A SONG OF AGES backstory entry
The garderobe was a tight space for fighting a big dog. And old, soft Beast was a very big dog. Chaldonie began to think he’d made a fatal mistake. To be fair Beast was only trying to get away from the dreadful cramps that shook his body, but the desperation made him dangerous. A sudden, writhing convulsion put the boy on the floor with the mastiff on top. The weight of the dog thumped into his chest, the frothing fangs snapped at his face. Frantically Chaldonie thrust both hands into Beast’s throat to clutch at the collar. The dog reared, nearly breaking Chaldonie’s fingers in the movement, but then twisting with all his strength, the boy succeeded in catching Beast off-balance and tipped him onto his side. The situation was reversed. With the dog’s legs scrabbling vainly for purchase on the polished floor, Chaldonie knelt on his chest to hold him down until the drug took complete control. Beast was getting weaker by the second. Within only another minute the scrabbling slowed to nothing.
Chaldonie got to his feet, put his foot on Beast’s belly and pushed. The dog did no more than gurgle in discomfort. How stupid! Chaldonie was angry with himself: he could have waited just five minutes and saved himself the bruises.
“Chal! Chal – are you there?”
Chaldonie whirled round in alarm but thankfully the gardie door was closed – slammed shut in the struggle.
“Oh come on, Chal, where’ve you got to. I don’t have all day.”
Master Hebron’s voice was getting closer. There was no turning back now. Chaldonie quickly pushed open the cesspit lid. The stench made him gag but there was no alternative. Tugging at the dog’s collar had little effect: it was like trying to lift a sack of anchor stones: a dead weight – well nearly dead. He changed posture, bent his knees, gripped arms around the dog’s barrel-chest, thrust with his thighs and heaved. That did it. Leaning back to take the strain, Chaldonie staggered and reeled, and it was only a final desperate turn that saved the boy from taking the fall himself. Beast’s ribs thumped into the gardie shelf, rear legs slewing to one side and catching on the low wall. The heavy belly and bones threatened to drag the pair of them back onto the floor but Chaldonie would not be defeated. He heaved and pushed again, this time grabbing at the thick base of the tail for better purchase, and finally with a victor’s contempt he tumbled the dog over the ledge. Beast managed only a confused whimper before plunging into the depths.
Chaldonie didn’t give him another thought as he slammed shut the seat.
“Oh, in there, are you!”
His Master was just outside the door. “Don’t forget to flush – it’ll save you some scrubbing later. And do lift the lid first – I don’t want another wet backside.”
Chaldonie collapsed onto the shelf utterly exhausted. He didn’t even have the strength to make a rude gesture.
“I’ll be a minute,” he gasped.
“Well make sure that’s all it is.”
Chaldonie realized the need to behave normally. He hauled himself up and slammed open the lid once more. A little harder next time and he’d break it. He grabbed at the clanking bucket, filled it from the copper tank, and, as carelessly as possible, threw a good splash at the age-slimed stones below. The dirt he shifted would no doubt land on top of good old faithful Beast -who most likely wouldn’t notice.
The Master was waiting when Chaldonie finally emerged from the gardie. He looked into the room and shook his head at all the water pooled on the oak tiles.
“You just make more work for yourself. I want it cleaned out before supper.”
Chaldonie sucked his teeth but refrained from comment.
His Master regarded him with that annoying look of his – that over-the-top-of-the-spectacles, disappointed look; that “I wonder if I’ve made the right decision” look. Chaldonie knew the answer to that, but it was hardly his fault: Hebron should have chosen better.
The Master shook his head as if in answer or agreement but actually his interest was already elsewhere. “Now where is it,” he was saying, patting at his sides and chest with both hands. It was only then that Chaldonie noticed his Master was wearing the outdoor coat – the one he used on rare herb gathering forays – a raggedy old leather thing bedecked with dozens of pockets inside and out. Here was something new. Hebron hardly ever left his library or workroom, never mind the house itself. He couldn’t be wanting herbs: due to a distinct lack of recent activity the store was still full. And there was no market today, and surely no errands to run that would be beyond the province of his apprentice. This was too soon.
The Master looked up from his rummaging search and now the look he wore was plain annoyance.
“It does you no honour to affect such a brusque attitude, Chaldonie. I do not expect you to call me Master but please address me without so much sulking. What has gotten into you recently?”
Chaldonie nearly blurted out an honest answer, but quick calculation prompted a rethink.
“I’m sorry, Master,” he said, “It was just the thought of cleaning the pit walls...”
“But you know it stinks if we leave it too long, Chal. Oh don’t look so glum. Not a pleasant job, I’ll grant you that, but if we get it done quick it’ll not be so bad. Perhaps this once I’ll lend a hand...”
“No! Er, no. That wouldn’t be right. I’ll do it – my job. And I’ll get the dirt man to come in next week. About time we cleared the bottoms.”
The Master actually smiled. “Well, that’s a better attitude young man. Much better. Now, as you surmised, I’ll be off down the hill for a few hours – I have an appointment with an old... with an interesting gentleman come to the town recently. I’ve decided to walk so don’t worry about the trap for now. But I’ll want fetching back. Come for me at about 8 o’clock, will you?”
“Yes master. And the address?”
“The Five Oaks – ask for Mr Anand. He’s taken rooms.”
Back along the corridor, the gloomy, grubby corridor, the nearest tall clock dolorously tolled the fourth hour. Faint echoes came to them of other timepieces from the nearer parts of the castle.
“Ah, here it is.” The Master pulled something from a very large pocket down by his knees. “Fetch Beast will you,” he said, waving the leash at Chaldonie, “He can keep me company.”
Chaldonie fought to keep calm. “I... erm... He’s gone.”
“I opened the kitchen door - let him into the garden – the gate was open. He’d run off before I noticed. Maybe it was a rabbit or something?”
The Master frowned. “Not like Beast. Can’t remember the last time I saw the old chap run. Did you shout for him? Well never mind, he’ll be back for his tea. I really must be going.”
Chaldonie nearly fainted from the pressure of the situation. As the Master disappeared through the gallery door, the boy sank to his knees and breathed deeply. He foraged in his own pockets, suddenly concerned there might be some damage, but no: there it was – the phial was intact and three-quarters full. He brought the glass to his lips and cautiously kissed the side with the label. Ha! A best friend in a bottle – when the time came, he knew it would not let him down.
21/02/2012 wkj fantasy