. Pausing only for a moment to listen to the clotted silence in the room around them, she climbed down the shelves like a ladder, leaping silently to the floor and slipping silently to the table.

“No… no… no…” Bag after box after envelope, she rifled through the pile searching as quickly as she could. Harry gave the alert for the next patrol in only barely enough time for her to clamber back up to a safe perch. The vicious dogs paused, sniffed menacingly, but moved on when the human guard, impatient and bored, yanked on their leashes with casual cruelty.

Merri found the folio of the Correspondence research about halfway through the pile, rivers of relief running through her as she stuffed it into her own courier’s bag. Though interrupted twice more, she continued with dogged determination to find her work on the Parabola equation at least, but it simply was not there. A cold knot in the pit of her stomach, she gave the signal to Harry and they slithered their way back across the tops of the stacks, getting out of the building without even raising a hint of an alarm.

Any elation she felt was short-lived, once she paused back on that familiar nearby rooftop to check the contents of the folio more closely. Her encrypted notes on what had happened with Henrik had been removed. There was a note attached to the last page detailing the destination of that specific section.

“Dear God,” she breathed, leaning back against a chimney stack. “They’ve sent it to the Masters of the Bazaar.”

The Theft of the Papers, Part 3

Too late!
Riches yes.. but…

Merri swore sulphurously, in Italian and English, out loud, for several minutes after she and her urchin accomplices opened the box. Amid the glim, gold, jade and pearls there were some papers, yes — but they weren’t hers. Her young friends stood back admiringly as she finished her litany of oaths, then grinned at her and started picking through the take. She couldn’t have cared less, and in fact urged them on. The box was much lighter when she had it sent home, honestly not caring if it made it there or not.

It’s the Ministry of Public Decency, then. That’s where the special constables are, that’s where the papers will go. She sat down atop a gargoyle’s head and thought about what was taken, not liking the implications.

All my equations and notes on Parabola. Who’s in danger from that? Theodor, perhaps, but he’s the only one of my acquaintance who contributed to those notes at all.

The books and pamphlets on devils and hell, all from surface sources, all heavily proscribed. I doubt anyone I know would be compromised by those as I read them and annotated them, but did not discuss them with anyone else in depth. Those will likely be turned over to the Brass Embassy.

Lastly, my Correspondence research. ALL my Correspondence research, including the notes I made after that… experiment… with Henrik. Her full mouth twisted enigmatically. At least I had the sense to encode that last. It won’t stop them, but it will slow them down a little.

I don’t have time to warn them myself. I’ll have to send Harry, then see about breaking into the Ministry personally.

“You ready for another run?” She asked him suddenly, startling him as he “fished” for treasure over the side of the gutter. “Harry, we just earned more money in one night than you’ve seen in one place in your life. Why are you doing that?”

“Because I wan’ a pirate hat,” he grinned. She glared at him for one moment, then gave in and laughed softly.

“All right. I can understand that. I’m afraid I need your help again, though. Let’s duck into this church and see about nicking some paper and ink so I can write a note. You’re going to have to run it to Elderwick, to the book shop where Henrik and Master Theodor live.”

“Right now?”

She cut off a sharp reply. He was an urchin at heart, he was young, he didn’t understand. “Yes, I’m afraid so,” she said quietly. “It could mean the difference between them staying free or getting shipped to New Newgate. Will you do it?”

“Oi, wotcha, i’s all right.” He wound up his line with a shrug; she slung her leg back over the gargoyle’s gaping mouth and made her way to the now-defunct bell-tower.

Dear Theodor and Henrik,
The papers stolen from my home were taken deliberately and are being transported to the Ministry of Public Decency. You are both directly implicated in them, though in different ways. I am not worried about your safety, either of you, but I thought you should be warned so you could take what precautions you deem necessary.

Please contact Narciso to alert him. And someone please stay with Scarlet until this is over. She’s cunning and resourceful, but I don’t know if she’s ready for this or not. The mere fact of our association might be all that’s needed to have her arrested.

I’ll contact you somehow to let you know when all is clear.

Take care. Love to all —

–M

The Theft of the Papers, Part 2

When Carlo and Harry returned two hours later, Merri had changed into Flit-wear (black velvet cat suit, fingerless gloves, silent boots) and knew with certainty just what had been taken. She was only not pacing the floor through an act of iron will. Harry, who had become something of an expert at gauging her mood in the weeks he’d been living in the same house with her, spoke first.

“Lots o’ raggedies seen him,” he said. “‘Nother box-man on the make, sounds like. Hand off was at All-Christs’ spire, headed off toward carnival, like you made it.”

“Better go, if you’re going,” Carlo grunted. He generally spoke better English than he liked to let on. “This wasn’t a general sweep. You were the only target, madonna, they wanted what you had, specifically. That box is headed for the Special Constables, may God roast their testicles over hell’s own hearthfires.”

With a short, wordless nod she pulled the mask over her face and checked her weapons. It was what she’d half-suspected, but knowing that she was under investigation specifically was just about the last thing she wanted to hear.

“Oi. Yer not sendin’ me t’ the kitchens this time.”

Merri glanced at Harry’s determined face in some surprise, then at Carlo, who was suddenly very busy picking his teeth and clearly not willing to get involved. The boy was referring to the visit of the Unfinished Men the month before. Harry still hadn’t quite forgiven her for it. Carlo didn’t want to be in the middle of it.

“I hadn’t planned on it, no. You’re coming with me, I could use an extra set of eyes. Carlo,” she went on as Harry whooped happily. “Take some red gold and spread it around the Docks. I need some toughs here to keep discreet watch on the house. If any `official problems’ show up, I want them dealt with before anyone in the house gets hurt. Do we understand each other?”

His face split in an evil grin. “Sí, madonna. Un piacere.

“Good. Be quick about it — if I can’t retrieve those papers we’re going to have worse problems than special constables before the night’s over.”

Bene. Arrivederci.” He waved, and was off.

Merri and Harry left via the window, finding the closest route up to the Flit and then heading toward Mrs. Plenty’s Carnival at an all-out, hell-bent for leather run. It would be an hour’s journey even at this altitude. Merri found herself hoping they’d be in time.

Notes on the Previous Four Stolen Cities

I must prepend this by stating that most of these notes were left in my care by the astonishingly erudite Mr. Nathan Weismuller, who has since disappeared from the Bazaar. I have awaited his return for over a month, but since he has not and I have received no communication from him, I must assume he would prefer these notes were made available to other scholars of the Bazaar and of the cities which have preceded London as its home rather than continue to moulder in my secret lockbox.

Without further ado, then, his notes read as follows:

As far as I can ascertain- the Fourth City was Karakorum, which was claimed by the Bazaar approximately five hundred years ago.

The Third is uncertain, although possibly American- the use of obsidian weapons is indicative. It was claimed one thousand years ago. (N.B. — I have since learned that common scholarship now ascribes Hopelchèn, in northern Mexico, as the general location of the Third City. As there are extensive ruins and two large cave complexes in this area, my sense of it is that this is indeed a most likely site for it.)

The dating on both the Fourth and Third Cities is unambiguous and a matter of record. The Second, based on a combination of various pieces of evidence- the aversion of the Masters to both it and Egypt, a comment made by Mr. Eaten that stated the Pharoah’s daughters were most congenial in the Second City, and so on, would imply the Second City to be Alexandria, no later than the fall of the Ptolemaic Kingdom- so, no later than 30 BC, and possibly earlier.

The First City is of uncertain provenance, although I suspect t to be Phoenician due to the cedar imagery. The presence of coins places it absolutely no earlier than 700 BC, when the Lydians invented coinage, and the fact that it was ‘young’ when ‘Babylon fell’, combined with a date after 700 BC, implies that it was taken before the Persian Empire under King Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539 BC. (N.B. — in later conversation I suggested ancient Sarepta as a likely candidate for the First City; though no direct evidence exists that can corroborate or disprove it, it did seem a good possibility to us both.)

I invite your comments of course. I only wish he were here to discuss them, for I miss him greatly.

ETA: As most of you will have noted, our dear Mr. W. has returned indeed! I couldn’t be happier!

A Debate over Chess

Two guest lecturers from Benthic and Summerset were in Tyrant’s park yesterday picking over a game of chess and a decanter of wine. I paused to watch, and was privileged to overhear a rather remarkable ethical debate unfold…

CreazilRadioEBZ: The path of discovery and knowledge lies with #Benthic, friend. Summerset seems to use them as a means to an end. We’ve been holding quiet seminars for months already. Isn’t it time to teach openly without the Ministry’s censure?

awakeasaurusrex: Devils surround you, #Benthic gladly endorses the sale of souls, and yet you speak to *me* of “means to an end”? Pah!

CreazilRadioEBZ: The soul is only needed for appreciation of beauty, and it’s removal is often helpful to academic research.

awakeasaurusrex: Just because the full function of the soul hasn’t been discovered doesn’t mean it can be freely disposed of. I mean, we haven’t identified the function of most of the human brain. But you wouldn’t sell bits of your brain to Hell.

CreazilRadioEBZ: to quote an expert in matters of commerce: RT @Mr_Wines: @CreazilRadioEBZ Everything has a price. Most especially yourself.

awakeasaurusrex: My soul is unique, no other can substitute for it;thus,it is infinitely more valuable to me than it is to anyone else! It follows that nobody could possibly offer me a price for my soul equal to its unique value to me!

CreazilRadioEBZ: Consent and compensation are not staples of the spirifer’s trade. Why not collect some brass for it while you can? Just as Sorrow spiders don’t offer you an exchange value of silk for your eye. See opportunity for what it is.

awakeasaurusrex: Do you propose to sell an eye to a spider-council, pay tithes to robbers, send a tribute of limbs to Jack? The fact that one might be robbed tomorrow should not prevent one enjoying one’s property today.

CreazilRadioEBZ: If only they had the business sense, the profit that we could make. Most folk have two good eyes and a need for cash.

awakeasaurusrex: Your eagerness to diminish the perception of depth and muddy the clarity of sight is a microcosm of #Benthic itself.

CreazilRadioEBZ: We accede that your Sense of arbitrary moral superiority at having a soul is something we could never put a price on.

awakeasaurusrex: We concede that soullessness is practically a requirement of the radio host’s job these days.

CreazilRadioEBZ: And your ad hominum attacks are the pinnacle of the Summerset’s prowess in political debate.

awakeasaurusrex: Sometimes it must be said that the Emperor has no clothes, the Professor has no soul, and the Devil has taken both. Speaking of despoiled Emperors… *indicates chessboard* …checkmate, my friend.

CreazilRadioEBZ: That victory, at least, we’ll hand you fair and square.

Permission to publish was granted by both participants in the conversation.

The Letter

From Mr. Randall Ross, to Lady Merriwether Fawkes

Notes on a Page

Notes on a journey

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