Friday 6 December 2013

#FridayFlash - Buying Time

Image by iotdfi.
Walther stood outside the door of Madame Toubert's Emporium, a pawn shop in the depths of the Underground City. From the street, the shop looked like any other; three golden balls hung above the door, and both treasures and trash filled the windows. He shivered and pushed open the door.

A bell jangled, disturbing the funereal atmosphere of the shop. An antique calendar hanging opposite the door proclaimed it to be Monday 19th, though it neglected to mention the month. An old woman dozed behind the counter, and a fat ginger cat beside the till threw him a dirty look. He ignored them both and made his way towards the black door in the far wall. The paint peeled from the wood in elegant curls, and he sought a clear patch of door. He knocked, two quick, sharp knocks followed by two raps. The door swung inward, and a young woman peered out of the shadows within, her yellow eyes glowing in the darkness.


"I'm here to see, ahem, Count Clock." Walther lowered his voice at the mention of the name, darting glances over his shoulder. The young woman rolled her eyes and gestured for him to step forward.

The door closed behind him, and a cold hand found his in the darkness. Walther guessed it was the young woman, and she led him along a corridor. He bumped into another door at the other end, and she shoved him through the next doorway into a dimly lit room.

Tall candelabras were spaced around the room, their candles burning blue. A silver carriage clock sat on a small mahogany table at the far end of the room. Two men in black frock coats stood either side, hands clasped before them, heads bowed as if in prayer. Reverance hung heavy in the air, and a bead of sweat burst forth at Walther's temple. Perhaps his request wouldn't be granted - or worse, they would ask too much in return.

Another young woman, similar to the first but with electric blue eyes instead of yellow, appeared at his elbow.

"You are here to see Count Clock." She didn't ask, merely stated it.

"That's right."

"It is almost the hour. Be patient, and he will appear."

Walther realised the two men had broken their stances and now stared at him. He knew the Tempus brothers by their reputation alone, and he knew they came armed with knives and truncheons. Still, it wasn't the brothers that he feared. The two young women were clearly Fey, and if they wished it, he wouldn't leave this room alive. Worse still was the Count himself.

The clock chimed the hour, and two small doors at the top of the clock opened. Two silver figures slid out onto a platform, performing an elaborate dance of stilted clockwork moves. Another bead of sweat broke out, this time at the back of Walther's neck. It slipped down beneath his collar, tracing an icy path down his back.

"It would appear we have a petitioner!" A tiny voice rang out in the room, and Walther realised the taller of the two figures on the clock was now pointing at him. He made a small bow in reply.

"And what can we do for you?" The figure beckoned him closer. Walther hesitated, until the woman with electric blue eyes shoved him forwards. He stumbled towards the clock, and lowered himself onto one knee to put himself at eye level with the Count.

"I need more time."

"Don't we all?"

"Sssh, dear. What do you need more time for?" The shorter figure, a woman in an elaborate ballgown, spoke this time.

"My daughter is to be married, and I want to give her a good dowry, but I'm a little short. I only need another couple of weeks to give me time to earn the money to give her."

"How sweet!" exclaimed the Countess.

"Why did you not earn this money sooner?" asked the Count, ignoring his wife.

"I did, sir, but my son fell ill, and I had to pay for medicine. I do not earn enough to make any real savings, sir." Walther bit his lip to stifle a sob.

"What do you do, dear?" asked the Countess.

"I'm a shoemaker, ma'am."

"A noble trade indeed!" said the Countess, clasping her hands together. At her side, the Count rolled his tiny silver eyes.

"I am not sure..." said the Count. Walther's stomach lurched.

"A word, dear?" The Countess pulled the Count to one side. Walther could not hear their low voices, but he marvelled at the craftsmanship of the silver figures as they gesticulated wildly. A few moments passed, and the Count returned to the front of the platform.

"It would appear, Mr Peckwith, that my wife has taken a shine to you and your petition. I will grant you the two weeks that you request as extra time. In return, I would like you to make a pair of shoes fit for a Countess."

Walther froze. He hadn't expected the Count to agree - but he hadn't given much of a thought to what he might be asked to supply.

"For your wife?"

"Yes. When your two weeks are over, one of my associates will bring her to you for measurements."

The clock chimed and the two figures withdrew inside their respective doors. The Tempus brothers snorted, and Walther realised they'd been holding their breath. The blue-eyed Fey slipped a token into his hand, and pulled him towards the door. The yellow-eyed woman waited in the corridor, and led him back towards the pawn shop.

"You get what you wanted?" she asked as she opened the door into the shop.

Walther nodded.

"Make the most of it - and whatever they asked for, get it right."

The door closed behind him, and he struggled to adjust to the lights of the shop. He glanced at the calendar on his way out.

It now read Monday 5th.

This is another story set in my Underground City. If you'd like to read more stories in this setting, you can find them here.


Larry Kollar said...

Heyyyyyy, any fool can adjust the calendar!

I like the concept… clockwork mages who can bend time? Cool. I just wonder how he's going to make a pair of shoes that tiny.

Tony Noland said...

I fear for what kind of shoes he's going to be tasked with making.

Unknown said...

I love Underground City, and very excited to read another. Wonderful atmosphere, great descriptions, and this story is excellent. I like how the month isn't revealed; a little extra mystery and fits atmosphere. High price comes with great magic.

Thanks, Icy, you made my day.

Anonymous said...

Bravo! This is absolutely fantastic Icy, one of your best. The atmosphere is nearly palpable. Outstanding work!

Tim VanSant Writes said...

Cool concept and absolutely terrific atmosphere.

John Wiswell said...

Wow, I actually liked the novelty of his motivations in visiting. Rather than loan sharks, he went to time sharks and asked to be able to earn a better dowry. That fella deserves a better rate.

Steve Green said...

Ooo-er, it would seem his two extra weeks have already gone.

Helen A. Howell said...

I hope he's a good shoemaker! Loved the atmosphere you created in this. ^_^

Cat Russell said...

That was incredible! Loved the world, characters, plot... everything! Like a dark fairy tale!

Katherine Hajer said...

These Underground City stories are great! I get the feeling the making of the Countess's shoes is going to be extraordinarily challenging....

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