From within the shadows of the alleyway, a scrawny, mottled and mangy canal rat looked up from his nightly scavenging to see a dark hooded figure approach. The rat was not unaccustomed to seeing strangers walk passed, but this one’s stride seemed sober, which was a little unusual, given the area and the hour.
Unaware he was being watched Brother Malus paused under the light of one of the newly polished street lamps. He lowered his cowl allowing the cool autumn air to wash over his face and refresh his senses. Autumn has come early to New Babbage this year, he thought, lamenting the added expense of coal to the already stretched church budget. How had the tide of fortune turned so quickly?
Malus looked to the east, noting the lightening of the sky. It will be dawn soon and I should be getting back before Lapis awakens and knows I am still out.
Brother Malus had been walking since midnight. For the past several nights he’d been frustrated over his inability to work through a particularly troublesome fifth order equation. Brother Malus, never the humble one, had always taken pride in the unrivalled speed of his mathematical abililty. Meals were getting smaller, and without the usual diet the monks enjoyed, it was getting harder to concentrate. They were even reduced to eating the fruitcake stored in the cellar under the cathedral, the one item that had not been raided. Or maybe the mayor’s goon squad had left that there on purpose. Impoverishment was not a station in which he thrived.
It was during this brief reverie when he noticed a bill stuck to the lamp pole. He read through the advertisement twice and still didn’t know what to make of it. “Is this a joke?” he said aloud. Who in their right mind would seek the services of a knight’s squire in this age of modernity? He looked at the paper again shaking his head. Emerson Lighthouse, Malus had heard the name spoken around town, though the two had never met. Brother Malus tried to recall what he could about the gentleman, but the man seemed a bit of an unknown element, another eccentric who lived in a clock.
Well, it’s time we met Mr. Lighthouse, decided Brother Malus. Emerson Lighthouse, it was rumoured, was wealthy. In fact he even had the audacity to describe himself as a man of leisure, rubbing salt in the wounds of those who could afford no leisure. Well Mr. Lighthouse, in these times of economic hardship it should be the duty of those who have the means provide for those who don’t.
Pulling the bill from the lamppost Brother Malus quickly turned down a nearby alley, nearly tramping upon an alarmed rat in his haste. With a renewed sense of purpose, he made his way through the maze of canals that formed the Wheatstone Waterways eventually arriving at the clock-tower where Mr. Lighthouse resided.
Despite the early hour, the flickering of a lantern’s light could be seen through the ground level windows suggesting the occupant might be awake. As Brother Malus approached he discovered another sign that Mr. Lighthouse was awake: the strong scent of coffee spilling under the door. Malus felt his head start to swim as he climbed the steps to the door… that smell is proof beyond all else of the great divinity beyond.
Resolving himself that this was all for the church, Brother Malus gave three sharp raps upon the white painted door. Several moments passed without a sound from the inside. He was considering knocking again when the door opened.
Brother Malus was a little taken aback by what he saw. The man appeared to be in his early forties, tall with mostly silver hair and an odd style of red rimmed glasses. But that was not what alarmed Brother Malus. Mr. Lighthouse appeared dishevelled, as one who’d been up all night. In his eyes, Brother Malus saw the unmistakable signs of someone who had been crying.
“What can I do for you Brother?” asked Emerson finally breaking the silence. He then noticed the paper Malus still held in his hand. “Oh, you’ve come about the job then. Please come in.” Emerson stood to the side before adding, “Would you like a cup of coffee Brother?”
Coffee. The young monk hesitated at the doorway, taking a deep breath… savoring the rich and delicious aroma. Real coffee, not that burnt root and leaf substitute that Loxely had been brewing after the rectory ran out. The man had real coffee. Like an epiphany, Brother Malus knew what he had to do.
“My name is Martin Malus. I am here about the job.”
((I want to thank Brother Malus who helped write this post))