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Authors: Susan Fletcher

Falcon in the Glass

BOOK: Falcon in the Glass
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PROLOGUE

I
t was a ghostly sight, so startlingly strange that for some time afterward the captain wondered if he might have imagined it. It appeared out of the fog, out of the hush of the still waters before him, as he guided his ship among the haze-shrouded islands of the lagoon.

At first it was a faint, darkish smudge on the water. As it grew near, the smudge thickened into the shape of a small, sail-less boat, filled stem to stern with . . .

Children, was it?

Children and birds?

The little craft rode low in the water, packed tight with its odd, silent cargo. The birds, varied in size and shape, perched on shoulders, on arms, on wrists, on fingers, on heads.

As the boat passed hard by his ship, a girl looked up and caught the captain's eye. Her face was heart-shaped, elfin. Her eyes were fierce. For a long moment they gazed at each other, captain and girl. Then the little boat slid away behind him and vanished in the mist.

PART I
FALCON

◆      ◆      ◆

1.
Stranger in the Glassworks

S
omething rustled in the dark — a sound so faint, Renzo barely heard it at all, but it told him he was not alone.

Out of the corner of one ear, he heard it. His eyes and mind and heart had belonged entirely to the glass before him, and not to the signs of danger.

It glowed copper-orange, the glass — a veined and stunted sun blazing in the gloom of the workshop. Renzo had gathered it, molten, on the end of the blowpipe; he had rolled it on the stone
malmoro
; he had shaped it in the
magiosso
mold. He had set the pipe to his lips and breathed — just long enough and hard enough to belly out the glass in the slightest curve and begin to make it
his
.

Of sounds he'd taken no notice. Not the roar of the furnace, nor the splash of water when the
magiosso
dropped into its bath, nor even the soft, secret
whoosh
of his breath inside the pipe.

He heard them but did not mark them. Not until the new sound came — the rustling, faint and quick.

He stood still as stones now, waves of prickling gooseflesh
coursing down his back. This was a different kind of sound, out of place in the glassworks in the dead of night. It was a sound an assassin might make, hiding deep in shadow, his legs beginning to cramp, not wanting to move but forced by pain to shift position. Or a hesitation sound, perhaps. The assassin wondering, Shall I make my move now, or later?

It was a sound Renzo's father might have heard these many months since, on the last night of his life.

It came again:

Rustle-shiver-scritch.

Above!

Renzo peered up into the shadows, where the furnace's glow flickered across the rafters.

And beheld a bird.

Renzo's knees went weak; his breath escaped in a sigh of relief.

Only a bird.

He wanted to laugh then, at his foolishness. At his heart, still clattering between his ribs. At the glass, now a misshapen lump — darkening as it cooled, crumpling in upon itself.

Only a bird. A little falcon — a kestrel.

He watched it for a moment, breathing, waiting for his heart to settle. The assassins would not return, he told himself. They'd done what they'd come to do. And whatever befell his traitor of an uncle, it would be far from here.

The falcon rattled its feathers. Better get it out of here. The
padrone
did not tolerate birds in the glassworks. What if
a feather — or worse — should fall on the smooth surface of a newly worked cup or bowl?

Renzo knocked the blowpipe against the rim of the pail at his feet; the glass cracked off and clattered among the heaped remains of his earlier failures. Simpler forms gave him no trouble, but the complicated ones . . . Sometimes he wished he had three hands.

He set the blowpipe on the rack beside the other pipes and rods, then made his way across the wide, open floor of the glassworks and opened the oaken door.

Outside, still waters lapped against stone. The chill winter breeze touched his face, carrying the smells of the lagoon: fish, and salt, and tar. Mist rose from the dark canal and crept like smoke along the lane, blurring the silent houses, making them wavery, gauzy — homes for ghosts. The sweat grew clammy on Renzo's body and made him shiver. His shoulders and arms and back all ached; a dark pool of weariness pressed down on the crown of his head and seeped into his eyes.

Nothing had gone well tonight. And he was so far behind.

He stepped back inside, clapped his hands, shouted at the bird. But it must have felt snug there, high up in the rafters. It did not budge.

He scooped up a handful of pebbles from outside and tossed one at the bird. It let out a hoarse cry and took off flying. He pursued, throwing more pebbles, not trying to hit it, just drive it out the door.

“Cease with that!
Basta!

Renzo's heart seized. He whirled round to see who had shouted.

The figure came hurtling out of the shadows behind the woodpile. Came so fast, Renzo barely had time to put up his hands to defend himself before she was raining blows down upon him. He might have lashed out, except that she was smaller than he, and he saw that she was a girl. No more than twelve or thirteen years old, he thought. No older than he, himself.

She dealt him one last shove and then bolted toward the open doorway. She twisted back and sent the kestrel a look — a strange look, like a summons. The bird sailed out of the workshop behind her.

Astounded, Renzo stared after them — girl and bird fleeing together, dissolving into the dark, into the mist. Before they vanished entirely, he thought he saw the kestrel swoop down and come to perch upon her shoulder as she ran.

But he must have imagined that.

2.
Prophecy

R
enzo! Did you hear me?”

The
padrone
was frowning, his face etched deep with unhappiness.

“What is amiss with you? Have you gone deaf? I told you to remove this bowl to the annealing chamber.”

Renzo leaned his broom against the stacked crates of finished glass. He crossed the floor toward the furnace, the bright-hot roaring core of the glassworks, where the
padrone
and two other masters worked the glass. The heat licked at Renzo, drawing sweat from his brow; he picked up the goblet bowl with the lifting irons and hurried toward the rear of the furnace.

Her face still swam before him — the girl from the night before.

All that morning it had done so — in the slivers of glass he swept from the floor, in the mounds of sand and soda in the poisons room, in the surfaces of the worked glass he bore to and from the annealing chamber. He had glimpsed it for a moment only, that face. But now, in memory, Renzo
found he could capture and explore it, discover far more than he had grasped in the quick blink of an eye when she had stood before him in the flesh.

It was a small face, and thin. From the size of it he might have thought it belonged to a younger child, in her tenth year or maybe eleventh. But he had seen something older in her eyes — green eyes, intensely green — and something terrible, too.

Terribly afraid. Terribly fierce. Both at the selfsame time.

He had not seen her before. He would have remembered.

Renzo set the bowl in the annealing chamber, high in the dome above the main furnace. Thinking back, sifting through his recollections. A dark, ragged cloud of hair. A thin cloak, shaggy with tattered threads and fringes.

“Renzo! Pick up the
tagianti
and fetch them here. No, not those. The rounded ones. Have you gone blind? Pay attention! And the compass, if I may disturb you to bestir your feet.
Presto!
The glass will not wait for you; it is cooling as I speak.”

The
padrone
's habitual thin-lipped scowl deepened as Renzo handed him the tools, but Sergio, the
padrone
's eldest son and apprentice, was smiling. A mocking smile.

Renzo lingered to watch as the
padrone
stretched out a long, narrow cord of glowing glass. He was not a large man, but he was strong; ropy muscles stood out on his arms and neck. Renzo drew closer, until the heat came at him in waves, as the
padrone
handed Sergio the
borsella
and instructed him how to persuade the glass to transform itself into something new.

It would be a wineglass stem, Renzo saw — a lovely,
delicate thing shaped like two interwoven vines. His weariness lifted as he watched Sergio's hands, clumsy at first, and then slowly learning what was required of them as the vines twined upward, seemingly hungry for sunlight. Renzo fixed every movement into memory, his own fingers itching to work the glass.

He recalled what it was to stand in the savage, shimmering heat with his father close beside him. To breathe the familiar smell of wood smoke, to hear Papà's voice, above the deep throb of the furnace, rumbling in his ear:
Just a little twist, Renzo, is all that is required here. Then pull. Now, now, now, just now, but more fluid with the twist. Do you see it? Do you see?

Renzo swallowed. Cleared the thickness from his throat.

Sergio glanced up. “The furnace needs stoking,” he said.

Renzo waited. It was not his duty to stoke the furnace. That was for Anzoleto, who had stepped out to obey the call of nature. Renzo was a laborer, a drudge, but it was possible to go lower. Cutting wood and feeding the fire were the lowest jobs in the glassworks.

“Perhaps,” Sergio said, “the drudge prefers not to work himself. Perhaps we should hire a drudge for the drudge.”

He laughed, but the
padrone
did not. He grunted, then glanced up as Anzoleto appeared in the doorway. “Tend to your own work, Sergio,” the
padrone
said. “Do not disappoint me. You must do better than this.” He broke Sergio's wine stem from the
pontello
and flung it into the bucket of broken glass. The
padrone
turned to Renzo and Anzoleto. “Everyone! Tend to your work.”

BOOK: Falcon in the Glass
12.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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