This story is the fourth in a sequence which began with my previously posted story Intentions and was continued in Threads and The King's Councillor. If you've read those stories already, or you want to discover what's going on as Peter Joyce tells it, then skip this intro and go straight on to Peter's narrative.
In Intentions, the Subtle Knife is restored and passes from Will Parry to Giancarlo Bellini, and we first meet Lyra's half-sister Elizabeth Boreal. Giancarlo takes the Knife to his home world of Cittagazze.
In Threads, it is ten years later. Will is a doctor, Lyra is an academic, and Elizabeth is the chairwoman of the powerful Boreal Foundation, which is trying to make a new Subtle Knife. Giancarlo Bellini and his adopted sister Guilietta return to Will's world. Elizabeth's accomplices Mr Greaves and Miss Morley try to take the Knife, but are foiled by Will and Giancarlo, aided by Mary Malone. Mr Greaves is killed and the Knife is finally destroyed.
In The King's Councillor Lyra, now thirty-five and an established professor at Jordan Collge, is summoned to London, where she meets Alfred, King of Brytain. The Church, faced with Alfred's determination to reduce its power and influence, tries to kill him and Lyra, but is defeated.
Now read on!
The Tale of the Clockmaker's Boy
I woke cold and hungry. Outside the shop window, so far as I could see through the frost that had built up on the glass, condensed and frozen from my breath, the snow was still falling in large flakes, slowly spinning to earth from the sombre clouds above.
The snow had been falling when Viola and I had gone to bed last night and it looked as if it was going to keep on falling all day. I hoped that we were not going to have to run many errands today. The winter doesn't suit me – it's summer I like best, when the nights are short and the days are long and warm and brightly lit.
There was nothing to do about it, though. If you want to enjoy the gold-green afternoons of summer you've got to put up with the grey gloom of winter mornings too. I rolled off the mattress, and stood up carefully, not wanting to bang my head, still wrapped in my blanket. Viola skipped out of the way, leapt onto the stool by the wall and jumped across from it to the counter.
First things first. If the shop was to be ready for Master James by nine o'clock then there were a number of jobs to be done. By me, naturally. So, not stopping to wash or dress properly, I set to the first of my jobs; stoking up the fire in the next door kitchen.
You see; there's an order you have to do things in. You can't wash if there's no hot water to wash in. All right, you can, but it doesn't work very well, believe me. It's a good idea to build up the fire in the kitchen range first, to heat the water. And there's no point in washing before you rake the cold ashes out of the range or go down to the cellar to fetch up a scuttle of coal. It's logical, isn't it? First you do the dirty jobs you have to do to heat the water you need to wash off the dirt that got onto you while you were doing the dirty jobs to… You get the idea, I expect.
The cellar door is outside the shop, in the yard, so I stuffed my feet into my boots without bothering to do up the laces, went into the kitchen and picked up the coal-scuttle, and unbolted the door, the top and bottom bolts grating in the hasps as I pulled them back. The snow had drifted about four inches deep against the door so I had to step up onto it as I made my way into the yard and across to the coal-cellar. Grateful that the cellar door opened inwards so I didn't have to shovel the snow away from it before I could get it open, I climbed gingerly down to the bottom of the steep brick steps, balancing the coal-scuttle on one arm. Viola skipped ahead of me and found the shovel, casually dropped on the stone floor the night before by Carrie, the maid.
I dragged the fully-loaded coal-scuttle across the yard back to the kitchen, taking the risk that the noise would wake the family and bring their wrath down upon my head.
Half an hour later, and things were humming. The kitchen was warm, the kettle was boiling, and any minute now Carrie might deign to come down from her attic room and start making breakfast. I'd gone back into the shop and rolled up my blanket and mattress, taking them from their night-time position under the shop counter where Viola and I sleep and putting them away under the stairs. I'd had a good wash and flung on my trews, shirt and pea-jacket.
'Peter!' That was Carrie, at last, treading heavily down the wooden stairs. 'Have you got my stove going, you lazy slob?'
'My dearest lady, your majesty; all is ready for your sublime graciousness.' I made my deepest, most sarcastic, mock bow, and I could guess that Viola was doing something similar behind me. Carrie swung a pudgy hand at my face, which I easily ducked, and shoved past me into the kitchen, her Adrian trotting at her heels. Taking the poker, she flicked open the cover of the range and a red flare of light flooded the kitchen, drowning out the pale dreary greyness that crept through the window. 'Master James'll have a fit when he finds out how much of his coal you've been using,' she said, and grinned.
'Tight git,' I grinned back, and we both laughed. Carrie's all right, on a good day.
You've probably guessed from reading this far what my station in life is. If you have read it, that is. My mate Jim, who's at Bigsby and Jarrett two doors up, says he never reads the beginning of a story. It'll all padding, he says. The writer, he says, gives you loads of guff about the weather, or tells you what town the hero was born in and who his father and mother were and it's all, he says, because he gets paid so much per word. Yes it's true, he gets paid a penny a word and it doesn't matter if the word is a short one like me or a great big long one like disestablishmentarianism, he still gets his penny. So writers look out of the window and write about the clouds and the snow (hah!) or they describe all the pictures in the room, or list their half-forgotten aunts and uncles, and all at a penny a word. Besides, he says, it's more fun reading the story if you work out who everyone is and what's happening as you go along without reading all the give-aways at the beginning.
Anyway Jim, if you're reading this, I'm sorry. The rest of you; all you need to know for now is that I've been apprenticed to Master James the clockmaker for the past couple of years, and that my position in the household is somewhere just above the mice that like to nibble my ears of a night as I snuggle down in my bed underneath the shop counter. You've met Viola, my squirrel-daemon, and Carrie the maid and Adrian. I'll introduce the others as they appear.
You'll also have guessed that, although this morning sounds like a typical day in the life of an apprentice, give or take a snowfall or two, I wouldn't be telling you about it in so much detail if it hadn't been a particular sort of day as well. You'd be right at that, but as it's me, not you, who's writing this you're going to have to wait until I get to the part of the day that made it so particular. It's no good skipping ahead, like Jim, in the hope that you'll land on exactly the right bit. You might miss it, and then what would you do?