There is nothing in machinery, there is nothing in embankments and railways and iron bridges and engineering devices to oblige them to be ugly. Ugliness is the measure of imperfection.
It was amazing that so few people ever really bothered to find much out about Lady Michaela McManus. Of course, she knew the right people, and that smoothed the way for the most part, but still. In truth, she was a lady, ostensibly of excellent Anglo-Irish family on one side, if that sort of thing mattered. There was a minor title, which carried a few lines in Burke’s Peerage, should anyone check. It at least kept things from becoming awkward. But it was her other title that was more important: amongst her own people she was minor royalty, from the very upper echelons of society and in due course she would probably have to take up a role in the governance of her people. At the very least, she would have to take her Mother’s seat on the Council but, with luck, that should be decades off. At 572, her Mother still looked much as she had at 250, or so her father said, and had the energy of a much younger woman.
Her responsibility to her people was an important part of her being: it hadn’t taken Jack much effort to persuade her to find home and hearth for those poor orphans, and in some respects she was looking forward to playing her part in the governance of her dispersed people. The thing was, that she enjoyed her experiments too much, and if it become known quite how far she had progressed, that might bar her from service. Her family simply thought her eccentric, which is why she had hidden her workshop away on Jack’s estate. They believed that they’d managed to squash her enthusiasm in this regard, and that she was just enjoying her youthful years.
The problem arose because her people were inherently stuffy about the modern world. What was particularly galling was the hypocrisy: they took advantage of the modern technology when it suited them, but they clung to some idealised “purity” of their work. None of them seemed to realise that the world no longer wanted swords and magic rings. Michaela had been working on petrol engines for a few years, but had recently dropped this in favour of an electric car: she’d thought it a great shame that the electric cabs had died out in London. They had been so unreliable though. She had a few ideas on that score, and her ambition was to successfully race an all-electric car at Le Mans. In one of the stables was a Bentley – the twin of Robert’s – that was being rebuilt by Mike and her helpers.
Robert’s Bentley had caused quite a stir. She’d read about a demonstration that the Ford company had carried out before the war, creating bodywork out of stainless steel, which had been finished to a high standard. The result was a shiny and reflective monster, and as she’d thought when she’d seen some pictures, it suited the Bentley down to the ground. For the Le Mans car she wanted something lighter though, and was working on some special alloys.
Unless they’d seen Robert’s car, anyone who visited would be surprised to see quite how complete the forge and workshop was. Mike’s arrival in Theydon Bois had been a seven days wonder. The spectrum of gossip had run from scurrilous speculation of the connection between the elusive Jack and the newcomer, and dismay at the “lady blacksmith”. The locals here and about, had wondered a lot about what Mike did: most had assumed that it would be arty ironwork, but those that had taken the time to get to know Mike more than superficially had met a woman who, on the one hand would generously repair pots and pans or reshoe a horse in an emergency, and on the other did produce art, but things that were airy and graceful, belying the ferrous nature of the medium.
Her neighbours also found that she did not just do ironwork, but was a skillful jeweller and smith of precious metals. She was a competent tinkerer with clockwork. She was a patient teacher and would give classes to any who asked. One or two of the local craftsmen swallowed their pride and learned things that put them at an advantage over their peers.
What no-one realised, was that what they saw was not all that there was to see. Perhaps it was because they never saw everyone at once, perhaps because they couldn’t envisage what else might be done, or perhaps because the stable-block and outhouses were so orderly in their utilisation. If they had realised that Mike was in fact one of the Dvergar, they might have had an inkling of the warren of workshops – the Manufactorium – that had been created under Jack’s estate.
By some quirk of language, dvergar had become dwarf, and in turn been linked to a lack of stature. To begin with this had been vexing to the dvergar, who lived side by side with the flighty and ephemeral humans. Worse still had been the barefaced propaganda that had seen the dwarfs belittled, figuratively, for their grasping ways and conniving spirit, and certain lecherous propensity where maidens and valkyr were concerned. It didn’t take long for a human to forget who had helped them out of a hole, but the dvergar had long memories…
Feeling better for Billy’s company the night before, Michaela returned to her the workshops to find something absorbing to do whilst waiting for Jack to turn up, for Billy had convinced her that he would. She spent a little time checking on her current batch of apprentices and journeyers, Juliet included, to ensure they had plenty of projects to keep them occupied, then headed off to the warren below ground, and her private suite of workshops. She spoke a word and the rune-wards flared brightly. Another word, combined with pressure on certain points in the ward-web and she unlocked the door. She unbanked the fire in the forge and turned on a little pump of her own design that would direct oxygen into the hearth, and left it to get to the proper temperature while she consulted her notes. She knew she was close to finding the right alloy for her purposes, it just needed a little careful tweaking. Deeply engrossed in weighing out powdered metals from different stock, she was surprised to hear a loud spitting from the forge. It was far too soon for it to have reached optimal temperature. Carefully putting her equipment down, she crossed the room to the forge. What she saw made absolutely no sense at all. Glowing in the goals was a fragment of paper containing a handwritten date. Grabbing her tongs, she quickly extricated it and placed it carefully on the surround, well away from the coals. Strangely, the paper wasn’t on fire nor, when she brought her hand close to it was it even vaguely warm, yet the edges were decidedly singed. Briefly puzzled, she wondered what new trick her apprentices had picked up, before idly tossing the fragment aside to return to her test tubes. When it happened again ten minutes later, she crossly exclaimed “botheration!”
Storming back above ground, she called the apprentices into the main workshop and had it out with them. “Now, I know it’s probably just a bit of high spirits, but I’m simply not in the mood for it! And what’s the significance of this date? Are you after the day off for a jolly or something?” Looking around the room, she saw nothing but puzzlement on their faces. Pulling the fragments out of her pocket “I pulled these out of the forge, but not only weren’t they on fire, they weren’t even warm. So, come on, who’s learned a new skill? And more to the point, who taught you?” A couple of the lads dashed from the room and returned with the ashtrays from their rumpus room. There amongst the cigarette ends were a couple more fragments – identical to the ones Michaela’d found. The lads looked a bit worried, admitting they’d assumed the same as she had. Putting on her most serious voice, Michaela started to remind them of their status, or more to the point the continued sufferance of their presence at the Manufactorium only to be interrupted by Juliet “Mike, you know this sort of thing is way beyond us. Not that we wouldn’t love to learn how, but right now … no, it’s not us”. All the lads nodded or murmered their agreement and Michaela suddenly realised just who did have this level of skill – Tinkerbell. Oh how stupid she’d been, he was trying to send her a message. She thought quickly, and caught Agnarr’s and Hildr’s eyes.
“Very well then. But if any more of these messages come, I want to see them at once. Anything, out of the ordinary, and you must tell Agnarr and Hildr.”
She scooped the notes out of the ashtrays and handed the trays back.
“Off you go now, back to work.”
© 2018, David Jesson & Debra Carey