With some stuff happening at work, I took a little break for Easter and decided to delve into the mess of documents that is my writing collection. It’s a weird trip down memory lane.
I laughed, I cringed, I was mystified, but all in all, a good time was had. One of these days, I really need to organise things, because I’m a bit of a magpie when it comes to my writing. The one resounding theme is, they are all of the fantasy genre. I’ve got dozens of beginnings, middles and ends, none of which fit together. For me, it’s all about the setting.
One of the earlier ones I attempted (and never finished), was one I called the Victorian Lapidary. It takes place in Victorian London, if the title wasn’t enough of a giveaway. In fact, one of the pieces I submitted for a workshopping class was this story.
I had a lot of fun with the characters, did a lot of research – trying to pick up the little slangs of language to make it more authentic. I read up on habits and dress and food during that period and just felt like sharing 😀
So, here’s the chapter one of the Victorian Lapidary:
I stand in the middle of pandemonium, of dead bodies and sharp glass and charred walls and know that, somehow, this is a nightmare, a dream. A dream is inconsequential, only a thought of the subconscious, or a glimmer of magic dust if Shakespeare is to be believed. Even when the air seems saturated with the rusted smell of blood and the sweetly pungent decay of flesh, it has no substance. In theory.
Nightmares are my frequent visitor, catching me vulnerable in slumber, chaining me to the familiar tremors of helplessness and terror that I only manage to tear myself awake from after my mind has been wrung dry, just like the Water Wheel, I think. Every nightmare is a dunk in the water; a stretching of the limbs and the relief of day is tempered with the knowledge that another sinking is to be expected. With enough time, even the Devil became used to Purgatory. I am evidently not as strong, feeling my heart pound in my head and waiting for my head to stop swimming before I sit up, feeling the sweat cooling on my skin.
I dress mechanically; pulling on the clothes that Stafford has lain out, smoothing down the cotton shirt and the muted red waistcoat. Clothing matters little to me, but it is the outer shell of a lapidary. One must present a picture of muted wealth and professionalism at all times. My new business cards are stacked neatly on a silver-serving tray. I take a smooth, cream card with Raion Arden, Jeweler, imprinted on it. There was my life, wrapped up in three little words that didn’t begin to touch the surface.
Breakfast is the usual feast with trays of eggs, sausage, bacon and toast piled high as if it were meant to serve many instead of one. I take a sip from the cup and shudder at the strong taste. I despise tea.
Stafford had placed a pile of this morning’s papers by the table and I eat while sifting through the headlines. The Pall Mall Gazette is a guilty pleasure with the outrageous and often exaggerated stories a true testament to the depths of human imagination. The room is silent save for the rustling of papers and the occasional clink of silverware. Even the crack of eggshell echoes loudly into the corridor. My townhouse in London is of moderate size but as many have enjoyed pointing out, far too large for a bachelor with a small household. There have been allusions to my keeping a mistress under the same roof, or even an illegitimate child or two. The whole of London society is like a parasite that feeds on gossip and slander. Truthfully, I chose this townhouse for all the nooks and crannies it offers. Space is a necessity.
Case in point. Inside my office there is a portrait of my deceased parents. It is abnormally large, taking up more than half the wall and well kept. Everything of them had been destroyed save for a small locket I had been given at birth with a small portrait of us together, as a family. As soon as I could manage, I commissioned a painter to re-create the portrait in painting, omitting myself as a baby in my mother’s lap. When the painting had been completed, I spent days staring into the canvas, trying to bore the memory of them into my mind and wash away the last image I had of them, cold, unfeeling and lying like slabs of wood in a morgue. This portrait was a remembrance and a reminder.
I was not necessary for the composition, despite the artist’s insistence. The dark-haired gurgling baby in their arms was a stranger, another person entirely. It was fine with just the two of them. This was the way it was meant to be.
My father stands tall and regal. I took my stature from him. He’d been a highly sought after lapidary, creating beautiful pieces that had all the jewelry firms clamoring to hire him, but he enjoyed his independence. I remember standing by his side, watching his hands weaving the golden threads until a masterpiece slowly formed, his own brand of magic. Towards the end, he’d been teaching me, and I could still hear his deep, patient voice, steady hands, Raion. Keep to the pattern and do it slowly. There is all the time in the world. Mother sits beside him in the portrait, an elusive smile curves her lips, her long dark hair trailing down her back. My own was longer than was conventional and I kept it tied back with a ribbon. She had been beautiful, and exotic. Her strange eyes, one blue, one green stared back into my own. Mother had never been one to fit into society. She called herself a free spirit, letting her hair fly loose in the park, walking barefoot along the grass, and riding astride a horse to the horror of many. She had been different. She had been a witch. She’d told me so, with great delight on my twelfth birthday, causing cake to go down my windpipe. Mother had a strange sense of humor and only Father’s grave nod and caution convinced me it was true. At the very least, it put many of her fanciful stories of bright lights and magical mushrooms into a new perspective. Mine had been a happy, if unconventional family. I had loved my parents and like all children, thought them invincible, immortal. You would think a witch would be, at least.
I was wrenched from that delusion in the harshest manner possible. My parents had died like humans – weak and powerless. They fell from their podiums with a crash. I never forgave the people who pushed them. I smoothed out the map of the city of London on my desk, the paper so well-worn it was almost threadbare. Pulling the latch that was disguised as a clock, a compartment opened from within the bookcase, shoving aside the works of Marlowe. Inside lay a leather pouch, heavy with the smallest diamond fragments. This was the first bout of magic I had ever performed. That night among the ruins, while my mind was screaming and my body was numb from shock, a part of me that had turned cold gathered up the shards of crystal on the floor. I could hear the harsh weeping of a screaming woman in my head and I could feel her rage, her hatred and her thirst for revenge. The bodies had been removed but the blood still remained. I used the shards to collect each drop.
Blood magic was powerful, especially when it was fueled by vengeance.
Each gem encased a blot of dark, red blood that had been spilled that night. A blood debt to those who had been killed, it would resonate with the breath, the flesh and the trace of the murderers and those who had ordered the killings. Each fragment would lead me one step closer to they who had ruined me and mine.
I took one small fragment between my fingers and I released it, watched it dance in the air until it balanced on one fingertip. Slowly, I turned my hand and let go. The fragment fell on one spot of the map and exploded into tiny sparkles of glitter. Fleet Street.
I would be making a detour before work today. ‘Sir, your coat.’
‘Thank you, Stafford.’
Well into his fifties, his hair permanently salted with white and a dignified moustache he kept groomed, Stafford was a terribly efficient man who seemed capable of reading my thoughts. Years ago, he answered my advertisement seeking for an all-around butler and has remained since. There were many things that rang wrong with Stafford.
Although aging, he kept his body fit and stronger than was necessary for a domestic staff. His resume alone could have landed him any job among the dukes and earls, yet he chose to remain with me, at a lower salary and certainly without half the prestige. I often thought he’d been sent to me with sinister purpose, but he was certainly taking his time to reveal it. Taking my hat and cane, I pause for a moment to look him in the eye. I have Mother’s eyes, and more than once people have remarked at the eerie dichotomy, averting their own at the first chance. Stafford stared back, unflinching at the sight of my mismatched eyes. Satisfied, I turned and left.
There’s chapter one, now I’m gonna go hide…