Hanging about Ladybones

Author: David VC / Labels: , , , ,

Once upon a time there was a little girl with blonde pigtails. She was dressed in the nicest second-hand rags, complete with a bluish-gray cap. She was leaning against the modestly sturdy table, stacked far over her head with old serial novels set in an older, alien London - a London where a ball of flame lingered in the sky to return with unerring regularity in a futile attempt to clear the mists from the streets. A London that little Wren, nor any of the younger folk born of the Neath would ever know, or possibly even believe.

"It's for the money...it's for the money..." she whispered to herself as bony fingers reached around her, pulling leather straps and buckles just a little too tightly for her liking.

"Are you ready, Wren?" He hissed in a ragged whisper.

She rolled her eyes behind her round smoked glasses and nodded quickly. She grunted as the gaunt man with the sunken chest stacked layer after layer of newspapers into the wooden crate strapped to her back. She felt the straps bite through the motheaten layers of cloth. She wanted to scream in protest, but she wouldn't give him the satisfaction. She'd survived worse. Much worse.

He enjoyed this far too much, she thought.

The man handed her back the slender cane and tin cup. She bent forward a bit to keep her balance, but not far enough where she'd lean on the cane which would surely snap under the extra load.

"There you go, my dear. And please remember it's Unexpurgated. London. Gazette."

"Yes Sir." she feigned a smile without turning her face up to him.

The man shuffled his way forwards through the stalagmites of stacked books and wrapped a skeletal hand around the doorknob. As the lock clicked open and the hinges creaked, he bowed with a condescending smile. She tapped her way out of the bookstore and down the rotting steps, into the bustling walkway of Ladybones Road and the eternal night of Fallen London. He sighed, looking out at the rows of ghostly green candles dancing in the stores all down the lane. He then remembered how miserable his soulless life truly was, and shut the door to go about filling some more invoices. Wren bent forwards (but not quite as far as the gait of her benefactor) from the weight of her cargo that seemed rediculously bulky for one her size, and huffed her way down the street.


A well-dressed banker chuckled as he dropped a fragment of jade into the her cup and took a copy from the stack, his glove brushed against her pigtails.

"Thank you Sir!'

Wren stopped short of a row of merchant stalls and slipped her cane under her arm. She crouched and wriggled the crate down to the cobblestones with a thump, and stood and stretched.

An old woman's familiar voice greeted her. "Good mornin' Wren!" The girl held her palm open and felt a small bag of candied mushrooms (fresh and hot!) plop into it a soft hand still warm from and smelling strongly of candied mushrooms patted her cheek affectionately. She heard rustling as another paper was pulled from the crate.

"Good morning, Mrs. Tucker!" she replied with a smile. The candy-ladies were notoriously cheap, buying only one newspaper in the morning and passing it in sections amongst themselves. But they did buy up her remaining stock at the end of the day for a fraction of the price as wrapping for the next day's snacks. It was always enough to pay for the next stack of papers, with a bit to spare. The real payment, of course, was being allowed to overhear the secrets they traded with each other all day. Well, that and the steady supply of sweet mushrooms, or course.

"GAZETTE! Yum.." She chewed a bit more and swallowed, and rubbed her greasy fingers on her coarse shirt. "GET YOUR GAZETTE! THE UNSUBSTANTIATED GAZETTE!"

She always got peals of laughter from that line, and an extra clinks of rostygold and glim in her cup. At least once a day someone, usually another child with hand caught in the tight grip of a tense parent, would ask her if she was really blind. She'd quickly respond "Yep, the sorrow-spiders got me!" Does she live at Watchmaker's Hill? "Nope! Only men I'm told!" A few times the candy-ladies would hiss at men and call "Constable!" when someone lingered by her a little too long, especially if they started asking her vague questions.

Wren wiped the sugar granules off her face with her sleeve from another helping of mushrooms and rejoined the chorus of merchants who milled about Ladybones to enjoy the spectacle of Neath Justice.


Wren couldn't see the condemned carried up to the gallows, but she heard their crimes rattled off by the Constables. She heard the cowardly ones screaming as they were carried up before the jeering of the crowd. Then the inveitable clank of the lever and the distinct snap beneath the creaking of the hinges of the trapdoor, followed by the collective gasp and applause. Wren tapped an adult with the side of her cane as she shook her finger. She could hear the flies even before she wrinkled her nose from the stench. "No rats please! They stain the papers!"

"Oh lookie here!" said one of the heavier ladies as she spun the paper back to the front page. "They had an airship crash, they did! A whole quiver o' broadarrows stuck in the mud!" She half laughed, half wheezed. "And that Mason was on it too! The one who..."

Wren felt eyes on her for a moment. Then they nodded to each other with exaggerated whisperes and hasty gestures. As one, they shuddered in disgust.

"Are we talkin' bout the doctor, or the honey-thief here?"

"The doctor! Who'd a known?"

"Are you sure there's two of them? I thought That Mason it was just one bloke!"

"Don' be stupid, Lydia! Oi seen 'em both! Th' doc named Darren gots 'andlebars, roit? Th' other one e' always shaives! Oi saw Marcus 'im in 'Amlet two weeks ago, 'usban took me t' th' dinner theatre fer out anniversary!"

"How was he?"

"E's a HOOT 'e is! Oi nebber loffed so 'ard in me loif!"

"I went to Doc Mason for me...me dropsy once, charmin' bloke up in the years but aged like a fine neath wine y'know...?" She giggled like a schoolgirl, adding a snort for good measure. "Could barely make out a word 'e says tho cos 'e talk so Yankee-like...'use vin-eh-gerrrrr!'" She snorted again, and cleared her throat after an awkward silence. "Too bad about Doctor Mason. It's always the straight ones who's crooked, eh wot?"

Wren kept tight-lipped, wisely not divulging that Marcus had taken her in as his own child after the Fisher Kings abandoned her. Not only was Marcus a talented artist, she would have said, but he's a very accomplished engineer who builds wonderful things to help releive people of excess money! He was especially proud of the gaslamp heart he built for her (with the help of his little furry friends) than Uncle Darien sewed up inside her with a ring of pretty red scars. She'd be permanently dead by now after that fall from the Flit! She was forever glad she couldn't remember being run through on her own fishing pole. Her pupils clouded after the operation, and people mistook them for cataracts, but oh she could still see, up close at least.

"Little Miss, does it have the latest weather report?" Asked Miss Ama.

"Yes'm, same as always." Wren reached down in the bottom of her box and handed Ama the special newspaper. As before, Ama handed her a small silk bag with a few moonpearls...which were wrapped in a rather large denomination of an Echo note. She slipped the sachel under her coat, smiling with the knowledge that she made enough from that one transaction to take the rest of the week off.

The gossip around her hushed as the hulking Clay Man plodded several steps behind Miss Ama. As always. He had an odor of heady dampness around him, like something freshly dug up from a swamp. Something about him made her heart speed up. She could see his massive shadow over the rim of her glasses. He was staring down at her! Could he hear her heart clicking? Could he tell she wasn't completely blind?

The Clay Man silently turned and continued in Miss Ama's footsteps. She and the ladies breathed a collective sigh of relief.

A bell rang from the gallows. "This concludes the proceedings for the day!" shouted the Constable. "We shall reconvene dispensation of Justice at 9 o'clock tomorrow morning! God save the Traitor Empress!"

Wren said her goodbyes to the ladies as she stuffed her day's wages (and an extra bag of sugared mushrooms) under her coat and strapped the now mercifully light crate to her back. She sang to herself in time with the tapping of her cane.

"The Starveling Cat! The Starveling Cat! Look what it did! To your nice new hat!"

She rattled her cup as she wandered back up Ladybones, and earned a few more rosty in her cup as she took the last few blocks home. Abruptly she collided into a man warned who with a concerned tone told her not to continue that way, saying there's some "grownup business" up ahead.

"Thank you Sir. I'll take the shortcut."

She twisted her way through the alleys, a derelict moved his leg so she wouldn't step on it. She heard a squeaking voice near her feet.

"Oi Wren! Howsyou? Whogotsomesugar? Prettypretty?"

She laughed and tossed the bag to the ground. She felt several furry bodies race over her shoes.

"Oi! Shareit!" "Mine!" "Mmmm!" "Tankee Wren!" "Oi Wren! Wegotchanudda capindabrick!"

Wren felt the rough decaying brick of the corner of the building, and delicate fingers pulled back a piece to pull a brass cylinder of hydrogen from the gap behind it.

"Thank you so much, guys!" She reached down to her shoes to pet the rattus fabers that circled her ankles and snuggled against her hand.

"Ahhhh, loveydovey!"

She continued, and heard the grumbling in front of the bookshop as she stopped to listen.

"Oh look, it's his daughter again."

She adjusted her glasses, peering over the edge. In the gaslight she made out three figures, and a still figure splayed out on the doorstep.

"Sorry kid," said the other man. "He lost at Kinfe-and-Candle again."

Wren pouted as she stepped forward and peered closely at him. She sighed. "Oh Father, you fell for the honey-trap again, didn't you?" One of the men coughed nervously.

"Ten rosty for you both to carry him upstairs for me?"

"Sure thing, love!"


Ryne Beck said...

A wonderful re-start to the Masonic Mythos! More pleaase!

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