Names were important. You carried your name like a brand. You never lied about it, for fear of angering the god under which you were born.
In theory, there were no unlucky Beloved. All of them had their places in the world, and even those who munched head lice or inspired the artistry of spiders' webs were useful and to be praised. However, the fact was that some Beloved were seen as luckier, brighter, more trustworthy, more generous, more worthy, and so were those born under them.
As a child of Palpitattle, Mosca was used to seeing noses wrinkle and gazes chill when she admitted to her name. Palpitattle's job was to keep the flies in order and out of mischief, but this he could do because he was a fly, the emperor of flies. The thinly veiled loathing she was sensing now, however, was something new.
The more devoutly someone worshipped the Beloved, the more seriously they took the lore of names, and the more severe the reaction. Looking around at the Beloved faces carved into every timber beam and the painted Beloved in the clock tower, Mosca could see that the people of Toll took the Beloved very seriously indeed.
"Let's go warn this plump heiress, grab the reward, and get out of this spittle kettle," she growled.
"It is true, dispatch is of the essence," muttered Clent as he surveyed the crowds. "We are a few steps ahead of your friend Skellow for now, thanks to your ingenuity in sending his Romantic Facilitator astray. However... we have received repeated warnings to be off the streets by dusk. Let us strive to have our business finished by then."
After finding an inn and reserving a room by flourishing the documents given to them by the Committee of the Hours, Clent, Mosca, and Saracen set off to track down the imperiled heiress. Fortunately this proved to be relatively easy. The mere mention of "the mayor's daughter" brought gleaming smiles to the faces of the guards at the clock tower.
"Ah, you'll mean his adopted daughter, Miss Beamabeth Marlebourne! Oh, we all know of her, thank you, sir. She's the peach of Toll, the perfectest peony. Mayor Marlebourne's family live in the old Judge's lodgings, up in the castle courtyard." A vague gesture to the north. "Ask anyone as you go - they'll all know where to send you." And indeed they did.
"Ah, you're going to speak with Miss Marlebourne? Then I envy you, sir, for she is the finest sight within Toll's walls. Seeing her, you'll think the Beloved made a person out of honeysuckle...."
"Miss Beamabeth Marlebourne? Sweetest creature on ten toes. Smile like a spring day. Yes, just take this alley to the end, and you'll see the brocade curtains she's hung at her windows, bless her...."
Toll, tucked tight within its walls, had solved the problem of room by building upward and cramming as much as it could into a tiny space. Shops were stacked above shops, each with a little wooden boardwalk in front of it for wares to sprawl. Some of these walkways even bridged the narrow streets, creating covered alleyways.
Mosca soon got used to the creak of clogged and booted feet overhead. There was a smell too, which came as a shock after the chill, clear air of the open meadows, the stifling reek of a lot of people living close together - unwashed clothes, gin slops, last week's mutton, chamber-pot throwings.
Toll was a hill town, and all its streets knew it. They were a hodgepodge of cobbled ramps, upward zigzags, sudden flights of brick steps, and abrupt drops. By the time Clent and Mosca reached the central plaza, Mosca was out of breath again and completely, utterly out of patience with the catalog of Beamabeth Marlebourne's charms.
The name itself was a bitter pill. Mosca had been born on the cusp between Beloved, barely half an hour into the eve ruled by Palpitattle. It was an open secret that her nursemaid had suggested that her father pretend she was born a little earlier, under the deeply auspicious Goodman Boniface, He Who Sends the Sun's Rays to Bless the Earth. And if her father had listened, if he had been an ordinary man instead of a meticulous monster with a mind like a guillotine, right now Mosca would not be Mosca. She would be a child of the sun, with a name like Aurora, or Solina... or Beamabeth. Every time Beamabeth's name was mentioned, faces lit up as though reflecting some distant radiance. All this love could have been hers. And what had Mosca's life been as a child of Palpitattle but a long string of attempts by the world to swat her? Irrationally, Mosca began to feel that this Beamabeth had stolen her name.
Fly Trap by Frances Hardinge, © 2011 HarperCollins Publishers, all rights reserved.
Blood at the Root
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