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The Celestial Globe
By Marie Rutkoski
Farrar, Straus and Giroux Copyright © 2010 Marie Rutkoski
All rights reserved.
The Gray Men
* * *
Some days are just born bad. You know the type. The kind you want to sweep into your palm like spilled salt and toss over your left shoulder, hoping that if you don't look back nothing worse will happen.
Petra Kronos snapped awake. Her heart thudded. The bedsheets were damp with sweat.
She turned her head to the left and looked out the window: it was foggy, wintry, dreary.
She turned her head to the right, and there was Astrophil. The tin spider was curled into a tiny, spiky ball. With a squeak, he bunched his shiny legs together, sprang them into the air one by one, and wriggled onto the tips of his legs. "Petra, is something wrong?"
"I had a bad dream." Her pulse was still racing.
"Ah. Was it ... relevant to the events at Salamander Castle?"
"No." Petra didn't want to think about what had happened more than a month ago. "Anyway, dreams don't mean anything. They're just empty pictures."
"Was it," said the spider gingerly, "related to John Dee?"
"No." Petra huffed with annoyance and got out of bed. Astrophil had the frustrating habit of pointing out exceptions to her rules. She would claim something (dreams did not mean anything) and he would immediately provide a counterexample (John Dee).
"If you dreamed of him," Astrophil persisted, "it might have been real. He could have been sending you a message. Your minds are connected."
"Don't remind me." She shivered as she dressed.
"Do you remember what you dreamed?"
"No," she lied. She pulled a necklace out from under her shirt. A small horseshoe swung from the thin leather cord. She flipped the horseshoe over and looked at the engraving. It was written in a language she didn't understand, but she saw her name, and a friend's. "Where do you think Neel is now? Do you think he's still in Spain?"
There was a reproachful pause. Astrophil wasn't fooled by her attempt to distract him. "I do not know."
"Let's go out to the forest. Before Father wakes up."
"If you wish."
She got down on her hands and knees, and rummaged under the bed. When she stood up, she held nothing. But her hands, though empty, moved oddly. Petra seemed to buckle an invisible object at her waist. She looked like an actor playing a pantomime.
Astrophil crept up her arm, and she smiled at him cheerfully.
But that was an act, too. Petra was troubled. She remembered her dream well enough. She had been angry — more than angry. She had been filled with a rage that was almost panic, almost despair. She had been pounding at a door. The room that trapped her was luxurious, with carved furniture and brocade fabrics. But that didn't change the fact that she was in some sort of prison.
Jarek was flung into the corner of his cell. His cheek grazed against the stone wall as he fell to the floor, and the door shrieked shut.
The session had been mercifully short. After all, he had given them the information they wanted.
There was a window in his cell, Jarek reminded himself. Not a window, really, just a square hole. It was big enough for one hand.
Jarek struggled to his feet. As he reached up, pain shot through his arm. He shoved his hand through the hole. Cold rain tingled over his bloody fingers.
Then something besides the rain tickled his palm. A small body nestled into Jarek's cupped hand. He felt warm feathers and a quick heartbeat. My poor friend, the sparrow murmured in Jarek's mind.
Jarek imagined what the bird could see: his own wrist growing out of the dungeon wall like a twisted root, the sky blurry with rain, and the red rooftops of Prague.
The idea of the sparrow leaving him alone was perhaps the worst torture of all. Still, he said to the bird, I need you to bear a message for me.
The house at the Sign of the Compass was filled with echoes. Most of the furniture had been sold, or loaded into the cart Josef and Dita had driven with their son, David, into southern Bohemia. Dita was Petra's older cousin, but she was more than that. Dita and her husband, Josef, were like a second set of parents to Petra, and David was like her little brother.
When Petra's father had first proposed that the entire family leave the village of Okno, everybody began arguing. Petra protested. Josef disagreed by refusing to respond at all. Dita said flatly, "It's a foolish idea, Uncle Mikal."
Mikal Kronos talked about his plan every morning, and every morning a fresh battle erupted over breakfast until one day David dropped his spoon into his porridge, covered his ears, and yelled, "Shut up! Shut up, all of you!" He burst into tears. His tin raven swooped anxiously overhead. His parents exchanged a glance.
"Think of the children's safety," Mikal Kronos urged Dita and Josef. "When the prince discovers who is responsible for ransacking his Cabinet of Wonders, he won't be merciful to anyone in this family. The four of you need to move as quickly as possible. I don't want to leave behind anything that he could use, so I'll need some time to dismantle the workshop. I promise I won't be far behind."
Slowly, Dita nodded.
"I won't go," Petra told her father. "You can't make me."
There was a long pause. "No," he finally said, "I don't suppose I can. You will leave with me, Petra, as soon as we're able to join the others."
Petra had won something. But it didn't feel that way now.
"Ahem," Astrophil coughed, startling Petra out of her memory. "Do you plan to stare into space all day, or will we actually do something important and worthy, like, say, attend to the business of breakfast?"
Petra opened her nightstand drawer, which clattered with unwashed silver spoons. She fed the spider his daily meal, a spoonful of green brassica oil. When he had drained it, Petra ran a finger over the greasy metal and rubbed the leftover oil on her chapped lips.
She opened the wardrobe, pulled out a leather cloak lined with rabbit fur, and then began searching for the woolen cap Dita had made for her. It itched like mad, but Petra loved it. She rescued it from under a pile of worn books and dirty socks.
"What are books doing there?" Astrophil was horrified.
Petra ignored him, tucking the hat and cloak under her arm. She walked downstairs to the kitchen with Astrophil perched on her shoulder, muttering about Petra's shameful treatment of the books.
She took a wizened apple from the kitchen fruit bin and sawed some bread from a stale loaf. She would have liked a mug of warm milk, but starting a fire in the stove would take far too much effort. Petra arranged a slice of cow cheese on the tough bread and bit into it.
"In some societies," Astrophil informed her, "it would never cross anyone's mind to eat cheese. To them it would be nothing but spoiled milk."
"Too bad for them," Petra replied, chewing. The bread tasted like tree bark, but at least the cheese was fresh.
When she finished eating, she tiptoed down the stairs and through the shop.
Petra held the bell on the door frame so that it wouldn't ring as she slipped outside. The cold air hit her. She pulled the hat down over her ears, breathed deeply, and her head seemed to clear. Maybe she would be able to shake off her bad mood. Maybe the day was salvageable after all.
Her boots had crunched over just a few yards of snow when it began to rain. Astrophil ducked under her hair. Petra looked up at the falling drops. "Oh, perfect." She thought about going back into the house but then changed her mind. Petra drew the cloak tightly about her and trudged on.
"Your highness, the prisoner has broken."
"And?" replied the young prince. "What have you learned?"
"He still claims that he doesn't know the name of the Gypsy who participated in the theft in November."
"No matter." Prince Rodolfo tried to control his irritation. "We will find out the boy's name the hard way. Sweep my country clear of this Gypsy trash."
"We've already begun to do this, Your Highness. As you recall, you ordered us last month to begin arresting Prague's Gypsies for questioning."
"I am not forgetful." The prince's voice was even but dangerous, like thin ice covering a deep pond. "I want you to have all of Bohemia searched for Gypsies. You know their ways. They travel everywhere, and quickly, like a disease. Watch our borders. Do not let them leave, and do not block the borders from those who wish to enter. Imprison them as well.
"Now, as for Jarek: I hope you have gleaned some useful information from him?" "Yes, Your Highness. He has confirmed your suspicions. The girl who stole from the Cabinet of Wonders was not working for your brothers. It was Petra Kronos, the clockmaker's daughter."
The prince remembered the girl: a tall, unlovely thing who had scarcely pretended to be afraid of him.
Well, she would learn.
"I want there to be no mistakes," the prince said. "Send the Gristleki."
The guard flinched.
"Did you hear me?" the prince hissed. "Send the Gray Men."
The guard jerked his head in a nod. "Yes, Your Highness. What should I do with the prisoner?"
"Let them start with him. They are hungry."
* * *
As Petra plowed up the snowy hill, she couldn't have known what was speeding across the countryside toward her. Nothing could have prepared her to imagine the Gray Men, who loped like wolves under the trees, their clawed feet running almost as quickly as a bird flies.
When Petra and Astrophil had reached the forest, the spider said, "Perhaps you could try talking to him."
"Try talking to who?"
"The link John Dee made between your mind and his should be accessible by both of you. Neel said that such links are used between generals and soldiers, and between criminal allies. Surely forging a connection like that is valuable only if each person can mentally reach the other. Instead of waiting for Dee to contact you, you could try contacting him."
"I could try eating rotten goat intestines, but I'm not going to," Petra scoffed. "And let's get one thing straight: I'm not waiting for that man to pay a visit to my mind as if it were his summer cottage. My thoughts are my own. Not his."
"A mental link does not allow him to read your mind," Astrophil said. "When you and I speak using our thoughts, I hear only what you say to me, not your inner secrets. A mental link is simply a form of communication. You know this already. Neel explained it to us in Prague. You are just being difficult."
Petra pushed through the pine trees, and green bristles showered her with freezing water. She yelped.
"Petra, we are all worried about what the prince knows of you, and how he will react. It is not as if you lost one of his papers while cleaning his study. You broke into his prized collection of magnificent and magical objects, took your father's eyes —" "They didn't belong to the prince! Now they are back where they belong, and Father can see."
"You also stole a small fortune of gold and jewels —"
"Neel did that. Not me."
"— and managed to destroy a hidden part of the Staro Clock that Master Kronos built, a part that would have allowed the prince to use the clock to control the weather, thereby wielding an enormous amount of power over all of Europe."
"That's right. You'd think someone would thank me for it."
They reached a clearing. The ground was rocky and uneven, and the space wasn't as large as the one she preferred to use, but that spot of woods was a mile ahead. She squinted at the rain. She would stay here. "All right, Astro: tree or ear?"
He clung to her earlobe tightly. "I am quite fine where I am, thank you. I believe it may be useful for me to learn how to be part of a skirmish. I could be an extra set of eyes. I could warn you if an enemy approaches. Plus ... it is raining."
"Tin doesn't rust, Astro."
"Even so, the brim of your hat makes a nice umbrella."
Petra pulled at something by her left hip. There was a scraping sound, and her closed fist arced in the air. Raindrops plinked and halted in a horizontal line in front of her. Petra's fingers grasped the hilt of something long, thin, and wickedly sharp. It was a sword, and an invisible one at that.
Astrophil cleared his throat. "To return to my point —"
"I wish you wouldn't."
"— the prince is not likely to reward you with sugar plums for your actions. Once he learns who you are and, thus, where you are —"
"I know, Astrophil. Why do you think Josef, Dita, and David are halfway to Sumava by now?"
"John Dee is a trusted adviser to the queen of England."
"I think his official title is Arrogant Spy," Petra retorted.
"He is also a former ambassador to the prince of Bohemia. I am merely trying to suggest that John Dee may have useful information to share with you. Can you afford to make no effort to gain it? Dee promised to help you one day, if you ask for it. You should try contacting him to learn what the prince knows about you, and what he might do with that knowledge."
"Even if — if — I agreed with you, I have no idea how to tap into Dee's head. What am I supposed to do, go to the top of a hill and shout, 'Hey, Dee! Speak to me, you annoying, smirking —'?"
"It is a pity we cannot consult Neel. If his people know as much about mind-magic as he claims, he might be able to ask one of them about this situation."
"Neel is someplace warm and sunny. Not here." Petra tried not to care. Why should you miss someone you will never see again? It wasn't fair. Feelings like guilt and anxiety and missing people should have a certain life span. Like fruit flies.
"But perhaps —" Astrophil continued.
"Astrophil? You know what's so great about books?"
"Why, many things. I am so glad you asked. They possess many wonderful properties. They awaken the imagination, inform one about history —"
"And they close. Like this subject. I don't want to talk about John Dee. He threatened my father and me, and made me destroy the clock's magical power, all for the sake of his precious English queen."
"You would have done that anyway, once you knew the havoc the clock could wreak."
"Maybe, but John Dee got to sit snug in his little velvet chair, doing nothing to risk his neck while you, Neel, and I could have gotten caught and killed. Dee's always looking out for his best interests, and any help from him would come with so many strings attached I'd be tied up like a trussed pig. I don't want anything more to do with Dee, or to even think about him."
Astrophil's green eyes glowed with frustration. But he knew Petra. It would be easier to coax a stone to grow into a flower than it would be to make her listen to an idea she hated. "Very well. Shall we begin by running through a series of positions? I have consulted several books on sword- fighting. This took me some time because most of them were written in Italian, but I have translated several passages."
"Let's just do what we've been doing for weeks."
"Would that be: I watch while you slash at the air until you are tired?"
Astrophil sighed. "You could at least comment on how well my knowledge of Italian is progressing."
"Bravo," Petra said, and crouched. She felt ridiculous, shuffling back and forth over the snow and swinging the invisible sword. But she did it anyway.
"You can grip that hilt with both hands," said a voice behind her.
Petra spun around.
Mikal Kronos stepped forward. "You're letting your left hand dangle at your side. That's a waste. This sword is thin and light, like a rapier, but not as long as one. I thought a true rapier would be too long to keep unnoticed when sheathed. Of course, even an invisible sword isn't easy to hide. But if you're going to forge one, you obviously have some interest in secrecy, so why not do what you can to maximize that?
"Now, what did I want to tell you? Ah, yes, the left hand. Since the blade is on the short side, your ability to thrust it at your opponent is limited. Your reach is limited. So that means that you need to compensate by learning how to use your left hand, too. With that hand you can hold a dagger, and use it to block blows and swipe at your opponent. What happens if your dagger is knocked away? There's room enough for your left hand as well as your right on this hilt. That will give your blows more force. Do you feel the swirls of steel arcing over the hilt? That's to protect your fingers, in case someone tries to make you drop the sword by hacking at them. Remember that a master of fencing should be able to wield a sword just as well with the left hand as with the right. If you let your left arm stick out uselessly like a tree branch, it will get lopped off like one."
Petra stared. She had often wondered what would happen if her father ever caught her with the sword he had made and hidden away. Usually, she imagined a lot of yelling. Not this.
Mikal Kronos noticed her surprise. "I thought carefully about how to craft a sword that would work best for you." (Continues...)
Excerpted from The Celestial Globe by Marie Rutkoski. Copyright © 2010 Marie Rutkoski. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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