Vera stamped her foot, and uncharacteristic and thoroughly mortifying gesture, but it was all she could do not to curse this fool, from whom the eponymous Arcanum could take a lesson.
Willoughby Smuth-Henley is young to have such authority, and the knowledge of that grave responsibility—coupled with his natural complaisance, smug satisfaction, light scent, excessive pomade, and immaculately cut clothing— makes his face into a parody of calm reassurance that provokes even entire strangers to slap his face. And that is before he opens his mouth. His slight lisp, which Vera is certain is entirely affected to make him have the air of a Castillian scholar, and his upperclass accent are incongruous in the extreme in a clerk, however exalted, of the library, however important.
Vera icily repeated her simple request for the fourth time, quivering with the effort of trying to guess whether he had any other way to answer a question apart from condescension, incomprehension, or meaningless platitude: “Where do you keep the peerages for Montaigne?”
“But whyever would you want to conthult thuch a thing?” came the rapid reply.
Vera closed her eyes and thought very hard about the many reasons why cursing this fool would be imprudent, not the least of which was the possibility, the way Fortune was twitching her about lately, that this could some sidhe playing a trick. Or he could be the personal fool of some ollamh or cyfarwydd, brought into the library to protect him from the elements.
“If I told you, would you give me the answer I require?”
“I’m thure I cannot tell the future. All thethe bookth are in my charge, and I cannot promithe lightly to betray them.”
Vera slowly counted to three and then turned to Greis, who had the palest spectre of a shadow of a ghost of a smile hovering over his lips. “Come, Zittriger. We will find them ourselves.”
“Forgive me, madame, but the collection ith large. It can sometimeth be difficult to find one’th way. I mythelf, though I have been here for yearth, thometimeth cannot locate the volumeth I require.”
“You don’t say?”
“I do thay. I do thay, indeed. But thtay! I have an extended family in Montaigne, perhapth, if your question really concernth the peerage, I can be of thervithe.”
Vera decided the pale glimmer of possibility was better than wandering without guidance through the stacks. She knew from experience that the vast maze of shelves, containing texts from twenty different centuries, had only local pockets of systemization. “I am looking for the family name Vaucason, an acquaintance of Count Rumford’s, and I seek to know whether there are any Vaucasons remaining in Avalon.”
“I am thure there must be a mithtake.”
“I am thure it ith not my buthineth to inquire into the affairth of so great a man as Count Rumford, but it ith unlikely that a man in hith pothithon should conthort with artithanth.”
“I do not follow.”
“You thee how much of a shock it ith to me, then, to hear the name of a watchmaker on the lipth of a lady, who ith herthelf acquainted with a Count.”
“Watchmaker? Vaucason is a watchmaker?”
“A very fine one. My couthin Joffrey—he ith quite dim, milady, and he thtammerth motht abominably—hath a watch of hith making, in the shape of the moon.”
“Indeed, I do remember now, the Count’s friend did indeed say he dabbled in mechanics. He was also an amateur jeweler, if I am right.”
“I’m thure I don’t know.”
“I am also sure you don’t.”
“I would like to obtain one of Vaucason’s very fine watches. Where might I find him?”
“In the ground.”
“I thpoke very clearly.”
“You did. Did you mean to imply that Monsieur Vaucason is dead?”
“Thith ith but one reathon why hith work ith tho thought after.”
“That is a disappointment. Where might I find someone who…”
“Who might know more about his works, or who might have one to sell?”
“Well, Joffrey hath—“
“In that cathe, I imagine one would look on watchmaker lane.”
“There’s a Watchmaker Lane in Caerlon?”
Vera steadied herself on the table, avoiding his eyes for fear that she would curse him before she could stop herself. She looked at the old man, but his face was nearly purple from holding in his laughter. “Why would you suggest I look there, if no such place exists?”
“Oh, it ekthithtth. It motht thurely ekthithtth. It formth part of the length of Knock Ferguthon lane.”
At this, Vera turned on her heel and walked away. Having obtained the information she required, she could not bid herself to take a proper leave.
Vera gone, Zittriger leaned over the desk and said, “You look like a man of the world.”
“I’d thay that ith reasonably thafe to thay.”
“Not for you, it isn’t.”
“But as a man of the world, you wouldn’t happen to know where the library keeps its etchings?”
“The ones that must be kept discreetly. Such as a bachelor might keep in his library.”
“Oh! Thertainly! Thith way!” Just at that moment, Zittriger turned and saw Vera staring a hole at him from the stairwell back to the surface.
“Another time, perhaps,” he said, and hurried to catch Vera as she climbed toward the light.
Once arrived at the Oaten Sheaf, the Vodacce witch and the grizzled Eisen were told that they were expected in the dining room, upstairs.
Remy was just finishing explaining to the Prince, Werner, Essie, and a semi-conscious Bart that the assembly in the homunculus’s head was probably the work of one Harald Cribbage: “Or someone who has worked with him closely,” Remy continued. “This,” he held up a complicated box the size of a fist, inside which could be seen several toothy rods running parallel with one another, all connected to a series of transverse shafts that seemed to rotate a stack of asymmetrical, round plates attached to the side of the box like a stack of mis-matched coins, “is a difference engine. It is the thing’s brain. The last such thing I saw was on loan from Cribbage’s workshop to a Monsieur Biot at the Académie montaignaise. It is interesting because…” Remy lapsed into silence, seeming to weigh the thing in his palm.
“Why is it interesting?” prompted Vera.
“Oh? Well. Two reasons. First, the one that I saw was the size of a curio cabinet. Two men could have stood inside the wooden frame, comfortably. This…Well, you see how much smaller it is.”
“And the second?” asked Werner.
“The second reason is that the brightest minds at the Académie never got the thing to work as it was supposed to. It required a massive boiler and many foot-tons of coal, and it never worked. This? It seems to work. And it seems to work on the same power source described in Count Rumford’s notes.” He looked at the thing in his hand. “Fascinating,” he said to no one in particular.
“That settles it. Harald Cribbage is an Avalon name, isn’t it?” asked the Prince. Remy nodded and the Prince continued, “Then I say we pay him a visit.”
“It is not so simple, I fear,” said Remy. “You see, the professor has been missing for some weeks.”
“How do you know this?” asked Werner.
Remy walked to the table and set the piece of machinery on the table with a small scrape and a thunk. He folded his hands behind his back and turned to face them. “He is a member of the Invisible College, as am I, and all members have been asked to keep a discreet eye out for him. It seems there is a rash of missing natural philosophers.”
“But why tell us?” asked Vera. “If you are in the Invisible College, are you not charged with keeping it a secret?”
“The College is, in more ways than I can explain, a very important organization, but it has never been good at keeping secrets. Besides, I do not believe you will turn me over to the Inquisition, unless one of you is much better at keeping secrets than I am.” He made a wry face. “That was tasteless. I apologize.” He spread his arms, the wires of the difference engine swinging slightly. “In any case, my fate is bound to yours. And it seems the College’s problem has become Théah’s. There should be no secrets between us.” He looked around the room, catching everyone’s eye.
“Well said!” cried the Prince. “What of the plate of crystal? Were you able to gain anything from it?”
“Well—” began Remy.
“I broke it,” said Essie. “I’m really sorry. It’s just—“
“That Essie helped me to perform a cleavage test on it.” Remy finished calmly. Essie blushed and shifted her feet.
“Ahem,” said Zittriger, his color rising. “If this is some Montagnard word play, it is not appreciated in the company of ladies.”
Remy raised a hand. “The pattern of the break told me that it was very fine quartz. It also revealed that it was two exquisitely thin pieces cleverly joined together. They were rotated to polarize light, probably specific kinds. Apart from that, I cannot tell more—I am not a student of Fresnel.” He shrugged. “There was also a small series of numbers written in the manner of the Crescent Empire.”
“A dead end, then,” said the Prince. “Montaigne, Avalon, the Crescent Empire—all paths leading in different directions and no good reason to choose between them.”
“Not necessarily,” said the old man.
“What do you mean?” asked the Prince.
“Well, presumably, the things had to be made around here. Either that, or they were shipped from elsewhere, or brought by sorcery,” he added grimly.
“We may rule out the latter. The effect of so much sorcery would have been mass terror. The Sorte would have shown it to me, and to every Witch” said Vera.
“Shipping should be easy to check,” said Werner. “We just need to find someone at the docks, or in customs. Black market would be easier still.”
Inigo, long silent, spoke, “Shipping the parts separately and assembling them in secret would be safer. I would concentrate on the number. Surely a glazier would know where in the Crescent Empire to seek such fine craftsmanship.”
“Speaking of craftsmen,” responded Vera, “it turns out that Vaucason, if it is the same man, was a watchmaker of exceptional skill. It is an unusual name.” She gestured to the difference engine Remy was twiddling about. “And it seems the Adversary has need of such skills to make his toys. My source,” at this word Vera’s lip curled up, “indicated that we could find out more on Knock Ferguson Lane.”
Bart stirred at this and dreamily said, “Not going there. ’S danger.” He nodded back off.
“Is there nothing we can do for him?” asked Werner.
“Head injuries are iffy,” said Greis. “Maybe if the Ussuran were here…”
“That’s it,” said the Prince. He yanked on a bell pull and a concealed door opened, revealing a footman in the inn’s colors. “Do you know the way to Knock Ferguson Lane?”
The footman nodded, “’Tis three quarters of an hour by foot from here, yer Majesty. Just across the river and past New Court Blue Gate.”
“Can you draw a map?” He nodded again. “Have one ready for me in a quarter of an hour.” The man tugged his forelock and backed up into his cabinet, closing the door. At that, Prince Reinhardt strode from the room. His expression looked, for all the world, exactly like his uncle Fauner’s. Werner and Greis both gave little shudders, but while Greis saw Werner’s motion and wondered, Werner saw nothing at all.
They joined everyone else in making ready for an afternoon’s walk.