Servant of Copper
Its thick coils twisted round the kitchen's whorled oak rafters, the serpentine steam spat a noxious fever over the bustling cooks, squeezing between hairy biceps to strangle the vermin with a despotic damp. In the suffocating humidity servants and Works alike milled about, gas lights flaring as cast iron pots clanged onto copper stoves, their chunky soups hissing beside sugar-glazed and velvet cream pastries. Cleavers rang on teak cutting boards, the splatter of blood sprayed on floury aprons and melded with the hint of murky soap water, a perversion of smooth cherry sauce and chocolate liquor.
Thumps of footwork came sporadically from the Spring Eve Event directly above the kitchen, poking the steam like children prodding an adder caught beneath a tree's shade, drunk on mice. Their eyelids blue with needle blisters developing on their soles, the Bramble Manor's servants hurried about in the festivity's turmoil. In the threshold of the kitchen's cobblestone stairway, faint light pouring from the party into the kitchen, the Manor's butler beguiled a young staff member.
Adrian flinched as the butler belted another one across his left ear, the right reddening. The valet winced as he rubbed the newly sore ear and fought the urge to straighten his uniform during Mr. Anderson's lecture; the twenty-something valet could only handle so much self-debasement in one day, never mind insult the older gentleman with such informal insolence. The cast stone doorframe moist against his back, Adrian's valet's vest stuck to his drenched white long sleeve. The old goat's pince-nez spectacles balanced at the tip of his hooked nose, begging to slip and shatter all along the rugged earthen flooring.
It could be worse. Better than a lashing, thought Adrian. Though the Bramble Manor knew Mr. Anderson to have a gentle fist for retribution, like any good butler he knew his staff on a first-name basis. As such, he knew exactly which buttons to press and which levers to pull. Especially when it came to young Adrian.
"What were yah on about boyo?" said the butler, wagging his right forefinger at the valet, the other fist firmly planted at the hip. He brushed his hand alongside his scalp, combing his surviving tobacco burnt strands of loose hair over his globular bronze scalp, his former steely gray wig currently upstairs sizzling silently in a forsaken punch bowl.
"Ta think yah'd kiss the piss-stained gutter again sah soon. Yahr mum be shamed, shaking her head yon high from Peter's gate."
Adrian mumbled under his breath, intensely interested in the beaten brick stones beneath their feet. The butler cupped his hand over his ear and leaned toward the lesser servant, a solitary tear brimming in the corner of his eye when his rusted spine cracked from the effort.
"What noise yah makin'? Speak up, boyo."
"Ah'm just sayin'," said Adrian, letting himself be fully absorbed on a coffee-colored mole resting on the wizened butler's left cheek, "yah didn't have to bring up Mam."
Mr. Anderson threw his hands to the arch directly above the pair, as if to beseech the heavens above why he was so cursed to tolerate such fools, muttering so under his breath. His chipped fingernails tapped the threshold's cracked mortar, face flush with blood. The kitchen cooks' fervor swallowed their argument while a few odd knaves slipped past the two to collect more hors d'oeuvres for Lord Bramble's Event; several quarter ton Works simply tread on the pair's toes, mercifully spared by God's good will and steel toe boots.
Adrian pondered the chances of the butler keeling over from a stroke, but doubted the old goat would ever afford him the pleasure.
Spiteful, butler bastard. Some Nurse Work would probably clamber a'ong tah save 'im anyway. Stupid oil-dripping automatons, Adrian thought. He shrugged his shoulders, sighing internally. Hell, who am Ah foolin'? Ah'd miss the ol' sod.
"Ah wouldn't have tah, if yah'd just stay outta the blasted way. Silly whelp. Where are yah goin' tah take yah're pay now?" said Mr. Anderson, leaning back to snap his back into place. He groaned deep in his throat, wearily exhausted of all the world threw at him. His tone muttered with a chilling finality, echoing the earlier crisis.
Adrian rubbed his left wrist sore but kept his arms folded behind his back with polite formality; though he despised the Bramble's stiff-as-nails butler, Mr. Anderson felt like the father Adrian had never known. Yet the valet swallowed hard as he thought of double deals, blacklists; he'd be lucky to earn pay as a cancerous chimneysweep after this ordeal. His speech rate gently quickened as he spoke, thinking this.
"Ah would've, if Ah could've. But Lord Bramble's son, the Courtesy Viscount. He, well, he was – having an fit."
The butler shrugged his shoulders with emphasis, a lone eyebrow twitched upward. If there was a problem to be dealt with, Mr. Anderson surely would know the answer. That's what butlers were for: cleaning up the messes.
"And?" said Mr. Anderson, tapping his balding temple with one cankerous finger. "His Courtesy Viscount Bris Bramble is always having fits, just as every clock goes 'cuckoo' after sah long. 'specially lads wound up that tight."
"Eccentricity, yah see, is inherited through blood, like royalty. Us wee folk, servants and such, we get pits in our heads. We're only fit for asylums when we get hysteria. But the likes of Lord Bramble? They gets 'funny in the head' with soft padded rooms and everything."
Even as animals, the privileged get their private, pampered cages, thought Adrian. Swiveling his shoulders around their joints, the valet tore his vest from the damp door panel and listened to the creak of his bones rubbing against his muscles, releasing his building tension out while churning his stomach to nausea at the popping sensation. Sweat tricked down his brow, but the kitchen steam was to blame; his foot was just jittery from lack of exercise, standing around the party carrying silver trays could do that. Collecting cigar ashes could do that to anyone.
Of course it can.
"Maybe, said Adrian, "but this moment. This moment, it was – different."
The butler raised both eyebrows now, blinking twice. He put a hand on Adrian's shoulder to steady the valet, who bowed his head and gritted his teeth as the day's events began to consume his mind.
That hollow ticking.
Palms clutched to his temples, Adrian furrowed his brow, acting as if his skull would crack open like an egg the moment it condensed into concrete words. That dreadful ticking noise.
"It was different. Odd. Ah. The Courtesy Viscount, in front of the Marchioness of Nottingham-"
The butler's eyes widened, tightening his grip on Adrian's shoulder. He drew Adrian closer, blinking harder.
"What, what did Lord Bris do tah the Marchioness? Was it before the fire?"
Adrian shook his head, nudging Mr. Anderson's hand away after releasing his temples. Letting his arms sag, the valet gave Mr. Anderson the decency of eye contact. "Ah did it tah protect the Courtesy Viscount. And the Lady from. From. From-"
Adrian's lips refused to move. The butler waited for more, but the valet was clearly dragged down by the grim events that had transpired during Lord Bramble's Spring Eve Event. Sighing, Mr. Anderson peered to his left and right; knaves and green glowing eyed Works trudged through the kitchen entrance regularly now, bearing silver lidded trays in pairs up the rightwards stair carefully. He turned to Adrian, who he patted on the shoulder.
"Come," Mr. Anderson said, nodding to a tung oiled bench sitting in one of the few vacant wall spaces in the Bramble kitchen. Without a word, Adrian followed behind the butler, who the valet assisted to his seat before taking the one beside the old goat. Resting, Mr. Anderson glanced to Adrian, who was fascinated by his own bootlaces.
"So. Ah sense something's goin' on. It seems tah rub yah the wrong way, so Ah won't force it outta yah. But if somethin' happened and ah needs to know, don't be wastin' meh precious time with 'it's nothing' hooey." Mr. Anderson shook his wrists during the quotation, drawing Adrian's attention. Though it smarted the valet's pride, Adrian chuckled at the butler's equivalent of air quotes.
"Hm," said Adrian. The valet leaned back, staring hard at the ceiling, or rather the pea soup steam hovering overhead. From it swirled out people and places, things of unimaginable nature, as if birthed by simple air convection. He saw faces, bright eyes and devious smiles, flowing lockets of hair. Adrian stared into the abyss.
Continuing divinating from the steam, the valet began to speak the truth to the butler.
Treading on a faded sage green carpet as he completed the spiral staircase to the Manor's third floor, Adrian waited at the top step until the clockwork stair lift came to a grinding halt. Ignoring the orange-brown rust spots which dotted the machine like swelling Plague blisters, the valet hoisted the silver breakfast platter off the lift, carrying the heavy load with two trembling hands which glowed red from effort.
With Ms. Madison put down by pneumonia from the final cold snap of the season, the task of delivering Lord Bris' breakfast had defaulted to the Lord's valet.
Throwing the servant corridors' swing door open with his back, Adrian stepped out into the expansive main hallway, almost as wide as a London city street. His feet sunk into the rich gold and scarlet Persian carpet, much unlike the thin carpet reserved for the private servant corridors, parallel with the Manor's hallways, which acted as the nervous system to the entire estate. Opposite to the servant corridor entrance was a lavish stairway which lead straight to the second floor with enough room to accommodate six men marching astride.
The railings gleamed with fresh polish for the tonight's Spring Eve Event.
Glancing occasionally at the antique porcelain pots, vibrant portraits and revolutionary clockwork mechanisms which hung on the ornately gilded walls or sat on barrel wide ivory pillars, Adrian strode left down the hallway. The wall left to him shook occasionally, sending tremors up into the ceiling which in turn sprinkled a light rain of ceiling plaster and dust.
Seems His Lordship is awake. And in one of his moods at that, thought Adrian, trying to walk around the small pools of plaster which covered the carpet lest any ruin Lord Bris' breakfast. The maids would surely have nightmares after the Event was over, trying to forget the horrors of messes on their newly cleaned floors and carpets.
What a little whiny bi- no. They can practically smell disloyalty. The Lord's been too good to meh anyways.
Gosport, home sweet death rattle, had its own share of crazies. From the limbless beggars crushed by pitiless gears in the Factories and the cross-eyed fools drowned in the oily soup the steaming goliaths spewed out into the streets; to the foaming lunatics proclaiming the End of Days in the park, Adrian had seen many in his own time. Scabby kneed and rail-thin, he had only escaped the Factory's grain thresher maw and their madness because Ma said Mr. Anderson, who had pleaded his case to Lord Bramble.
So why, Lord, do yah have a son whose so far around the bend he could nearly lick his own arse?
The Courtesy Viscount Bris Bramble was, by no stretch of the imagination, off. His Lordship walked like a school boy balancing books on his head, which fell clean off every two feet; his voice echoed, as if it came from a far ways away. Lord Bris couldn't even chew his own food properly, letting half of it drip out his mouth, making a complete mockery of Adrian's own task right now. It was as if the boy was a senile whitebeard, but His Lordship was only eighteen, a year older than him!
Adrian shuddered. There were crazies and nutters, but somehow Lord Bris had broken off the scale miles ago. He would hate to serve the insane bastard all his life, for fear of being dragged into such madness.
The left wall and ceiling trembled again, making a porcelain pot jutter on its pillar for a moment. The valet recalled a piece of gossip once whispered in the servant's quarters by two young handmaidens: once, at the age of ten, the young Lord Bris had struck his bedroom wall so hard that a priceless Ming vase outside his bedroom wall slipped clean off its pillar, and broke. Lord Bramble in turn dictated that no precious furniture be placed within fifty feet of Lord Bris' bedroom and for his trouble, Lord Bris' bedroom door was replaced by a cast iron barrier, much like a prison cell door. Lord Bris was then isolated in his room for a fortnight, cared for by means of a tiny hatchway at the foot of the iron hatch.
The black iron hatch radiated a chilling menace as Adrian approached it, not budging an inch even as the surrounding walls vibrated violently. Carefully placing the silver tray on a stand across the hallway, set aside for this purpose only, Adrian raised his knuckles to the door and rapped it once, twice, thrice. He hugged his knuckles to his chest and waited when the banging silenced behind the door.
There was a pause and the sound of muttering. The doorframe groaned around the still iron hatch, as if someone was leaning on it. The peephole swung outwards, exposing Lord Bris' emerald eye socket behind a pair of tiny metal bars.
"What is it?" said Lord Bris, his throat raspy. The Courtesy Viscount's fiery red hair sat matted to the right while poking up in the back to the left, making for one of the worst cases of bedhead Adrian had ever seen.
Adrian swallowed down his chuckles and nodded to his Lordship, thinking privately, Bleedin' nutter.
"Yahr Lordship's breakfast, sir?" the valet forced as much enthusiasm as he dared. Lord Bris furrowed his brow, as if trying to remember what the word "breakfast" meant. After a while, His Lordship returned to his valet.
"I don't want any. Leave me alone."
"B-but sir, how can yah keep yahr strength without nourishment?"
Adrian forced his own breakfast down after finishing the sentence. Two years ago, he hadn't even heard of the word, much less known what it meant. A year's worth of proper etiquette and language training for a Viscount's servant by Mr. Anderson had corrected that problem, though it meant Adrian had been ruined for the streets. Such posh talk around his old neighborhood would make him liable for a solid arse whipping, maybe even a knife to the eye. If children could be cruel, wait to see what they're like after living on the street for two years.
The doorframe groaned again, as Lord Bris put his whole weight against it.
Silly, half-mad fool. Adrian sighed and scratched his head.
"Just a little bite, sir? Fer Annalisa's sake?"
Another pause. It was an old card, but Lord Bris was chum compared to the sharks Adrian had been put up against. The frame groaned once more, Adrian guessing that the Courtesy Viscount had picked himself. The peephole snapped open for an instant.
"Fine. Mr. Bishop will let you in. Close the door behind you when you enter."
The peephole snapped shut and the clinking of the hatch's single indoor lock echoed behind the door, before a muffled burst of mumbling came behind the iron hatch. As he snapped the outside locks open, Adrian the valet pondered for a moment why there were so many locks, why Lord Bris' door swung outward instead of inward, the little mercy the peephole permitted, and why Lord Bramble put so much effort into locking his own son up, even if Lord Bris played to a different beat than everyone else. Before he promptly dropped and forgot the matter.
The silver breakfast platter in hand, Adrian took an awkward half-step back as the hatch's door swung out and a honey dappled feline slipped out the Courtesy Viscount's bedroom. The feline tilted his head just to the right, smiling like the cat which has caught the mouse.
"Oh. Hello, Mr. Bishop," said Adrian, his voice low. He noted how the short blonde remained in the doorway, golden eyes only ever glancing between his face and the silver platter. "How are yah today?"
The blonde, formally titled as the Courtesy Viscount's Secretary but informally Lord Bris' caretaker and babysitter, wiggled his fingers in greeting to Adrian before turning the same hand around its wrist in a shaky manner. When Adrian raised an eyebrow, the caretaker shrugged his shoulders.
"How is Lord Bris faring? Is he ready fer the Spring Eve Event tonight?"
The caretaker hissed an intake of breath, though his catty tail wiggled as it readied for the pounce. Adrian deadpanned.
Don't get mad, that's what he wants. Adrian closed his eyes and began to breathe deeply, forcing the blood swelling in his cheeks back down into his body. He opened his eyes.
"If yah'll excuse meh, Mr. Bishop, but could yah please just use yahr notebook?" Adrian waited, watching Lord Bris' caretaker blink once in surprise, before buttering up to the Cheshire grin again. Extending a lone claw to ask the valet to wait, Mr. Bishop riffled through his paisley vest pockets before pulling out a largish notebook and a carpenter's pencil. There was a light scratching sound as the graphite danced on the fresh, clean paper before the caretaker held the notebook out his fellow servant.
"Spoil all the fun out charades why don't cha?" wrote Mr. Bishop, replacing the dot over his "i" with a heart. Adrian groaned, the silver platter growing heavier in his hands with terrible certainty.
"Mister, just. Just get out of the way."
More scratching of the scruffy pencil to paper.
"Mawr. Moody today, aren't we? Fine," wrote Mr. Bishop, pushing the door out further before sauntering out of Adrian's path, still holding the notebook out in Adrian's face as he walked around the valet and into the hallway. The feline scratched his throat, tugging on his blood-red tie. "See you at the Event. Be wary, His Lordship is in less than high spirits. Perhaps the tick tocking drone of Midnight is at hand?"
Watching the caretaker stroll down the hallway, shoulders shaking in suppressed mute snickers, Adrian shook his head before stepping into Lord Bris' bedroom.
Don't let that creep get yah. Just deliver this, get the Courtesy Viscount changed, and lea- oh bugger.
During his childhood in the naval-port town of Gosport, little Adrian had heard tale of the viciousness and cruelty of the open ocean, of banshee winds that could blow a man clean off deck and monstrous waves that could smash a ship against the bubbling ocean surface like the fist of God. Though gangs of petty purse snatchers and rabid dogs beguiled him more than distant vile seas ever could, Adrian still woke to piss stained bed sheets some nights, dreams of dying on desert islands, flotsam and debris scattered all around him with nary a glimmer of hope for salvation haunting him like a shadow mare bearing down his back. Lord Bris' bedroom reminded him of such nightmares.
Shreds of bedcovers lay pale and lifeless on the water stained floor, fragments of a water jug scattered across half the bedroom. Several sheets of promotional schematics for new Work and other clockwork designs littered the floor, some torn into tiny white and blue snowflakes, others crushed underfoot, one even half buried in a severe hole in the entrance wall. An armoire, as buff and proud as a man's chest, sat on its side, one door open with clothes pouring out like pinkish innards. The bedroom window's looked frayed, as if nearly torn off their hinges with terrible force.
Lord Bris sat, scrunched into a ball, in the far corner of the bedroom shivering underneath a crusty pale blue blanket, Bris' childhood security blanket, his four-poster mattress between the two. The iron hatch door slamming shut behind him, the valet circled around the mattress to his Lord. His Lordship remained in his pinstripe pajamas, damp at the heels from the water even now expanding across the carpet.
"Lord Bris? Yahr breakfast?" said the valet, hesitantly approaching the quivering teenager wrapped in some forgotten rag. He gently shook the silver platter, causing the decadently elegant ceramics to shift on the platter just enough to clink and draw the Courtesy Viscount's attention.
Lord Bris only curled further into himself.
"Sir? Please, eat yahr food."
There was a soft mutter from inside the Lord Ball.
"Yahr pardon, sir?"
Lord Bris uncurled enough to expose his mouth. The bedroom curtains unfurled and blew in a cool spring breeze into the bedroom, causing Lord Bris' hair to limply flutter.
"You're too late. I've lost my appetite. Now go away."
The silver platter hung like a barrel of lead bricks in Adrian's hands, his knees groaning severely under this treatment. Mr. Bishop had jerked yet another gear in his head, giving the valet little provocation to bash the creep's head in with silverware. Worse, His Lordship was a queer, green horned, lackadaisical posh boy with too many feelings that he'd probably spend the rest of his life serving, a man he couldn't even respect. And even now, Adrian was fit to burst out piss and vinegar, which in total equated to a less than satisfied valet and which might forgive Adrian for saying what he said next.
"But sir," Adrian said, his teeth on edge, "Ah thought yah couldn't feel hun-"
"Don't you dare speak," said Bris, shooting up like a roaring rocket and striking the bottom of the platter with his ringed fingers, ripping the platter out of Adrian's fingers and sending the food flying above their heads in a curved arc. A loud crash and tickling of shattered pottery filled the air before a vibrating silence gulped it down.
His breath almost nonexistent, the Courtesy Viscount glared at his valet, a sprinkling of milk dripping from the tips of Adrian's hair. The valet smiled weakly, hands out.
"Ah. Ah'm sorry, mah Lord. I didn't mean to-"
Adrian's body sagged, as the surprisingly heavy yet lithe Lord Bris embraced his valet before letting himself sink to the floor, nearly dragging the pair to the carpet. Bris looked into the valet's eyes, tears nearly streaming out of his ducts.
"No no no, don't. Don't. I. I'm. It's me who should ap-ap-apologize," said Bris, as the oily liquid began to stain Adrian's vest. "I. I. I shouldn't have re-reacted so. So badly."
Bris began to stroke the valet's back slowly, sending shivers up Adrian's spine. His Lordship's fingers, bony jointed and the shade of light oak, scraped his back like metallic claws scratching along a chalk board. There was the occasional jolt as a particularly heavy tremor erupted through Lord Bris and into him, so the pair seemingly quaked in unison.
"N-no sir," said Adrian, reluctantly patting His Lordship's left elbow with his arms bound to his sides in the hug. "N-no need to apologize, all's forgive. Please let go."
Lord Bris gave a tight squeeze, so sudden that it forced air out of Adrian's lungs. His Lordship hugged with near inhuman strength, enough to nearly pop the eyes out of Adrian's sockets.
His Lordship, again, was a strange oddball. His Lordship, however, was a strong oddball, born unable to feel as much as a slap across the face or the pangs of hunger in his gut. Each of Leicester's doctors had come to diagnose and cure Lord Bris, in the Courtesy Viscount's earlier days.
But painlessness hardly was a common ailment, or a detrimental one. After the seventh visit, Lord Bramble discovered that his son had dipped into the Viscount's trust fund to afford the expensive healthcare and promptly punished his son, stating in his fury that such a pursuit was both useless and meaningless.
But to Lord Bris, to know the feeling of a flower petal between his fingers, to taste the difference between fine cuisine and base moldy bread; it meant everything. So what if he could not feel pain? He craved sensation. So what if he could lift anything he muscularly could, without feeling the tear of his muscles from the exertion? The Courtesy Viscount simply desired the quality of a true hug, not this bear hug mockery bestowed on his valet.
Tightening the crushing embrace further as his face grew red, Lord Bramble failed to notice Adrian squirming in his arms, his face blue and cheeks puffed out, sweating profusely as death drew near. Just before Adrian passed from this world and into the world beyond, the bedroom's iron hatch noisily creaked open, leaving Bris to drop his valet to the floor as he shifted from heart-wrenching sorrow to bottomless despair.
Lord Bramble had entered the room.
"Son," said the Viscount, dragging his attention from the limp valet stealing the room's precious air and the shattered cerulean ceramics to the pathetic caricature that was the Courtesy Viscount Bris Bramble. "We must talk."
The room almost echoed with Bris' nervous, tear-filled gulp. He tried to wipe his tear ducts clean of his oily fluids, which only served to dirty his sleeve. Puffy eyed, Bris shakily got to his feet, reflecting not a drop of royal blood.
"Y-yes, Father? Wh-what about?"
Bris unsteadily approached the Viscount as Adrian gingerly hoisted himself up from all fours. The Viscount blinked a mile a century, building up as much momentum as continental plates with the same implications.
"Son," said the Viscount, tilting his head almost curiously, reflectively, "what have we spoken about? Why do we pay for Mr. Bishop's services?"
"T-t-to get better. In th-the head," said Bris, sniffling.
"Correct. And why must you get a better head?"
"To. To. To be a better Courtesy Viscount. So I don't embarrass you or the Bramble family name."
Adrian picked his head up, staring back from the father to his son. Lord Bramble stood back straight, russet hair slicked back, eyes keen. Lord Bris looked like a clunky skin puppet, balancing on faulty marionette strings. With his military metals and garb shining from freshly inlayed precious metals, the Viscount boldly cried the virtue of the British Isle, of the might of its industrial strength and Factories, of its world-expanding empire. A scarecrow could steal Lord Bris' pocket money.
Frowning at this, Adrian watched the exchange continue. The Viscount patted Bris on the shoulder awkwardly, as if wary of catching disease.
"Very good. Remember: the worth of a man is not measured in inches or feet, but in his successes. If you never forget that, you'll never go wrong. I hope you enjoy the Event tonight."
The Viscount saluted stiffly, a solider to the bone. Bris returned the gesture, jerky clockwork solider. Casting a wary second glance at the valet, Lord Bramble then turned and marched out of the broken bedroom with a slamming of the hatch, ceramic pot and water jug fragments snapping under his boots.
The two teenagers, both Lord and valet, remained silent. Bags under his eyes, Lord Bris turned on his heel with a squeak and walked to his bed. He stood at its foot for a torturous minute before, with the slow inevitably of a long dead tree collapsing upon the forest floor under its own weight, Lord Bris fell onto his bed. The mattress protested from the added weight with a squawk, its feet digging into the carpet floor.
Adrian watched his Lord fall quietly. Eventually, soft whimpers escaped from the muffling mattress. The valet sighed and scanned the bedroom for any furniture left unbroken in Lord Bris' wake.
A flat wooden chair, probably Mr. Bishop's, lay flipped on its head in another corner. Yanking it up one of its legs, Bris reversed the cherry wood chair and sat in it. Making himself as comfortable as possible, he set out to make it through the long haul.
The air wavy from the light hearted songs of cellos, violins and violas, the Bramble Manor's ballroom glowed in the warmth of wax candles, protecting the guests with glass tubes while slowly drowning the candles in their own juices. Members of royalty and the upper crust waltzed dead center of the stadium-sized ballroom's bronze chandelier while others mingled around the room's borders over shrimp and fine wine.
A few even hugged the snack table, where not even a Construction Work could peel the hungry nobles from their ill-gotten deserts, occasionally shouting out to waiters who glided between the guests with silver plates of hors d'oeuvres. Adrian swept among the guests, carrying a plate of a different sort of treat.
It goes to show, Lord Bramble is a respectful if cruel man, thought the valet-turned-waiter, the stink of cigar ash fresh in his nose. He barely went five steps before a green suited male noble tapped his cigar ashes into a small chrome dish beside the several finely wrapped packs of smokes paired with the ash tray. A younger female guest around his age inquired about a cigarette. When Adrian stated the smokes were for male guests only, the female noble laid her hand across his face.
Just grin and bear it. As always, thought Adrian as he bowed and apologized. A hand print vividly glowed across his face. Just grin and bear it.
If Adrian was honest with himself, snobby royalty were the least of his worries. After the incident that morning, he felt doubly responsible for his Lord, who was slowly wilting in the company of the Marchioness of Nottingham. Slowly edging his way through the crowd however plagued with requests for a cigar or an ash tray, Adrian made his way over to the pair of nobles.
"A-all I'm saying, Your Lady," said Lord Bris, tugging at his right breast lapel anxiously, "is that one cannot simply dispose of out-of-date Works with simple Crushers. They could pose a danger to society or themselves if not recycled properly, should they choose to follow the Second Law of Automatics."
"And I say it's too expensive dismantling them piece by piece," said the Marchioness of Nottingham. "Getting rid of the wretched things is too expensive. Better just to grind them into scrap metal and iron dust. Oh thank you."
The Marchioness accepted a glass of fine red wine from a Waiter Work, green glass eyes staring blankly into infinity.
"B-but Your Lady," said Lord Bris, stepping toward the Marchioness. The Marchioness in turn took a step back, gaping like a fish starved for water.
Out of the corner of his eye, Adrian saw Mr. Bishop with his idiotic red tie and stupid grin wave his silly, moronic notebook in the air heedless to the nobles around him, the curly text too far off to see. Adrian picked up his pace.
"Ha. Careful how you make your approach, boy. Never argue with a Lady," accused the Marchioness of Nottingham. With a flick of the wrist, the Lady splashed her untouched glass of wine into Lord Bris' face. "Let that be a lesson. Hmph."
The Marchioness turned to leave with her nose high in the air, when a curious clanking sound came from her hip side and a tight pressure clamped onto her wrist. She looked down.
Lord Bris had his fingers around her arm, his head slowly beginning to jerk. A single eyelid twitched rapidly while the other remained flash open, exposing more sclera than anyone cared to see.
"Hah. Unhand me, you ruffian."
The grip grew tighter, pinching the Marchioness' skin. Lord Bris' lips parted, almost snarling at the arrogant aristocrat. Yet, Lord Bris remained silent, body trembling like an overheated copper boiler. Adrian picked up the pace, almost bearing down on the two.
"Ouch. I said let go." The Marchioness began to tug on Lord Bris' grip, which remained as firm as ever. She caught a cry in her throat as the fingers continued to squeeze her wrist more and more. Around the two, other nobles began to take notice to the commotion.
"Lord Bris, whatever are you doing?" said a colonel, placing a hand on Bris' shoulder before a bitter heat bit his fingers like a nasty hornet. "Yow! What on God's green earth?"
The air around Lord Bris began to vibrate, as heat poured off the young boy in waves. More and more drew their attention to their Host's son, apparently now steaming mad.
Oh bugger. What's going on? S-sir, Ah don't understand. Adrian thought, the wave of surprised, shocked and interested nobles swarming around the feuding couple, blocking Adrian from his Lord. The former valet shook his head, clearing his thoughts.
N-no, questions later. Just need to get to His Lordship, but. But can Ah make it in time? How stop this?
A steam powered candle lite over Adrian's head, even as the candle stub was devoured by the wick's flame and melt hot wax down the former valet's back.
If this even works, Adrian thought. Ah'm so sacked.
Pushing his way through the crowd, Adrian shoved aside noble, servant and Work alike to reach the pair. By this time, the Marchioness was on her knees in tears as cold, unfeeling hand dislocated her wrist with an almost gentle muscular pop and just clenched further.
"Yahr Lady! Madam," called Adrian, shoving aside the last of the crowd which wrapped a circle around the pair, simply staring at the horrid sight. "May Ah be of some assist- WHOOP."
Tripping on solid air; it was the oldest trick in the book. "Accidentally" pouring the hot cigar ashes onto the paling Marchioness' dress, Adrian caught Lord Bris' chin with his plate which knocked the boy to the floor, releasing his grip on the Marchioness. Yet that was only stage two of his master plan.
Caught in the arms of the circling nobles, the Marchioness of Nottingham panted heavily as she choked back from howling in pain. Distracted as she was, the Marchioness failed to notice that the corner of her dress was slowly burning, causing a faint trickle of smoke to pour from the tiny fire.
"Fire!" shouted Adrian, panicking suddenly, dragging the crowd's attention from the weeping Marchioness and the prone Lord Bris to the singed flame on the Lady's dress. Yanking a plate of clear liquid from a nearby waiter, Adrian then doused the flame with the liquid.
A forked tongue of fire stabbed the air as the liquid hit the flame, spreading the fire up the Marchioness' dress with the predictable screams of terrors. Adrian turned to the waiter as if it was the other's fault.
"What was that?" said Adrian, pointing to the expanding flame.
"Wine," mumbled the waiter, watching the crowd of nobles part like the Red Sea to give way to the red faced Mr. Anderson, who struck the flame with a wet towel. In the butler's haste, however, his steel gray wig fell right into the center of the fire.
Yelping, Mr. Anderson stuck his gloved hand straight into the flame, almost feeling up the Lady, before plucking out his wig. Beating it against his knee, Mr. Anderson inadvertently blew more wind onto fire.
"Sorry sir!" said Adrian, stealing the wig out of the butler's hand. Turning his way and that, the soon-to-be-fired valet tossed the wig above the crowd's head before being award with the satisfying plunk of a clean shot into a punch bowl.
Needless to say, this nonsense went on for some time before the Marchioness was finally put out with the trouble maker seized. Handcuffed to a chair against the far wall of the ballroom as the guests swarmed around the stricken Marchioness, Adrian stared blankly up to the ceiling, a piece of paper clenched between his fingers.
And that's the way the biscuit crumbles. He sighed, glancing at Lord Bris, shoved to the sidelines for now, limp and still steaming slightly.
There was only so much devastatingly hilarious slap-stick antics could do; no one had forgotten what Lord Bris had done, whether of his own volition or not. Most probably assumed he had a particularly violent episode, sweeping it under the rug in the face of the "crazed valet arsonist." But anything that he could to help the Courtesy Viscount would have to do.
Daft nutter, Adrian thought. Why'd you have to be the Lord's son?
He clenched his fist tighter around the note, courtesy of Mr. Bishop. There was nothing worse than some idiot bragging who "called it." Such a creep. He turned to his Lord.
"Sir. Hey, Lord Bris?"
Lord Bris jerked his head up, as if awoken from a particularly bad dream. It took a moment before Bris' glassy eyes focused on him clearly.
"Huh? What is it, valet?"
Adrian grinned with a sad sigh. Figures. Ten quid he doesn't even know my name. He still pushed, however.
"Sir, how much of the last few minutes do you recalle?"
It took a moment, but Lord Bris paled after a while.
"I thought so. Sir?"
"Sir? What are yah?"
Lord Bris stared at his hands, red wine soaking into his outer vestment, as if he couldn't recognize the two. He looked up into Adrian's eyes as Mr. Anderson hauled the former valet away for his punishment. Oil poured out of his ducts just as the Courtesy Viscount buried his face into the things once known as his hands.
"I. I don't know. I honestly do not know."