A Tale of the Glass Singers of Albermarle
A fantasy novel by Lynette Hill
That night all of Albermarle turned out to honor Octavia’s success and sample Alma’s celebratory (and well-celebrated) pastries and meat pies. At least that’s how it seemed to an elated Octavia as she watched the brightly dressed guests fill the reception hall. The test had been both harder and easier than she expected. And when the glass screamed …. Octavia took a breath and greeted the first arrivals as calmly as she could. Controlling the energies of the glass now seemed easy compared to her current struggle to simply rein in her sense of triumph. It was all she could do to keep her features in an expression of appropriate modesty as master after master, accompanied by the makers of their respective houses, came forward to congratulate her. Each paused to admire her twisting, roaring dragons and to press a purse of coins or other small gift into her hands. After all, this party traditionally marked the moment that a young maker began saving up to open up his or her own workshop – not that anyone doubted Octavia’s destiny as heir to Verre House itself.
I did it. I really did it. And with the counter clockwise swirl.
Triumph created its own music in Octavia’s mind, louder than the lively dance tunes provided by the hired orchestra. The long, wide hall doubled as a gallery built to show off Verre House glass wares to their best advantage. Hundreds of display pieces sparkled under the brilliant light of the three hundred-lamp chandeliers created by Master Verre’s great-grandparents. Throughout the hall, multi-tiered, tree-shaped candelabra taller even than most Gorani added to the room’s radiance. Floor to ceiling mirrors on two walls caught and reflected all of this illumination back into the hall. Between the mirrors, large glass cases showed off distillery equipment for physicians and brewers, dragon-shaped candle holders, the distinctive lenses used in telescopes and spy glasses and other samples of all the best of Verre House’s creations. At the southeastern end of the hall, red and gold floor-length draperies woven in Malmesbury framed a wall-sized window made from a single piece of sung glass.
Naturally, all of the glass masters and singers turned out. Most of these arrived right at the appointed hour. Masters of the guilds most closely aligned to the glass singers on the guild council arrived next. These included the porters, apothecaries, physicians, cooks, astronomers, musicians, brewers, and, naturally, Madame Verre’s own guild, the actors. Intermixed with them came members of Clan Breydon and the other Khelani river trading clans close to Octavia’s parents. Local farmers and winemakers, river wardens and forest rangers and other prominent persons from Albermarle and its environs attended as well. Masters and makers from the guilds that belonged to the Metal Workers League in Kerguelen trickled in last, as expected. But they did all turn up and, somewhat to Octavia’s surprise, in force.
Some of Octavia’s elation ebbed, however, as she noticed all of the guild masters and others vanishing one at a time into the back office as soon as they could discretely do so. Perhaps they weren’t here just to congratulate her after all. The other attendees filled the hall with the usual loud talk and laughter, but even the orchestra’s cheerful tunes couldn’t quite drown out a strong undercurrent of worry.
“They don’t know what caused it? How can they not know? Of course they know. They just aren’t telling us, that’s all. Don’t want to cause a panic, I suppose, but don’t they know that not telling us just makes everyone more nervous?” The heavy-set speaker wore a brilliant green dress, her graying hair worn in loose curls that fell below her wide shoulders. She murmured in the ear of an equally heavy-set male companion as they made their way up to the front of the reception line. The man wore a sleeveless high-necked blue tunic over tight red leggings. Both wore about their necks thick gold chains holding heavy gold time pieces to show their rank as masters of the clockmakers guild.
“Octavia, darling, wonderful pieces, really, what an accomplishment,” the woman said. She bustled up to present Octavia with a small but heavy leather purse. “We all knew you had great talent, but, oh my goodness! And to finish in spite of the warning…. We’ll know to expect great things from you, young lady. You’ve really outdone yourself here….”
Half note, carrying a tray of raspberry and cream tarts, managed to stay in the vicinity of her mother while offering her treats to the guests. Mama, as usual when visiting, wore an attractive compromise between Khelani and town fashions. Tonight she wore a sheer, embroidered trader blouse over a green guild-style dress with a low-cut bodice and full skirts. Tonight she’d woven glass beads into her brown hair, still tightly braided in glass singer style. She also still wore the clear glass dragon’s head charm on a filigreed silver necklace that signed her as a singer of glass. Half note struggled with the strangeness of it all as Mama traded cheerful greetings and gossip with old friends. Grandpa took baby Cadie from her to show off around the room. Half note couldn’t help but notice, however, how often Mama’s river green eyes turned to the closed door at the back of the hall that led to the business chambers. Papa and Grandma vanished through those doors earlier, followed thereafter by a great many other people. Every now and then another person would knock quietly and speak softly to someone just inside before also quickly entering.
“Mama,” Half note asked during a lull in the adults’ conversation, “Are you scared about the glass screaming?”
“I’m concerned,” Mama said. She helped herself to a raspberry tart from Half note’s tray. Mama always smiled with her eyes first, Half note realized, just the way that Grandma did.
“Does it mean the river’s going to flood again?”
“No,” Mama said, frowning a little. “That wasn’t the flood warning. Or the cry for fire. It sounded more like the warning for pestilence or infestation, but the note at the end indicated something else.” Mama spoke quietly but even so everyone around them fell silent, listening.
“Go on, sweety,” Mama said, giving Half note a little nudge toward the kitchen. “You need to refill your tray. We don’t want the guests going hungry.”
“Perhaps,” a red-headed woman in the blue and green dress of a townswoman leaned conspiratorially towards Mama, “Some say it was not a warning but the cry of the dragons; could they truly be returning to us after all these years?”
Half note’s eyes widened. What would it mean, if the dragons came back to Albermarle? She offered the last of her tarts to a pair of brewers and listened intently for the answer, but a burst of applause for the orchestra drowned out Mama’s response.
As the reception line began to falter, gangling cousin Mischa, looking very grown up in new knee-length breeches and the stiff, embroidered ceremonial shirt of the Khelani, slipped up beside Octavia. He held a kitchen stool in one hand and a pastry-filled plate in the other.
“Seat?” he offered politely. When she refused he put it down and settled himself on it.
“No. Thank you, Mischa.”
“You sure? Everyone says you haven’t eaten today.”
“That’s not true. I had soup for lunch.”
“You had Alma’s stomach-soothing peppermint tea, you mean. That’s what she said.”
“Well, I can’t very well greet guests with cream dripping off my lip, now can I?”
“What? Oh, sorry,” Mischa wiped his mouth clean with the back of his hand as a thin, very pale man in black robes studded with white glass stars came up to greet Octavia.
“Who was that?” Mischa asked after the pale man left.
“His name is Hipparchus. Did you see the silver spyglass he wore? That shows that he’s an astronomer. We create the lenses for their spyglasses and telescopes.”
“A journeyman. You can tell the person’s rank by color of the necklace and charm that they wear – silver for makers or journeymen, gold for masters.”
“A journey… you mean he travels, like a river trader?”
“No,” Octavia laughed. “He’s like a maker, only their guild doesn’t make anything so they call their makers journeymen instead … or women.”
Mischa frowned, then shrugged. “Still sounds like a traveler to me,” he said. “Does it bother you,” he asked suddenly, “that I travel with your parents and you don’t?”
“What?” Octavia gave him a startled glance. “No. Of course not. Why would it?”
“I mean,” Mischa said, looking down and scuffling his feet. “You don’t really like living here, do you? It’s so … cold. Even in the middle of summer. Everything’s made of stone. It’s just so … different from the river. How can you stand it?”
Octavia stared at her cousin, completely astonished. “I love it here,” she told him. “I can’t imagine any other life.”
Mischa goggled back at her. “Don’t you miss the Khelana?” he asked.
“No, not at all,” Octavia said. “I mean, it’s nice ….”
“Nice?” Mischa stared at her, clearly aghast. “Nice? Compared to this stone prison?”
“It’s not a prison,” she said hotly, then gave him a wry smile. “Sounds like we’re both where we belong,” she said.
“But don’t you miss your parents?”
“Hardly. They’re here nearly every day. You know that.”
“Yeah, but …”
“Mischa.” Octavia put a hand on his shoulder. “It’s all right. It really is. I am so very glad that we were able to make a place for you after … after the flood. You are a part of our family. Father always did want a son, you know.”
Mischa frowned and opened his mouth to ask another question but just then someone started shouting.
“Verre!” A tall, heavily muscled man with wavy auburn hair stumped out of the back room, his face dark with fury. Other masters, all members of the Metal Workers League, hurried after him. Some looked equally angry, others more worried. The shouting man reached Octavia, then turned abruptly on his heel to look back at the crowd now staring at him.
“Verre! Where do you hide, in this crowd?”
“Now, now, Falchion,” a balding older man, a master of the barrel makers by the little cask hanging from his gold necklace, called to him in a placating tone. “This is Octavia’s celebration. Leave your arguments aside for once.”
Falchion ignored him. “Verre!” he shouted again.
“Does he mean to fight?” Mischa asked, standing up.
“No, he just likes to make trouble,” Octavia sighed. “He’s Falchion, the head of the iron mongers guild and the Metal Workers League. You know that the metal workers and glass singers don’t, um, get along very well, don’t you?”
“That’s Falchion?” Mischa asked, putting down his plate. “I should have known. He must have forgotten that Clan Breydon would be here too. Hasn’t that iron fool made enough trouble for himself with the Khelani already?” And, indeed, most of the river traders present were moving through the crowd toward the shouter and his entourage. Not just Clan Breydon, Octavia realized with a mixture of gratitude and alarm. Every upper river clan was well represented at her party and so were most of the clans from the Kerguelen area as well. Several of the city guard, although technically off-duty, began to move forward as well, presumably to try and stop any trouble.
“Oh, no you don’t,” Octavia said, grabbing Mischa’s arm and pulling him back before he could join the other Khelani. “I won’t have you fighting at my celebration!”
Grandfather, with Cadie now napping on his shoulder, also made his way through the throngs of party-goers toward Falchion. He paused a moment to greet this person and then another, drawing snorts and giggles from onlookers as he slowly moved through the crowd. In fact, Octavia thought as members of Clan Breydon reached the iron monger first, perhaps Grandfather took a little too long. Still, he managed to insert himself smoothly between the Khelani angry on Octavia’s behalf and Falchion and his entourage before they came to blows.
“Grand Master Falchion,” Grandfather said in a murmur pitched to carry across the room, “How good of you to attend our little celebration.”
“You know why I’m here,” Falchion grated. Unlike Grandfather he had to shout to make himself heard over the buzz of the crowd. “You say the glasses cried a warning. Well, what is
it? What is it all about? Quit fooling around and tell us what’s going to happen.”
“Alas, we do not know,” Grandfather said, “As I believe you heard with the other council … .”
“I am not here for secret meetings and back room reassurances,” Falchion snapped. “You are the keeper of the glasses and they have spoken. I demand you tell us what they say.”
But even as Grandfather opened his mouth to reply, Falchion waved away his words with a dismissive gesture.
“This is a complete fraud, I say,” he shouted, directly addressing the crowd. His faced turned even more red as he spoke. “A fraud and deceit perpetrated on the people of Albermarle and Kerguelen and I won’t be a party to it!
“The glass singers say there’s a warning, but a warning of what? They can’t tell us. They say we should take precautions, but how do we prepare for a catastrophe when we don’t even know what it is? It’s all a lie, I say. Deceit and deception, meant to further the sorcerous glass singers’ influence on the council. You may fool those already in your pocket, Verre, but you don’t fool me. Or these others with sense enough to see through your lies.”
Falchion turned abruptly again and strode out of the hall, brushing hard against Octavia’s display table as he did so. Mischa grabbed the table to keep the pile of leather purses and other gifts from spilling. Only his abandoned pastry plate fell off the table, hitting the oak floor with a sharp clunk.
“Wow,” Mischa said. “The plate didn’t break.”
“Of course not,” Octavia said impatiently. “It’s Verre House glass.”
A young woman with the same wavy brown hair and strong chin as the iron monger’s paused beside Octavia. “I am so sorry, dear,” she murmured into Octavia’s ear even as she pressed a large purse into Octavia’s hands. “Please don’t let this stupid tiff ruin your party. Your pieces are amazing. We’re really all quite impressed.” Then the woman, who wore the tiny gold hammer of a jewelry master, hurried out the door after the other metal workers.
“Who was that?” Mischa asked, his eyes wide in surprise.
“Samantha, Falchion’s oldest daughter,” Octavia said, feeling equally amazed.
The orchestra struck up a lively dance tune to fill the silence left by the metal workers’ departure and soon everyone was chattering loudly again, discussing this latest twist. A whole new reception line formed as sympathetic folk hurried to reassure Octavia that her party had not been ruined. Gratitude for all this concern quickly replaced Octavia’s fury at the iron monger. Soon however, even this emotion ebbed away into simple exhaustion and Octavia began to wish that the night would end. Only the strict disciplines of her trade kept Octavia straight-backed and standing that last hour. Finally, however, the last guests began making their goodbyes and trickling out into the humid evening.
Half note greeted the end of the evening with relief as well. Her shoulders and arms ached from carrying heavy trays all night and her head throbbed from trying to keep up with all the shifting emotions of the day. The orchestra played a last tune and then began packing up their instruments. Mama rescued Cadie from Grandpa’s shoulder, gave Half note a good night kiss and disappeared into the guest chambers. The council masters finished their back room discussions and reappeared to gather up their companions before departing. Half note took her last empty tray back into the kitchen, happy to see the twins Annie and Alice, apprentices just a year and a half older than herself, already washing up and nearly done. Tall, bony Phyllis and nymph-like Sylvia, both older Verre House singers, helped Octavia carry the evening’s largesse up to her new quarters. The rest of the household started sweeping up and dousing all the lamps.
With the main chores done, Grandpa called the household together into the kitchen for a last cup of chamomile tea.
“What a wonderful party,” he said. “Thank you all for your efforts. Naturally, we’ll all want a bit of a rest in the morning … .”