Grizelda Sample Chapter
Grizelda shot up in bet the moment Elisabet started to shake her. She hadn’t been sleeping very deeply anyway, hadn’t managed to sleep deeply for days. She looked at the face of her friend, pale and seeming disembodied in the half-light, her expression telling everything. It’s happened, hasn’t it? she was about to say, but Elisabet beat her to the words.
“They’re at the door,” Elisabet said in a terrified whisper.
In a moment Grizelda was up and at the dormitory window. Rain trickled down the glass in rivulets, lit gold from the lone streetlamp below. If she stood on her tiptoes and turned her head in an awkward angle, she could just make out the street, where two men in dark greatcoats huddled by the lamp, trying to read a piece of paper. Gendarmes.
“I’ll get you some clothes for the weather.” Elisabet was flying, throwing open dresser drawers and ransacking their contents. “Here!” She threw a coat at Grizelda. Grizelda caught it awkwardly and resumed pulling on her dress and shoes. She was trying to do it standing up and was only getting herself into a tangle, but she couldn’t afford to sit down, she didn’t have time.
Time? She’d had bucketloads of time. Three days ago Meaven Godey the informer had found out her secret. What kind of an idiot stayed home after an incident like that?
The commotion was starting to wake up the other girls in the dormitory. They stirred and lifted their heads to see what was the matter.
“It’s the gendarmes,” Elisabet told them. “For Grizelda.”
Meanwhile Grizelda had managed to get her dress on straight. “Somebody go wake the mistress. I’ll get out the back way.”
With that she threw the coat around herself and made for the door.
“I’ll go with you,” Elisabet declared.
Together they hurried out of the dormitory, past the mistress’s bedroom, and down a darkened stairway. With luck they would be able to get down to the public part of the shop before the gendarmes got inside. After that it was only a short way through some back rooms to the alley.
“I’m so sorry, Liz,” Grizelda said as they stole down quietly in the dark.
“I should have left when it happened. I’ve put you all in danger.”
Their whispered conversation was cut off abruptly. A glare of candlelight lanced upward through the balusters along with the sound of voices. They froze, listening.
“We take unfortunate girls off the streets and put them to good use. We’re all upstanding citizens of Corvain. I don’t know what you’re doing here.”
That was Miss Hesslehamer, the mistress, already awake and downstairs. Another voice, a male one, answered her. “We’ve got here a letter of cachet. You can’t stop us doing a search upstairs.”
Elisabet squeezed Grizelda’s hand. “Quick! Use your power and hide us!”
“Liz, you know I can’t when I’m under pressure–”
She lost her chance when Miss Hesslehamer and the two gendarmes came to the foot of the stairs and spotted the two of them. Miss Hesslehamer looked terrible, with her glasses askew and a wrap clumsily thrown over her nightdress. When she saw Grizelda standing there in her coat, for a moment it looked like she would speak. Instead she turned back to the gendarmes.
“What is it you’re going to search, sirs?” she said. It was clear in her voice she was frightened. It was the first time in her life Grizelda had ever heard Miss Hesslehamer frightened, and that scared her more than even the gendarmes did.
But the gendarmes pushed past her without speaking. Grizelda tried to bolt for it. She almost thought she was going to make it past them, but one of them snatched her by the collar.
“Not you, miss. You’ve got gray hair. You’re the one we’re here to search for.”
She tried to sneak in a bite, but the gendarme clouted her across the head and forced her to walk back upstairs and back into the dormitory. Elisabet followed them, wringing her hands, and Miss Hesslehamer bore the candle.
They made her stand in one corner where they could keep an eye on her. Like a nightmare, she could watch the whole scene play out but could do nothing about it. The girls were all sitting up in bed now, terrified but silent.
The taller one pointed at Grizelda. “Ma’am, where does that one keep her personal belongings?”
“What are you investigating her for? How do you know it was even her?”
“Under her bed, I’ll rate,” said the other, and he went to the nearest empty bed and tipped out the mattress. Elisabet’s bedding landed on the floor in a snarl. The gendarme pawed through it, not caring that his boots were treading street-grease on them.
“She’s under arrest for sorcery,” said the first to Miss Hesslehamer.
“I’m training these girls to be law-abiding citizens!”
The gendarme gave up his search and went for the other empty bed in the dormitory.
“No!” Grizelda ran forward to stop him, though Elisabet tried to hold her back. The gendarme knocked her down and heaved over the mattress.
A flurry of brightly-colored papers spilled out onto the floor.
Grizelda still lay dazed, half on her side on the floor, but when she saw these she knew she was in for it. She dropped her head.
“That’s enough!” cried Miss Hesslehamer. “I won’t have people treated this way in my own home!” There was a noise like Miss Hesslehamer struggling, then a thud as the light went out. Somebody screamed. Grizelda felt a sharp twist of her arm behind her back, then she was dragged to her feet and made to march out of the room.
Lonnes’s skyline was dominated by the massive constructions of the Auks. They had been birds. Great intelligent black birds from across the sea. They’d built their fortresses here and tried to rule Corvain and for two hundred years they’d nearly succeeded. Greater than man-sized, they must have been, for those high, broad doors were far too big for mere humans to pass in and out of. The smaller, human dwellings of Lonnes clustered together in their shadow. But the relics of the old Aukish domination were crumbling now, painted over with the slogans of the Republic. They were reduced to not much more than a charcoal-colored smudge, blurred by the rain and light of predawn.
Most of the streetlamps had long since gone out, but a few still made wavering pools of yellow here and there against the late November gray. The rain fell in a steady, insistent mist, hissing against the cobblestones and pouring off of roofs in sheets. Sogged liberty bows hung limply against citizens’ doors.
Grizelda screamed and struggled at first. She kicked them in the shins as much as she was able, and cursed them for wrongly arresting her and acting against the values of the Revolution. What was this government coming to anyway, when it dragged innocent citizens out of their homes in the middle of the night in the name of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity?
The gendarmes were not at all interested in her speeches, though, and they were too strong for her. One held her arms twisted tightly behind her back while the other clamped his arm over her face so that her screams wouldn’t wake any citizens. The fight was exhausting. By the time dawn had broken, she was so drained that she mutely allowed them to drag her through the streets, head bent. The rain ran down her head and soaked through her clothing, coat and all, so that it clung heavily to her body. She felt ashamed of herself, too. Not only had she sinned against the ideals of the Republic, but her stupid mistake had gotten all the shop tainted with guilt by association. What would happen to them now? She would face the Committee with dignity, though, and not look like a coward. Just after she had rested.
Oh, Corvain! she thought. The Revolution wasn’t supposed to be like this!
The timber of the rain’s hiss changed, deepening to a roar. The river Sarny was nearby. Grizelda looked up in fresh terror. There was a low, dark mass out where the land jutted into the river and the river took a sharp turn around it. Promontory. It had been a fort in the feudal days of the Auks and the sorcerers, but when the Republic took over, they had not abandoned it like the other buildings. They had converted it to a prison.
Grizelda’s steps faltered a little when she got to the bridge. Promontory was separated from the mainland by a moat and this bridge was the sole way in and out. It was a narrow arc of stone spanning the gap, without railings – part of the old fort’s defenses. The gendarme gave her a warning nudge in the back. She swallowed and walked forward. Early risers were just beginning to show on the streets now. Some of them stared at her as she passed but most of them hunched themselves against the wet and hurried on their way.
“Long live the Revolution!” somebody yelled. She looked around, but she couldn’t tell who it had been.
She made the perilous journey over the bridge, stumbling every few steps, then the gendarmes stopped to haggle with the gatekeeper at Promontory’s outer wall. One gendarme kept a firm grip on her while the other did the talking, until finally the gatekeeper opened up the door and let them into the courtyard.
There was a scattering of buildings inside looking sorry for themselves, separated from each other by swaths of sodden turf. But what dominated the view, even drawing her attention away from the firing range, was the bone clock. She had heard the stories about it, but she never thought she would be within the walls of Promontory to see it. They said it had been a sick joke of the Auks. The bone clock was a sort of sundial, with a gnomon of stone set at an angle in the middle of the courtyard. But the uprights, marking the twelve positions of the clock, were human femurs. Another reminder of who was predator and who was prey.
Grizelda wanted to retch, but she bit down on her lip, hard. Courage, Grizelda.
The gendarmes took her inside to be searched. Not by themselves, thank God. They led her to a small, brightly-lit room where they had a woman for these sorts of situations. Expressionless, she ordered Grizelda to take off her coat, her shoes, her dress and lay them on a bench. She was allowed to keep her undergarments on.
The woman picked up each garment and rubbed it, looking like she’d been asked to handle old seaweed.
“What’s this?” she said, holding up the sleeve of Grizelda’s dress.
There were spools running down the length of the sleeve in a line, attached by delicate leather thongs so they would wind freely when the thread was pulled. It had been Grizelda’s own idea to sew the spools on, so she could keep the thread handy in Miss Hesslehamer’s shop. She clenched her fists, wanting to snatch it back from her, but she did not.
“It’s just so I could have my thread,” she muttered.
The woman removed a pair of scissors from the dress pocket and dropped them into an envelope. There was nothing else offending, so after she had patted Grizelda down, she was allowed to have her clothes back.
Grizelda pulled her dress back on, inwardly relieved. The woman hadn’t found her little packet of needles, in the inside pocket of the bodice. So she had something sharp on her. She had no idea what she might do with them, though.
“Write your name here.” The woman handed her the envelope, all folded up and sealed.
Grizelda took the pen. “Why?”
“To identify you. You can have this back when you’ve served your term.”
Not likely, Grizelda thought. It was only under exceptional circumstances that someone ever came out of Promontory alive. Somebody with connections, with a powerful or a rich family to buy them out of jail. Not like her. Still, she signed her name on the packet and handed it back over.
Somewhere in the Fish District, three rats were trotting down the pitch of a rooftop. It was midmorning by now, and the rain had still not let up. But it had softened to a steady patter, and out in the street the light would have been strong enough to read by. On the rooftop, shielded by heavy foliage, it was as good as night. Any rain that managed to filter through the tree’s leaves collected into heavy, fat raindrops that exploded on impact. The rats didn’t give the water a moment’s notice as they cleared the gutter and landed on the top of a wall. From the wall it was a quick scurry downward to the surface of the street.
They stood there a moment, sniffing the air. It was only an instant – they were just checking that the coast was clear. Then as if on a cue, they all three slipped into a storm drain one after the other.
One would have to be sharp-eyed indeed to have even seen the rats. But if anyone was watching, in that brief moment when they were exposed at street level, they might have sworn they’d seen somebody riding them.