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eBook by Andrew Smith
eBook Category: Fantasy/Humor
eBook Description: Sirens, sprites, and gentleman astrologers are everyday things in the Woven City. So when the Crusader, a 7-foot-high suit of armor with no one inside, begins hassling people outside Mme. Rumella's Tea Shop, her main concern is that he might disturb her customers. His search for an ancient artifact will come to preoccupy not only the two of them, but Mme. Rumella's young nephew, archaeologist Leila Lanstrom, Mary, Queen of Scots (but don't call her that to her face) and a whole cast of City characters, few of them reputable. Meanwhile, a man from Spain runs for mayor, the infamous Hunter Blue returns from the Forests after an absence of a few centuries, carrying a big gun and looking for revenge, and a very boring linguist disappears from the Mulhoy Institute of Extinct and Imaginary languages. It's all very distracting, but the Crusader is single minded of purpose, never resting as he searches from the walls of Jericho to the British Museum, to the Pyramid of the Sun, which in the Woven City is mainly used by people looking for a good place to go jogging.
eBook Publisher: Mundania Press LLC/Mundania Press LLC, Published: 2006, 2006
Fictionwise Release Date: October 2006
8 Reader Ratings:
Nobody in the Woven City could tell you quite where they were. They could provide a whole litany of geographic and temporal markers, however. For instance, they could tell you that they were in the mid-nineteenth century, in a block of London flats. They could tell you the to the left was a ten-story civic auditorium from Chicago, completed in 1890, and that to the right was a small church of St. Pandelemon from the Greek island of Antissa. On the sidewalk in front of it sat a rusty tank, aimed at Turkey. Or rather, where Turkey would be but in fact it was just pointing across the street.
They could tell you that in the normal world, that place where most people lived, these places were thousands of miles apart, and half of them gone or in a serious state of disrepair. And in fact, it was quite easy to get to the normal world from any of these places.
But where this world was, where it existed in relation to that other place, that was another question entirely. If there were single living being who knew the answer, they weren't talking.
The London apartment building had been converted into a tea shop, a favorite among the citizens for its amicable owner, fresh baked treats, array of comfortable seating, and relative security. The Woven City, formed by buildings and patches of land from all over the world since the dawn of civilization, was rampant with sorcery, chaos, and lively debate.
The shop was crowded as usual with some of the regular customers, standing round the bar, perched on armchairs near the fireplace, or simply ducking in for their morning drink. The sweet, slightly plump Mme. Rumella dispensed teas and coffees with the readiness of many years' practice.
"Here you are, Mr. Markab: one medium earl grey, no milk, no sugar," said Mme. Rumella in her ancient Londoner's accent, as she handed a steaming glass to a somewhat portly black gentleman in a pinstripe charcoal suit and bowler hat
"I would tip my hat, Madam, but..." Mr. Markab, gentleman astrologer, shrugged, his one hand full with his tea, the other with a plain black briefcase and umbrella.
"Of course, Mr. Markab," Mme. Rumella smiled. "You run along to your office, and have a very nice day."
Mr. Markab inclined his head, said good day and exited. Mme. Rumella never worried about losing her glassware. She turned to the next person in line, a young man with short dark hair and dark eyes, wearing a short-sleeved shirt over a long-sleeved one. "Oh, Jason, lamb, you've found the shop this morning. How lovely. What can I get for you?"
"Earl Grey," Jason Oblivion replied cheerfully.
"Are you sure?"
"How about something fruity? It's fall: how about some nice apple cinnamon?"
"Absolutely not!" Jason smiled.
"One apple cinnamon it is. Are you staying?"
Jason shook his head. "Got to leave immediately, sorry."
"One apple cinnamon to stay. Why don't you have a seat, Jason?"
"I think I'll stand," said Jason as he chose a seat by the window. "May I pay you right now?"
"That'll be lovely," Mme. Rumella replied, setting his steeping tea on the bar.
The next person in line, an apparently twenty-something woman with flaming red hair, shook her head and remarked, in a Scots accent, "How do you carry on a conversation with the Man Who's Always Wrong?"
"Oh, it's not all that difficult, Mary," Mme. Rumella said. "You just have to give him what he isn't sure that he doesn't want."
"I still think I'd get a headache," Mary remarked
"The headaches go away after a while," Mme. Rumella smiled ruefully. "What can I get for you now?"
"Just a coffee to go. I've got kind of a busy day."
"Of course, dear, here's your cup," Mme. Rumella replied
Mary filled her cup with French roast, as an attractive woman with voluminous black hair and green eyes, and wearing plenty of silver jewelry, stepped forward. "Mary, Queen of Scots," she said mistily
Mary exhaled angrily into her coffee without turning to look at the other woman. "Tina Virtue," she said mockingly, "Proprietor of Truth and Beauty." Mary looked her in the eye. "Why is it that everyone in this town seems to need a title as well as a name? I'm Mary. No appellations, no honorifics. Just Mary."
Tina Virtue cocked her head innocently to the side and rejoined, "Mary, you will always be Queen."
Mary's face reddened. "That's as may be," she growled into her cup, "but you don't have to tack it onto my name whenever you see me."
"I speak only in truths," said Tina.
"I'm not asking you to lie," said Mary, "just omit a bit more than is your current practice. If youfeel the desperate need to add extra syllables, Mary Stuart will do."
Tina shrugged. "A hot chocolate please, Mme. Rumella."
"Right away, love," said Mme. Rumella as she grabbed her steaming pitcher and premium chocolate.
"So, have you heard," said Tina, an indulgent gossip whose news was always reliable, even when she chose to share it for free, "that someone is actually running for Mayor?"
"Mayor?" Mme. Rumella cried over the steam and bubbling milk. "If I didn't know better, Tina, I'd swear you were joking!"
"Jesus..." Mary muttered. "When's the last time this town even had a Mayor?"
"Three hundred twenty-some years, I believe," Mme. Rumella supplied.
"You're wrong!" Jason called from his seat.
"Thank you, lamb." Mme. Rumella looked pensive as she mixed the milk into the chocolate. "What happened to him, anyway? I just remember that it was unpleasant..."
"I think he was beheaded while on fire," Mary supplied.
"Dreadful," Tina remarked. "The one before that, Mayor Davies, was shot to death with crossbow bolts. On fire."
"Does seem to be a flame theme, doesn't there?" Mme. Rumella asked rhetorically. "I can't imagine why this Mr...?"
"Suerte. Miguel Suerte," Tina supplied.
"Suerte? Isn't that Spanish for 'lucky' or something?" Mary asked
"I don't think so!" Jason Oblivion chimed in.
"Thanks, Jason," Mary mumbled. "Well, he'd better live up to his name if he wants to live to Election Day."
"We ought to start a pool on it. How many days before the election do you think the candidate will be killed, and another section for how," Mme. Rumella cheerfully suggested.
"Offer three-to-five on it not involving fire," Tina suggested.
"Do you actually know when Election Day is?" Mary asked.
Mme. Rumella realized that she didn't, and said so. Tina just shrugged. "Nobody knows everything," she said.
"So Mary dear, how was your day yesterday?"
Mary sighed and took a sip from her coffee. "Well, I ran into Lionel the Necromancer last night."
"Oh, and how is he?"
"Shifty as ever," Mary grumbled. "We had a bit of a fight."
"Who won?" Tina asked.
Mary shot her a harsh look. Before she could say anything, Mme. Rumella commented, "Tina, love, Lionel hasn't been a real threat in years. Mary won, of course, didn't you?"
"Yes, I did," said Mary. "We just bumped into each other out by the Pyramid of the Moon. I mean, literally: we were both coming around a corner a little fast. I asked him what he was up to, and he made with the shifting eyes. I was actually trying to be cordial. No, really," she said, catching their looks. "But when necromancers start acting suspicious, it's best not to give them latitude. I saw him reaching for his Focus under his cloak."
"Did you give him a right thrashing, dear?"
"Not too bad, actually," said Mary, readjusting her pony-tail. "I feel guilty beating up on him, since he's penniless and powerless three centuries running."
"I'm not sure that you should," Mme. Rumella told her, finally handing Tina her hot chocolate. "It's a bit too hot of chocolate, I'm afraid, so be careful."
Tina just smiled and paraded herself out of the room, hips swaying to an unheard drum beat somewhere. Mary watched her go with an eyebrow raised disdainfully. As the door swung shut behind her, Mary looked at Mme. Rumella. "That woman is too much,". she said. "She swayed extra to annoy me. I can tell."
Mme. Rumella smiled, taking the customer-free moment to fix her graying curls, which had come loose in the fray. Rather than indulge Mary's antipathy, she shifted the subject to Mary's plans for the day.
"Oh, the usual. I thought I would go patrolling around Downtown here the new kids always take some time to adjust," Mary said and they shared a knowing smile.
"Not going out to the edges of town today, then?"
"No," Mary shook her head. "I spend too much time out there. Besides, a space appeared last night, if you can believe the whispers on the street. Would you mind if I top up?"
Mme. Rumella gave a wave of her hand. "You needn't ask, Mary!"
Mary nodded politely and refilled her coffee. "I'll see you later, Mme."
The proprietress waved 'goodbye' as Mary exited into the curving street, removing her own Focus, the device by which she performed acts of sorcery, from her pocket. Looking like a small, cylindrical cartridge of no apparent use, Mary had spent a lot of time personalizing her Focus to do many things with different wrist motions. She ran through each of them every morning, just to keep in practice. She turned the cartridge over her wrist, and it became a short metal baton. Another turn, and it became two. Next, she flicked her wrist outward and the Focus became a torch. She blew on it, and the flame came to life. She turned the torch in just the right way, and it became a spear. She threw the spear into a nearby wall, where it lodged itself in the mortar between the bricks, and subsequently removed itself and returned to her hand. She swept her arm upward, and the spear became a shield. Mary grinned as she performed the last transformation. This one was her favorite. She made a motion like reaching for a scabbard on her back, and the Focus became a claymore. I love these things, Mary thought as she swung the long sword around in front of her. She rolled her Focus back into a single baton.
The former Queen adopted a more modern, less peacock-like style of dress, which appeared much earlier in the city than the normal world, quite quickly after finding herself in the Woven City. Today she wore calf-high boots, white, straight-line slacks, and a loose blue blouse with a few buttons unbuttoned. The crisp autumn air wrapped itself around her, filling her lungs as she clicked across the cobblestone street.
She had fled from her defeat in Scotland in 1568, seeking refuge from her enemies with her cousin Elizabeth, who had her locked up. Admittedly, she had a complete entourage with her, but it was not an ideal situation. Then one morning, the entire castle, jailors and all, appeared here. Through some clever tricks, she had convinced Elizabeth that she remained imprisoned. Of course it helped that the other queen never actually agreed to an audience with her cousin. And now, so many years later, she hardly even thought of it, save when someone as aggravating as Tina Virtue called her by her discarded title. She was just Mary, and most of the city realized that calling her 'Queen of Scots' would only make her mad. And having Mary, former Queen of Scots mad at you was never a good position to be in
Mary walked between two of the buildings across from Mme. Rumella's. A small tree grew up in the middle of the alleyway. That was the thing of the Woven City. You never knew what would show up: buildings, whole parks, or monuments, or a simple, single tree. Its leaves were turning colors in the cool weather and slanting sun. Mary held up the end of her pony-tail, and glanced back and forth at the tree. "I win," she said to it, and went on her way
Mary walked towards the center of town, passing a turn-of-the-century mill, its water-wheel churning up water from a stream that began and ended within a span of fifty feet, a World War I trench that someone had filled in and planted with pansies, and a bank of stationary guns from the Maginot Line. She watched vigilantly for signs of trouble as she passed between a couple of prefab houses from 1950's Illinois, a high-rise that was part of Singapore's government housing project in the 1960's, a Northumberland golf club from the 1970's, and a small Columbian house from the 1980's
Finally, she came to Denver International Airport, nearing the center of town. She walked across the empty runway (airplane travel from the city was impossible for half a dozen good reasons) towards the place where the third concourse should be. The airport's terminal and concourses A and B, as well as all the majority of runways were there, but where the third concourse should be, there was a self storage place and an apartment complex with stucco walls from somewhere in the American southwest.
Mary entered the complex and walked up the stairs to the fourth floor. The modern lights not been replaced, but burned with flame rather than electricity. There was an elevator, but Mary never used them. She didn't trust them. It was simple enough to get most machines to work without electricity here, but being trapped in a small box animated by someone else's sorcery was not Mary's idea of a good place to be. She came to a door painted an offensive shade of violet and knocked once before entering. A chain stopped the door from opening. She swung her baton down on it and it snapped. The door swung open.
Mary stepped into the space, hung with cheap Moroccan tapestries and filled with billowing clouds of incense that escaped to fill the hallway behind her before she closed the door. She coughed a little. A beaded curtain separating the kitchen from the living room was brushed aside.
"You!" Came an accusatory voice with a faintly Cuban accent
"Hello, Fernando," Mary said.
A man dressed like a standard-issue carnival fortune-teller bustled into the room. An inviting smell of arroz con pollo rushed in behind him to battle with the choking incense. "You could have knocked, Reina," he said.
Mary exhaled slowly. She hated how he always called her that. Fernando Tarrega, for all his many, many quirks, was actually a fairly reliable oracle. If something was absolutely destined to happen, Fernando would know. Of course, without a little threatening, he would start handing you the standard-issue carnival fortune-teller lines. And he never answered his door at lunch time. Mary always wondered why she went to him, instead of the equally reliable Mr. Markab, but he did help her out of a bit of a jam once (which, frankly, it pained her to admit).
Mary gave him a bit of a glare. "What do you know?"
"That my rice is almost done," Fernando sniffed and exited back to the kitchen. Mary followed him and waited, almost patiently, as he stirred the contents his Dutch oven. "Well then," he said as he served himself a large plate of food, "some pretty interesting things are about to happen around here."
"Really," Mary said in her least impressed tone.
"Vry mchso," said Fernando.
"Swallow, then talk," Mary advised.
"Something," he said, "I cannot tell exactly what, is coming here. Soon. It will cause a bit of a disruption in everyday activities. And whatever it is, it has a mission."
"You know what?"
Fernando shook his head. "It's all very vague, even for me. I cannot tell the mission, or the outcome, only that it would be best if the mission were completed."
"So if someone, or something, comes to town looking to do something, I should probably help it?"
"Whatever you like," said Fernando off-handedly before shoveling some chicken in his mouth
"Anything else?" Mary waited until he had swallowed before asking.
"Have you heard that some lunatic is running for mayor?"
"I have," Mary said. "Anything on him?"
"He's from Spain."
"You're lucky to know that much. He's been shrouding himself. I couldn't tell his future without a major foiling spell, which I don't know."
"Would anyone else know it?"
Fernando shrugged evasively. "Maybe. You could always try Tina Virtue's if you want..."