IT BEGAN WITH A FIGHT
foundling (noun) also wastrel. Stray people, usually children, found
without a home or shelter on the streets of cities or even, amazingly, wandering
exposed in the wilds. The usual destinations for such orphaned children are
workhouses, mills or the mines, although a fortunate few may find their way to a
foundlingery. Such a place can care for a small number of foundlings and
wastrels, fitting them for a more productive life and sparing them the agonies
of harder labor.
ROSSAMÜND was a boy with a girls name. All the other children of Madam Operas Estimable Marine Society for Foundling Boys and Girls teased and tormented him almost daily because of his name. And this day Rossamünd would have to fight his worst tormentor, Goslinga boy who had caused him more misery than any other, a boy he worked hard to avoid. Unfortunately, when it was time to practice harundo, there was no escaping him.
At Rossamünds feet was the edge of a wide chalk circle drawn upon floorboards so fastidiously cleaned that the grain protruded as polished ridges. Opposite stood his enemy. Regretting the ill fortune that had paired him with his old foe, Rossamünd frowned across the circle; sour-faced and lank-haired, Gosling stared back contemptuously. The blankness behind Goslings eyes terrified Rossamünd; his opponent was a heartless shell. He delighted in causing pain, and Rossamünd knew that he would have to fight better today than he ever had before if he was to avoid a beating.
Im going to thrash you good, Rosy Posy, Gosling hissed.
Enough of that, young master Gosling! barked the portly cudgel-master, Instructor Barthomæus. You know the Hundred Rules, boy. Silence before a fight!
Both Rossamünd and Gosling wore padded sacks of dirty white cotton, tied with black ribbons over their day-clothes. Each boy held a stocka straight stick about two and a half feet long. Harundo was a form of stick-fighting, and these were their weapons.
Rossamünd was never able to get a comfortable hold on a stock. With the fight about to start, he shifted his awkward grip again. He tried to remember all the names, the moves, the positions he had ever been taught. The Hundred Rules of Harundo made perfect sense, but no matter how often he had trained or fought in practice, he could never make his body obey them.
In Madam Operas Estimable Marine Society for Foundling Boys and Girls the only room large enough for harundo was the dining hall. Trestles and benches had been dragged clear and left higgledy-piggledy against the walls. The cudgel-master raised his whistle and the two dozen other children standing around the circle fell silent. Rossamünd noticed some of them grinning knowingly. Others staredslack-jawed and wonderingwhile the littlest shuddered with fear.
Gosling twirled his stock with a swagger.
Rossamünd looked to the overcleaned floorboards and waited.
The whistle shrilled.
Gosling strutted into the ring. Time to get your scourging, Missy, he gloated. Youve managed to dodge me all week, so youll suffer extra today.
That is enough, Gosling! bellowed Barthomæus.
Rossamünd barely heard either of them. The Hundred Rules were racing madly about his mind as he stepped into the chalk circle. If he could just get them straight in his head, surely his limbs would follow!
With a venomous snarl, Gosling rushed him.
The tangle of Rossamünds thoughts served only to tangle his body. Were his hands in the right place? What about his feet? How close was he to the edge of the ring? What was Instructor Barthomæus thinking of what he was doing? What would happen if he actually did land a blow?
Excerpted from Monster Blood Tattoo. Copyright 2006 D.M. Cornish. Reproduced with permission of the publisher, Penguin Group. All rights reserved.
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