“WHERE IS IT?”
Perhaps it was fortune that Underby had been obliged to take up temporary lodgings in the office suite that had been provided for him at city hall, for no one understood the mayor quite like he did. And right now, in the cold hour before midnight, the mayor was in a rage. Underby dressed quickly, cursing his luck as he padded up the steps to the upper salon where he was sure he would find Tenk. He cursed Mornington, then cursed himself for trusting Mornington to following through on such a simple task.
By the time he got to the salon, Tenk was tearing apart the magnificent old hearth, stick by stick, then brick by brick, prying each out with his bare hands. Underby shook off the last vestiges of sleep and summoned his best command voice. He had to distract Tenk.
“Mr. Tenk. We must go to Clockhaven.”
Tenk spun and looked into Underby, his face etched with bitterness. “They forgot!”
“Mr. Tenk. We must go to Clockhaven now.”
“Where is my Christmas present?”
“Walk me me, Mr. Tenk. I will explain.”
Wordlessly, Tenk put both hands to his toque to settle it firmly over his unruly mass of hair, then indicated he was ready to go. They walked in silence out of city hall and headed eastward on the main avenue of the city. As they crossed the port, Underby heard Tenk muttering softly to himself, and as he listened closer, he heard numbers. A sequence of increasingly large numbers. Was he counting? Calculating? Underby was aware that Tenk held the Brothers of the Church in his favor, but it had not occurred to him that Tenk might once have taken studies with them. Underby filed that information away and noted that Tenk was regaining control of himself. The subtle swirls on the edge of his glamor had faded such that even Underby, with his trained eye, could no longer discern it.
Tenk paused in front of the Gangplank, which was trying to discharge the last of its customers for the night, but Underby urged him onward. He had to get Tenk closer to the walls of the inner city. “Let us go see what the people have built in the square.”
“Very well,” agreed Tenk.
The two men took their time, once they had reached the fountain, charmed by the manner in which the draped ice glittered in the moonlight. They walked around the snowmen that had been left around the square, admiring each in its turn, Tenk breathing in a measured manner and Underby keeping a careful eye on his mark, but looking as if he did not have a care in the world. He had heard the tink of stressed glass cracking as they had walked along the way, but that had stopped as they approached the strange radius that surrounded the oldest quarter of the city. No one would think anything of it, of course. Glass cracked in the temperature extremes of winter. Underby watched the silhouette of a watchman pacing out his post along the inner ramparts. Would that he could take Tenk into that quarter. Underby brushed the snow from a crate at the edge of an alley that lead to the shadowy sealed gates of the old city, then set to packing his pipe. When the leaf was glowing redly in the bowl, he held his tobacco pouch out to Tenk in invitation to join him. Tenk stared for a moment, then fished his own pipe out from his jacket and joined him.
“These are modern times, Mr. Underby”
Mr. Underby nodded slowly, grunting in agreement.
“I am a modern man.”
Underby nodded again, while gesturing for him to keep his voice low.
“In a modern city.”
Again Underby nodded, watching from the corner of his eye.
“Oats.” Tenk said, letting his head fall back against the stones of the wall behind him. “Who makes oats? For Christmas?”
Of course, thought Underby. Mornington was a Scot. That is what had happened.
“Why do I still care? Why does this still happen to me?”
“Take deep breaths, Mr. Tenk. It will help.”
Tenk took deep breathes, alternating with long slow drags on his pipestem. He opened his eyes and looked around at where he was. “I would not have thought of this. You’re smarter than you look.”
Underby twisted his mouth into a sneer. “You are what you are, Mr. Tenk.”
Tenk closed his eyes again and shook his head, a helpless smile working over his face. “Bugger that. Look at me. The world has no place for me anymore. Why can’t I just live in it?”
“You mean the world has no place for magic anymore.”
“Magic…” Tenk spat out the word. “Only thing it is still good for is killing what’s left of it. Lot of good it did you.”
Underby grunted uncomfortably.
“Did you know I had my tail amputated? Why? Because of magic. Paid real money to have it done too. Mark my words, Underby, by the century’s end, magic will barely work at all.”
“It will continue, Mr. Tenk. As it still does. I can prove it.”
Tenk’s thoughts slammed to a full stop. He got up as if to say something, then sat back down. He got up again, and paced before Underby as if to lecture him, then stopped in mid gesture.
“You see?” Underby said.
“You would have me go back on my word to you? You would make me a liar? What’s mine is mine!”
“You make my point for me, Mr. Tenk. Your behavior is locked by the rules that bind you.”
“That’s not true! That’s not….” Tenk started, his anger rising again. The great clock at the end of Doagrun Row gave a warn, then chimes of midnight began to toll. Tenk held his up his finger to Underby as to hold onto his thought until the din was over Something in Tenk’s demeanor softened as each count rang across the city, until, as the last bell faded away, Tenk stood looking up at Mr. Underby in wonder.
“Christmas… It’s Christmas,” Tenk whispered. “Yes, that’s it. Mr. Underby. It’s Christmas Day. Today I will go back to Falun.”
“In the state you are in? You’ll cause a dairy shortage until next spring.”
“I will not!” Tenk blinked suddenly, surprised at his own words. “There, you see? I have said it! Why didn’t I think of that before? How useful you are to me, Mr. Underby! I will return to Falun with Odnar and live with his clan again.”
Underby shook his head against the hopelessness of it all.
“Magic is broken!” swore Tenk. “I will prove it! See here,” Tenk reached under his muffler and pulled the city mayoral chain of office over his head. He folded it up so that he could hold it between his thumb and index finger, then shook it at Underby. “I will make you a wager. I am going to Falun. And if I don’t come back for this… well.. then it is yours.”
Underby stared at the badge of the city, enameled reds and blues on real gold, waving in front of his eyes. He licked his lips. This was the moment he had been working towards since he first laid eyes on Tenk. Tenk, being what he was, would not let go of him easily, but a wager, yes. None of his kind could resist gambling. It was the only chance he had. And a chance at so much more.
“Do we have a deal, Mr. Underby?”
“We do indeed, Mr. Tenk.”
“Excellent,” said Tenk, as he slapped the chain of office into Underby’s eager hand. “Let’s go pack my bags. I have a morning train to catch.”