|The Corsers’ Hinge: A Lamplighter Tale|
|Author||D. M. Cornish|
|Publication date||March 2014 (Australia)|
|Published by||Omnibus Books|
The Corsers’ Hinge: A Lamplighter Tale is a short story by D. M. Cornish. It occurs between the events of Lamplighter and Factotum but does not involve the main characters from the Monster Blood Tattoo trilogy, introducing several new characters. The title has a dual meaning, referring both to the code of conduct among corsers as well as the predicament facing the protagonist, Bunting Faukes.
The Corsers' Hinge was first published in the anthology Legends of Australian Fantasy in January 2010, which has yet to be published outside of Australia. In March 2012 Cornish posted on his blog that he was working on an "edit/rewrite" of The Corsers’ Hinge to adapt it into a standalone novella. In January 2014 he announced that it would be republished in expanded form in Tales from the Half-Continent, due to be released in March of that year.
Bunting Faukes' quandaryEdit
Bunting Faukes, a corser, is in a desperate situation. His debt to the moneylender Weakleefe Spleen has been called due and the toll from his ashmonger, Pypsquïque, must be filled in full to receive the payment he needs. The final part is the most difficult to fill: "1 of the female kind, a child of elder years, scarce beddened", that is, a young woman whose body is newly dead. With nowhere else to go, Bunting heads into parts of the Brandenfells that he would normally avoid in search of such a corse, as he has no other choice except to kidnap a young woman himself and kill her, which the Corsers' Hinge and his own conscience prevent him from doing.
While progressing through the hills on his donkey cart, Bunting is greeted by the sound of a sudden massive explosion up ahead. Coming around a corner, he sees a figure wearing a sthenicon being pursued above the road. The stranger jumps into Bunting's cart and urges him on, introducing himself as Petuculus Sprawle. During the pursuit, Bunting realizes that the men who are after Sprawle are fictlers. After crossing a bridge, they are met by a short gentleman as a second explosion catches some of the pursuers. The gentleman's other companions, a man in black armed with a long-rifle, a sagaar who comes up the road, and a young woman sheltering beneath a cloak, are soon revealed. Moved by something within him, Bunting steps down to offer the young woman help. The gentleman introduces himself as the sleuth Atticus Wells, and that the mission he and his companions are on is to rescue the young woman.
The story then flashes back to how this turn of events came to be.
Atticus Wells' missionEdit
In Brandenbrass, Valentin Pardolot, chief senior indexer of a banking firm, seeks out the sleuth Atticus Wells to help track down Viola Grey, the daughter of his houskeeper. Viola disappeared while out with some friends three days ago. Wells, who appears to be a tall man wearing a wig, hears Pardolot out. After accepting the mission, it is revealed that the real Wells was watching the interview from behind a tapestry in the room. It has been a habit of his not to reveal his true self to his clients at first and often not at all due to his unimpressive physical appearance, despite being a falseman. The "Wells" who conducted the interview is Sprawle, who impersonated him.
The following day Wells and Sprawle begin their investigation. Starting with a spedigraph of Viola, they track down the artist who rendered it, but he cannot recall her. With this trail gone cold, they discover on their return to Wells' residence that Door, one of Well's undersleuths, and Thickney, his clerk, have been able to get some information from the two of the four girls who Viola was with on the night of her disappearance. They also receive a petticoat that was worn frequently by Viola from Pardolot to provide a source of her scent that Sprawle can track.
That night Pardolot's daughter Amfibia, who was with Viola when she disappeared, is able to lead Wells to where she was last seen, a seedy bar/brothel on the waterfront called The Empresses Bosom. Accompanied by Door and Sprawle, who observes that Viola went in, but did not come out, Wells learns that she was sold by a chattelman or human trafficker who works for the establishment's owner to a contact, Emptor Settlepond. However yesterday, a fictler marked with the allegory of Sucoth and calling himself Jack arrived and was in search of a girl just like Viola, so he was directed to Settlepond.
Wells and his companions locate Settlepond, who reveals that he sold her to Jack. He describes Jack's servant, a man who Wells recognizes as Scritch, a fictler who still lives in the city but is an adherent of Lobe. From him they learn that Jack stayed at a nearby hostelry named The Bird and the name of a location, Case Nigrise, where the Seven-Seven will use Viola to sing the proper cantricles to Sucoth. Wells learns from the proprietoress of The Bird that Jack left two days ago for Coddlingtine Dell and Pour Claire.
In preparation for their expedition, Wells, fills out a Singular Contract for a pair of sisters he has worked with before to provide some extra muscle, Cilestine and Paraclesia Pail. He also learns from some research at the Foursdike Athenaeum that there is a record of an unconquered Pilt fortress known as the "Black Hut" or Casa Nigrum, now known as Case Nigrise. Upon returning to his residence, Wells shares with Sprawle the information he has found about the Seven-Seven, who are characterized by their use of human sacrifice.
The following morning, four days after Pardolot had approached him with his case, Wells sets out from Brandenbrass with Sprawle, Door, and the Pail sisters. Not finding any clues at Coddlingtine Dell, at Pour Claire Wells locates a record of the former Pilt fortress in a records room of the Fallenthaw. The group then secures the services of a local, Younger Pemple, who knows of the place, to serve as their guide.
The next morning Pemple leads the group to the Case Nigrise. After Sprawle determines that Jack has been there, he and the Pail sisters set off to infiltrate the fortress while Wells and Door stay with their carriage. The three are able to gain entry to Case Nigrise, but find it empty. After Sprawle recognizes Viola's secent, they delve deeper into the fortress, finding an area that is close to the sea. Here they find about a hundred fictlers, chanting in Tutin to Shiggeloth, a famuli of Sucoth. Jack is revealed to be Featherhead, the grammaticar of the sept, who is leading his followers in their summoning. Just as Sprawle notices Viola in a stupor sitting in a stone chair before a vast pit, he and the Pail sisters are hit with a great sense of dread as Shiggeloth, in response to its summons, comes out of the depths to claim its sacrifice. The trio then spring into action, Cilestine rescuing Viola while Paraclesia faces Shiggeloth to buy time. However she is killed by the famuli and Sprawle's grenadoes are ineffective against it.
Managing to escape, they are able to return to the carriage, where Sprawle relates to Wells what had happened. However their flight is cut short when Shiggeloth itself catches up to them and destroys the carriage. Forced to flee on foot with Shiggeloth and the fictlers after them, the rescuers are saved by sudden appearance of the Gathephär, an enormous ettin which battles Shiggeloth and devours it. Sprawle is able to divert their pursuers while Wells and Door flee with Viola. He returns to them on Bunting's cart and after Cilestine rejoins them after taking the fight to the Seven-Seven, they set off.
However the fictlers are relentless in their pursuit and keep coming. Cilestine leaves for the last time in an attempt to save her comrades, and Wells is shot through the neck by Featherhead and falls from the cart. Refusing to leave his friend, Sprawle jumps after him. Forced to leave the pair behind, the cart is attacked by four fictlers who are defeated by Bunting and Door, who is mortally wounded.
Bunting pushes his donkeys on, only easing up to give them some respite and believing himself out of danger only when he emerges into more settled areas. Finding Door dead from his wounds, he is still left with his original dilemma of how to fill the last item on his toll, as the remaining body he needs is now sleeping against him. Viola's parents could reward him monetarily for the return of their daughter, but Bunting is unsure of the possibility. Arriving at a crossroads at dawn, he halts for the longest time in an agony of what to do before deciding to return to Brandenbrass.
- This is Cornish's first short story.
- Featherhead and the Gathephär are the only characters to later appear in the main story, playing minor roles in Factotum. Europe attempted to fill the Singular on the Gathephär, but it had left Coddlingtine Dell by the time she arrived at Pour Clair to take part in the Battle of Winstermill. The following day she and her party were ambushed by a diverse group that included Seven-Seven fictlers led by Featherhead, who she personally killed.
- It is reported by a lurksman that the Gathephär left Coddlingtine Dell on 6 Unxis. Bunting was to return to Brandenbrass by 5 Unxis, placing the side story after the Battle of Wormstool, which occurred on 23 Herse, and between the launch of the NB Warspite, which was on 9 Unxis.
- Grenadoes are mentioned in the Foundling explicarium, but are not used in the main story.