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Iron Quill - Last Call - Change of Guard

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Change of Guard

Words: 1750
Ingredients used: All



Ward blew sawdust off the decorative flourish at the end of the railing. He stirred his pot of varnish with the brush and laid back over it. The rising sun through the broad double doors of the Governor’s Mansion made the banisters burn like fire.


Ward’s back ached, his eyes and nose burned from the varnish fumes, but he smiled to see what he had accomplished. He was a joiner, ten years a citizen of Malifaux. He’d spent the last six weeks as part of the crew repairing the Governor’s Mansion after the night of fire and thunder.


“It’s well done,” the voice belonged to Marelynne Constance, the foreman on the site.


Ward creaked to his feet, “Thank you ma’am.”


“The carvings match the Secretary’s plan?”


Ward winced, the elaborate carvings had caused him any number of sleepless nights but he would rather do it all again than have his handiwork questioned, “Yes ma’am.” He bit his tongue.


“Good.” Marelynne was almost a foot taller than Ward, and fifteen years his junior but there was a fire in her eyes. Her hair was cut short and she wore a leather apron weighted with tools, Ward had seen her use them and he respected her for it - even if her speed would have made a mess of the work he had just finished. If his daughter had grown up, Ward liked to think she would have been like Marelynne, but the fever had taken her along with Keely…


Ward blinked, the foreman was still talking.


“...caravan will be here around noon and the Secretary has some big welcoming ceremony planned. We’re to make the front hall ready to receive him and then -”

“I’m sorry,” Ward said, “Him?”


“The new Governor-General,” Marelynne said, “Have you been listening?”


“No,” Ward said, “I’m sorry, I’m very…” He suddenly felt very heavy, he looked for something to lean against but the varnish was still drying so he squatted on the floor and held his head with his brown-stained hands.


“Well that’s no good,” Marelynne said. She caught him be the elbow, “On your feet. Secretary wants us at the ceremony, so we need to be presentable too. Go on and nap in the stables, I’ll get your tools squared away.”


“No, that’s…” Ward said. There was an order to his tools, a way they preferred to be kept. The files wouldn’t rest well next to the mallet, but they were friends with the planes, and… Marelynne wouldn’t know. It would take them ages to calm down and work with him again.


“Indeed,” The voice was soft but it cut across the sounds of labor like a razor through smoke, “We can do much better than the stables.”


Ward turned, he wasn’t the only one. The slight shadow in the doorway commanded the full attention of the assembled workers.


“I’ve commandeered rooms for you all at the Clipped Cormorant, it’s a half mile from here. I have carriages on their way.”


The shadow stepped forward and resolved itself into the precise figure of the Governor’s Secretary. He walked with a cane, but clearly didn’t need one, and his mask swept this way and that blankly scanning the room, synthesizing, recording. Ward felt himself stand straighter as the Secretary reached the stairs.


“You were in charge of the banisters?”


“M’lord,” Ward bobbed his head.


“No need for that,” Lucius carefully pulled off one of his white kid gloves and ran his fingers across the intricate carvings that banded the railing, “You followed my instructions?”


“All my men followed the plans they received,” Marelynne said before Ward could open his mouth.


Lucius regarded her coolly, “Yes,” he said at last, “I believe they did.” He turned to Ward, “And you might just be the best joiner in all of Malifaux. I would like to shake your hand.”


Ward thought he heard something in the Secretary’s voice, a timber from far away, the shadow of a once familiar brogue and he felt his heart leap. He extended his hand.

The Secretary was stronger than he expected, those fingers held more than just pens, “I have another job for you. If you are interested I will have my scribe bring the contract to your room at the Cormorant?”


“My,” Ward said, trying to keep up, “Yes. I need to sleep first.”


“Of course,” the Secretary said. He turned on his heel and walked out and everyone in the room breathed again.


“Alright boys,” Marelynne called, “Let’s finish up, pack it in! You heard the man, you’ve got real beds and hot baths to look forward to.”


The entry hall came alive as workers put the finishing touches on their projects and slung their tools into bags. Ward aligned his tools carefully in his leather roll, wrapped soft cloths around them to keep them from jostling. As he worked he kept looking back at the railings, his eyes drawn into the carvings. Are they perfect? He wondered, Are they good enough? It pained him to walk away, following the others down the broad stone path to the carriages.


Ward floated through the halls of the Cormorant borne by soft voices, found his room and fell asleep with his boots on. His hands spasmed as he dreamed out an endless stream of the twisting patterns, only these spawned from the tips of his chisels and drew the air around them into the warp of the wood. They danced away from him in endless spirals. His hands burned, but there was always more to carve, more to do, and the shapes burned into his brain…


He woke to a gentle, insistent knocking at the door. “One minute,” he called, and pushed himself out of bed.


Standing on the other side of the door was a small man in a tailcoat. He wore a featureless mask and carried an intricate wooden box. “May I come in?” His voice was a cultured blank.


“Please,” Ward stepped aside.


There was a low desk in one corner of the room and the scribe waited for Ward to sit at it. When he did, the scribe laid a packet of papers in front of him.


“What is this?” Ward said.


“A contract, sir, and a non-disclosure agreement.” He turned to the last page, “If sir would sign here and here…”


“Why is it so thick?” Ward asked, “What does it say?”


“Legalese,” the scribe said, “I can go through it with you if you would like, but you are simply agreeing to receive a retainer from the Guild general fund to the total of seventy scrip a day,” the scribe pushed the box towards Ward, “And committing to tell no one about your new role.” He flipped back to the beginning of the document, “Would sir care for the details?”


“No,” Ward said, “That’s fine.” He cast about for a pen only to find that the scribe was holding one out to him, “Thank you,” he said, and signed.


The box was heavy, there was more in it than scrip. He waited until the scribe was gone before opening it.


Marelynne stood at attention to hid her frustrated energy. There were rooms of the mansion that were hardly safe to walk across, let alone fit for the new Governor General, None of this should be happening, she thought, Not before I make the call, it’s irresponsible. Bloody secretary trying to make an impression…


Her men were lined up, sweating, against the south side of the carriage-way. The shade of the trees did nothing to keep off the heat of sun but the branches were heavy with sweet smelling flowers. She scanned the crowd again, looking for Ward.


Marelynne was just about to write him off with the assumption that he was sleeping back at the hotel when she caught sight of the joiner picking his way through a group of dignitaries - men in black suits and shiny hats. She waved to get his attention.


Ward was clean, he had even scrapped his apron until it was mostly stain free, but he carried his tools in a bundle pressed against his stomach. He looked scared.


“Something wrong?” Marelynne said.


Ward shook his head.


“Stand by me,” Marelynne said, “I’ll make sure you’re okay.”


“Thanks,” He muttered.


They lapsed into silence. Marelynne crained her neck down the road to try and catch a first glimpse of the procession, “I feel like we should be working,” she said, “I hate just standing here.”


“Change of pace,” Ward said.


Marelynne spared him a glance. He looked more relaxed now, “I don’t get you,” she said.


He rolled his shoulders and gave her a half smile, “Life is like woodworking,” he said, “It’s easier to go with the grain.”


“Sure,” Marelynne said, Whatever you say.


There was a commotion at the corner where the crowds lining the avenue spilled out onto Malifaux’s streets. Marelynne heard the clatter of carriage wheels and the braying of horses. She stood up straighter, “This is it,” she called, “Stand straight!”


Ward was fiddling with his roll of tools but Marelynne didn’t chastise him. The procession came into view lead by a pair of Guild horsemen in full dress reds. Behind them came the captains of industry, each one more opulent than the last, sporting banners and architectural flourishes until they looked more like rolling mansions than any kind of useful vehicle.


The new Governor General came next in a relatively plain carriage. This was clearly the Secretary’s handiwork, impeccably crafted with an air of tasteful power that made the carriages that had come before look desperate.


As it passed Marelynne caught movement out of the corner of her eye and Ward darted past her into the avenue. He dropped his roll and leveled a pistol at the carriage.


Marelynn felt herself knocked out of the way as Lucius appeared from nowhere. A blade sprouted in his hand and he plunged it into Ward’s back before the man could fire. The pistol fell from his nerveless fingers.


Lucius wiped his blade on the joiner’s shirt and made it vanish back into his cane as Perdita Ortega and one of her brothers rode up from the back of the procession, guns drawn. “Make this disappear,” the Secretary said as he reached out and swung himself aboard the still-moving carriage.


Marelynne heard what he said to the man in the carriage as it rolled out of sight, “Treachery is everywhere, Governor General, it's just lucky that I was here."

This will be my last Iron Quill entry since I'll be stepping into Edonil's over-large shoes and running the event starting next month. I've really enjoyed taking part in the Quill for the past year, and I very much look forward to reading all the entries in the future.

In the meantime, I welcome any questions/comments/critiques/dirty jokes/etc.

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