the heft and the edge 2141422/2/2018 wkj fantasy
This is a piece of writing from
The Twist Inside (Song of Ages V. 2)
This is a piece from the chapter, Ripon from part 2 of the Twist Inside.
Angren, Sigrid and Terrance need to get to Garassa. Angren knows a man with a boat. His workshop(s) happen to be in Ripon, the home town of Baron Harold Gumb. They all take a carriage to meet the great inventor.
They were rattling down a rutted path in a coach-and-four, a path that plunged into a dank, waterlogged woodland, a woodland that fringed the backwaters of one of the Rine’s tributaries, a few miles north of Ripon. The wheels of the coach sank ever deeper as they progressed, the horses slipped and strained. It was only gravity and the steep decline that kept them going at all. Terrance wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of having to get out and walk, but even as the thought occurred to him the coach passed under a mouldering stone archway into a muddy clearing. At the centre stood a cottage that had seen better days – perhaps several hundred years back. The thatch was ragged and holey; the walls of lath and plaster showed rather too much lath, and if the plaster had been painted at some point, the colour was by now a distant memory. Surrounding this pile, in higgledy-piggledy order, stood a clutch of outbuildings in various states of repair, or of construction. The impression they gave was that as the owner decided upon a project, he would throw up a new shack, shed or barn to house it. Scattered liberally throughout the spaces between the sheds was a saw-mill, a foundry, a pottery’s worth of discarded materials. The detritus could keep a village in firewood, plough-shares, spades and timber frames for half a generation.
A hovel, a shanty, an eyesore: such was the home, workshop and laboratory of the greatest inventor of his age, Gaston Zollerine. The man himself clearly had no illusions about the place. The two of them first out of the carriage, Angren prodded Terrance’s arm and pointed back towards the archway. Kept ajar by mud and weed and half collapsed anyway, a large wooden gate hung off its hinges. There was a name chiseled into the top rail: two words. Though the black paint was mostly peeled away from the grooves it was still possible to make it out. Angren grinned as Terrance rolled his eyes to the heavens. The words read Crappy Bottom.
“So, this Zollerine chap’s a friend of yours,” said Terrance. “Makes sense somehow.”
“More a friend of Seama’s. He’s a good laugh though. Spent a few evenings drinking with Zoll over the years. That’ll be him now.”
Angren nodded ahead towards one of the more decent barns. There was no-one to be seen but the sound of men singing came from within. It was a round to an old tune, but Terrance had never heard the words before.
“We mash the malt
And spurge the wort,
We keep some hops We mash the malt
For last resort. We spurge the wort
We cut the maize, We keep some hops
And add the cut; For last resort
For forty days We cut the maize,
We keep her hot. And add our cut
And then For forty days
The beer And keep her hot
And then the beer is made
And pray the brew will live.
We’ll drink your health and drink your wealth,
The best the land can give.
They entered in a line, Angren first, then Terrance and Sigrid, with Gumb bringing up the rear. Zollerine had his back to them. The song had ended with a raising of tankards and the six participants were tasting the first drawing of their latest brew. The inventor was mid-pull when Angren reached up to slap him on the shoulder.
The man nearly spat out his beer. But not quite.
“Good save, Zoll. Can’t go round wasting the stuff.”
“Ye Gods, it’s little Angren! Now that’s what I call good timing,” he declared, “Hold onto your hat and grab a tankard. Our Will won’t mind sharing his brew, not now it’s properly welcomed. And it’s a damned strong one. Take a pew, my northern friend, it’s grand to... Ah.” Zoll stopped his burbling, having finally caught sight of Sigrid. “Beg pardon. Lady present, I see. And the good Baron too. Gosh, not used to so many visitors at once. Er, well then, ale. How many cups have we, Our Will?”
‘Our Will’, a short bald man, smiled good naturedly.
“We’ll have enough, boss. But perhaps the lady would prefer tea?”
“Tea, Will? You sure? Do we actually have any?”
“Don’t worry about tea,” she said, “I can drink beer if needs be, though a glass of parlour sherry would be better.”
“Sherry? Yes, sherry. No. No, I don’t think I have any of that either. Sorry.”
“Or maybe a glass of Terskat?” She nodded at the high shelf behind him. There were several bottles of the Jorleyan liqueur fighting for space in among jars of pickled eggs. It was a whisky-like drink but sweeter as though blended with rum, and stronger than both.
“That we can do! Sharp eyes. Ten, Fifteen or Twenty-Five years?”
“Twenty-five? Really? It’d be almost impolite to accept.”
“Not at all. I’d welcome comment – cost me enough but there’s no pleasure in drinking it alone. Well, not as much anyway. Tom, you get it down while I find some glasses.”
“You’re a generous man.”
Angren felt the need to intervene.
“You’ve made a friend there, Zoll.”
Zollerine was on his mighty haunches rooting about in a cupboard. He stopped to consider the notion for a few seconds.
“Well we all need friends, Angren. So, I’ll count that a bonus.”
They were well set for a good evening. Gumb knew his man very well indeed. For all his creativity and invention, Zollerine’s abilities did not extend to fine cooking. Fully aware of the deficiency, Gumb had stocked the coach with a hamper full enough to feed a dozen comfortably. Zoll for his part had no difficulty providing the drinks. The happy mood produced was just what they needed.
There was no struggle, no resistance, no need for subtle reasoning or offers of reward. Angren did the honours:
“Zoll, you wanna try out that boat of yours?”
“Boat? My boat – Gertrude?
“Too sweet, too sweet. Let’s give her a whirl: kick the old cow out of her stays. Garassa hey? Well hold onto your hats my friends, she’ll have us there in no time. Er, any particular reason? No, never mind – I don’t give a damn. Itching to get her on the water.”
The festivities saw off not one but three bottles of Terskat. There was a lot more singing, some inevitable bickering between Angren and Sigrid, a constant stream of stories and ideas from Zollerine, and much laughter – mostly from an unusually relaxed Terrance. The Baron declared he’d not had such a good night for an age. Several times. But that hardly mattered as just about everyone was quite as drunk as he was.
Morning found Angren with a splitting headache. As they staggered through the chaos of the yard, he could tell he wasn’t the only one. A long lie-in would have been the preferred option, but they had an appointment with Gertrude.
The “old cow” was not too unkind a description, or too inapt. She resided under an open-ended barn, on a carriage frame fashioned from oak beams and iron strapping, supported by eight sturdy cart wheels.
“Haul her out, haul her out,” Zoll instructed, happy to lend his own weight to the task as his crew of engineers laid hands on the hawsers attached to the frame. Angren, already wincing at the noise of all the “heave-hos” and the “here-she-comes” couldn’t persuade himself to join in, but with the rest of them, he took a good long look at what had emerged into the too-bright light of day. He shaded his eyes with a hand and pulled a face. Terrance at his side did likewise.
“For a boat to remind one of an upended milker,” he said, “would no doubt worry some people – namely the prospective passengers.”
Angren merely grunted and continued his examination. It did indeed look like a cow rolled over. The hull was the equivalent of a flat broad back, the slight curves of the side were squarish, like the flanks of a well fed Osterly Ox, and rising from each corner stubby legs, or masts one supposed, prodded skywards. The bow was a curved neck and something which looked very much like a bovine head seemed to peer back along the length of its belly as if trying to reassure itself that all its parts were still intact. The “parts” most notably were what looked like udders that wobbled incomprehensibly between the rear legs. What they might be made of and what their function was not immediately clear. In fact, nothing was clear. The masts, if that was what they were, didn’t appear to be connected to any means of raising a sail. The head contraption seemed to incorporate a series of pulleys, but currently there was no rope or cable to be seen. The incomprehension of the blank faces of those destined to board was so evident that Zollerine felt the need to offer an explanation.
“You’ve got to look at it this way. There are many so-called engineers and scientists doing their best to create perpetual motion. The trials they make reduce to almost nothing the forces employed: they make silly little whirling things that neither produce any real power or manage to conserve whatever is generated. My dreams are far grander. What’s the use of perpetual motion unless it achieves something? It’s all to do with a balancing of powers of course, energy in and energy out, in a continuous cycle with no loss. Perpetual motion.”
“Sounds like a description of my life.”
“No, no Angren. I’m talking about a technic… huh, huh. I see. Too sweet. Of course, I’m sure you all understand what I mean, but the point is, it’s the doing of it that counts.”
Terrance shook his head. “While I appreciate that you’re trying to explain yourself I’m still none the wiser. Are you saying you’ve achieved perpetual motion in this ungainly beast?”
“Well, near as damnation – mind you, it’s not properly tested.
“Not done a long trip in it yet?”
“Never had it in the water, Terrance.”
The prospective passengers all shared a look. Sigrid guffawed and punched Angren, not too lightly, on the shoulder. “As I recall, Old Angren, this was all your idea. ‘I know someone with a boat,’ you said, and like stupid blind sheep, we all just bleated and followed. Should have known better. Now we discover the he’s never even wet an oar.”
“Actually,” said Zoll, with a delighted grin, “it doesn’t have oars.”
“Not been in the water, doesn’t have oars – are you sure it’s a boat. Shouldn’t you just leave the wheels on and call it a carriage?”
“Doesn’t have sails either. That’s the beauty of it.”
“Does it float at all?”
“Now hang on, Sig.” Angren decided it was time to defend the plan. “I’ll admit it doesn’t look like the normal sort of thing you see on a river, but you need to trust Zoll. He’s a genius with this sort of thing. Didn’t we all agree it’ll take too long to get to Garassa overland – for one it’s too far and for another we have to count the roads as enemy territory. Zoll’s boat has got to be our solution to the problem. The River Rine is really fast—”
“Yes, Sig, and furious- dangerous even, I’ll grant you that, but Zoll swears he can get the boat through. Don’t you, Zoll?”
Zoll grimaced. “Er, well, probably.”
“Thanks so much for the resounding support. Look Sig, Terrance, we’ve got to give it a try. Seama needs us in Garassa fast as we can get there.”
Sigrid shook her head. “You can call me unreasonable if you like, but before I get on this stupid contraption I’d like to be convinced that it isn’t going to drown me.”
Angren shrugged. He turned to the inventor. “Zoll, no offence to you, but I suppose she’s got a point. Shouldn’t we just try putting it in the water? Like now?”
Zoll grinned again, gleefully. “Just waiting for the nod, Little Angren. And that I guess was it. Right lads, let’s get this thing rolling.”
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