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Author: Kate Milford
Publisher: Clarion Books, 2018
Series: Greenglass House: Book 3
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags: Juvenile Fantasy
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Lucy Bluecrowne is beginning a new life ashore with her stepmother and half brother, though she's certain the only place she'll ever belong is with her father on a ship of war as part of the crew. She doesn't care that living in a house is safer and the proper place for a twelve-year-old girl; it's boring. But then two nefarious strangers identify her little brother as the pyrotechnical prodigy they need to enact an evil plan, and it will take all Lucy's fighting instincts to keep her family together.

Set in the magical Greenglass House world, this action-packed tale of the house's first inhabitants reveals the origins of some of its many secrets.



The Peddlers on the Road

Sovereign City of Nagspeake, September 1810

Foulk Trigemine hiked into both Nagspeake and the year 1810 at the same time. There were different ways of approaching the shift from where and when Trigemine had last been, but when neither the need for hurry nor the making of some sort of fancy impression was a factor, he liked to do it this way: walking easily and leisurely from then to now just as you'd walk from here to there, so that the passage of time took on the feel of a hike along a gusty road, the years passing on all sides like buffeting leaves in a hard wind. As Trigemine walked, the valleys of Virginia slipped away along with the year 1865 in a rush of blue wool and gray cotton, acrid smoke and swirling fuchsia-colored redbud blossoms. In their place rose this high, dusty road lined by blue-needled pines, silver-white birches wearing the flame colors of autumn, and misshapen iron lampposts that stood at odd angles like trees warped by decades of raw winds. From somewhere below the winding ridge road, the scent of brackish water rose to mingle with the odors of turning leaves and warm metal.

There were different ways of approaching Nagspeake, too, but here, at the northern limits of the city, no one would remark Trigemine's arrival. He had been told it was a bizarre thing to behold, witnessing a roamer emerging in time in this manner'that it looked a bit like ice blooming, crystalline, across the surface of water, only worlds faster and with a much stranger geometry. The alternative was to simply and inexplicably appear, which could be just as jarring. Up here, on this lonely, forgotten way, no one would see. Except, of course, the man Trigemine was meeting.

The rushing of time subsided and was replaced by applause. "Now that," said a delighted voice from the other side of the road, 'that was something."

Trigemine turned toward the voice, swept his tall silk hat from his head, and made a bow. "We aim to please at all times."

The stranger hopped down from the seat of a peddler's wagon. The eaves of the wagon were hung with elaborately cut decorations that hinted at flowers and flowing plant shoots, but revealed themselves on second glance to be a filigree of rockets and starbursts, falling stars, and other exploding things. From the back of the wagon a stained-glass rendering of a spinning catherine wheel projected, and on the side the gilded letters that spelled I. BLISTER, PROP glittered even in the shadows of the trees. A piebald pony hitched to the front cropped the weeds that grew along the road.

I. Blister, Prop, strode up to Trigemine with one hand outstretched. He was on the smallish, compact side, with close-shorn salt-and-pepper hair and fingers stained with ash. An oversize velvet coat hung from his shoulders, and a pair of silver scissors-glasses dangled from a chain around his neck. "Good to meet you at last, Foulk. I may call you Foulk, mayn't I? I am Ignis Blister, Founding Member of the Confraternity of Yankee Peddlers and Grandmaster of the Worshipful Company of Firesmiths and Candescents, fourth in precedence among the Chapmen's Guilds.' His cheerful voice took on just a little hint of smugness as he finished his recitation.

Trigemine waited out the introduction and worked at ignoring the touch of vainglory in Blister's tone. Ordinarily, if he'd come across a hawker who'd put on such airs while speaking to him, Trigemine would've done something about it. But Ignis Blister was hardly a common merchant on a high horse. Trigemine knew enough about Blister to be wary of him, but even if he hadn't, no mere peddler would've been summoned to help with this task. Morvengarde did not deal with mere peddlers.

And Trigemine was no ordinary peddler himself. "Pleasure," he replied. "Foulk Trigemine, as you know. Victualer and Sutler-at-Large, without precedence or precedent.' The two men sized each other up as they shook hands.

'You've come from Morvengarde?' Blister asked. The smugness was gone now, and there was a false note in its place, an oh-so-slightly forced casualness. Talking about the head of the Deacon and Morvengarde Company did that to you, no matter how big a bug you thought you were.

Trigemine found himself liking Blister better. 'sure did."

'And you are the custodian of the famous kairos mechanism.' Blister eyed him, obviously after a glimpse of the item in question.

Trigemine reached into his vest pocket and took the mechanism out: a round double-sided gadget the size of a pocket watch. He held it up, touched a button on the rim, and saw Blister's eyes grow fascinated as six concentric circles unfolded, each rotating on a separate delicate arm. 'there it is.' Look down your nose at me now, you pompous devil, he added mentally. "Which reminds me.' A little green pincushion hung on the watch fob beside the device. Trigemine plucked an engraved stickpin from it and held it out.

Blister took the pin and eyed it with interest. 'must I wear it somewhere particular?"

'Anyplace is fine so long as you keep it on your person."

The peddler ran his fingers over the engravings. "It's lovely.' He threaded it through the fabric of his lapel. 'there. How does it work, precisely?"

'Precisely?' Trigemine snorted. 'there's nothing precise about walking through time. Let's just say, so long as you wear the pin, I can use the mechanism to carry you out of the here-and-now and into the there-and-then."

'Nothing precise? Really? I gathered it required incredible exactitude. Meticulous computations and so forth."

'Oh, yes. It requires a world of reckonings, and meticulous barely hints at how painstaking I've got to be about them in order to be tolerably accurate in my walking. But it's all to pin down something that, at its heart, resists precision.' Trigemine folded the concentric rings back up and closed the device. He turned it over and showed Blister the circular slide rule on the back: an ivory spiral engraved with numbers and symbols. A thin bit of golden mica isinglass overlaid one triangular section like a translucent pie slice. He gave the winder pin on the side a twist and the numbers swirled inward.

'In a nutshell, the mechanism calculates the point at which the passage of time'chronos'intersects with kairos, the ideal moment for accomplishing a thing. And, of course, the mechanism manages the walking-through-time-and-space bit, as well."

Blister lifted his scissors-glasses to his eyes and peered at the slide rule. 'that sounds simple enough."

'Well, it isn't, for three reasons.' Trigemine held up his index finger. "One: Time is relative. We call its progression chronos, but it isn't chronological. It doesn't actually move in a straight line from past to future, so it's not a matter of merely picking a point in time and going there. Two: There isn't a single future. There are an infinite number of futures, and an infinite number of pasts as well. So, again, you can't just choose a moment and hop to it, because it's exceedingly difficult to know which future or past you're hopping to. Three: Time is uncertain, and so are the reckonings needed to manipulate it. No matter how careful you are in your workings, there isn't only one right answer to any step involved. I beg your pardon'there are four reasons. Because four: By doing the calculations you modify every probability in every future or past open to you."

Blister's eyes goggled. "Obviously I understand that using the mechanism'actually walking through time and taking action there'has an effect. Rather the point, isn't it? But simply working out the mathematics makes a change? Before one even... well, does anything?"

'You do those calculations and then tell me you haven't done anything," Trigemine muttered. "Yes, the mathematics have an effect. And even before they alter reality, the calculations have their own uncertainty. Imagine I ask you to pin down a moth, but you can see only one wing clearly at any time. You pin that wing, and the other goes fluttering off by itself."

'I imagine I should just try to pin its body."

'It doesn't have a body. There are only those two wings, and you can have only one pin. Doing advanced chronometrical trigonometry is like catching that moth, where the moth is a collection of shifting probabilities, and the pin is a wildly complicated set of equations.' He glanced at the reddening sky peeking through the trees. 'shall we head into town?"

Blister waved a welcoming arm toward the wagon. "By all means."

Trigemine climbed up onto the box and stepped awkwardly over a banjo that sat on the seat. He eyed the instrument warily. "What is that thing?"

'It's a banjo!' Blister said as he climbed up. He lifted it onto his lap and blissfully twanged a string.

'Yes, I know what a banjo is.' Trigemine's head twitched as together Blister and the banjo proceeded to create a series of fairly awful noises that did not remotely resemble music. "Is it coming with us?"

'Well, you don't think I brought it with me just to leave it by the side of the road, do you?"

'A man can dream," Trigemine said under his breath.

Blister ignored him, plucking delightedly at the strings. "A fellow's got to practice if he plans to get any better at anything in this world."

The sutler sighed. Getting piqued at Blister over bad music hardly seemed wise. From what Trigemine had gleaned, this cheerful and pompous merchant was also a lunatic who was famous in his circle for being able to blow things up with whatever was lying around'a bit of dust, a single iron nail, a dandelion puff. And that was before he began calling upon any of the truly unique skills that really made him a legend. Trigemine leaned back against the seat and pressed a finger between his eyes.

After another moment of cringe-inducing noises, Blister put the banjo down and picked up the reins. "All right. Off we go. By the by, might I know what our adventure's going to be?"

'We're after a conflagrationeer," Trigemine replied as the patched little pony shambled into motion.

For the first time, Blister's sunny demeanor faded. "What's that, again?"

'there's a customer who's ordered up a conflagrationeer from Morvengarde. We're here to find one. And while you find your man, I may be able to pick up an item Mr. Morvengarde would very much like to have as well. This looks to be an ideal time and place to find its keeper."

'Why on earth didn't Morvengarde just call upon me if he wanted a conflagrationeer's services?' Blister demanded. "Why bother finding another? What does the customer require? Infernal devices? Uncanny fire? A bloody comet?"

'this isn't a contract you want," Trigemine said darkly. "I believe the work is a bit more long-term than a... a chapman of your stature'd care for. I gather it's not so much about wanting a conflagrationeer's services as about wanting the creature itself.' Blister scowled at being called a creature, but said nothing. "Less like a contract, I think, and more like a leash."

The peddler's mouth made an exaggerated O. "I see. Someone wants a pet conflagrationeer."


'And this is the time and place for gathering one?"

'According to my reckonings, yes."

'so then I'm here to identify the individual in question."

'You are. And, if you can manage it, to recruit him. The fellow we're seeking may be entirely unaware of the roaming world. He may not know his capabilities, or that there's such a thing as conflagrationeering at all. Hopefully you can persuade him to embrace it as his calling and to join us voluntarily. I'd rather we didn't have to behave like a press gang."

'I see," Blister repeated, staring down the road with sharpened eyes. 'still, I haven't run across another conflagrationeer in many, many years. Nor have I heard tell of any. It isn't just a matter of being good at fireworks, you understand."

'I had gathered as much, yes."

'You want an artificier, the sort that's neither born nor made. Anyone can teach himself how to kindle flame and manipulate it. Anyone can touch a match to something flammable and set it ablaze. Anyone with a jot of talent and a bit of will can learn to work with black powder. But a conflagrationeer is not anyone.' Blister shook his head. 'the archaic term for a conflagrationeer is a salamander'a thing born of flame."

Trigemine nodded along, wondering how Blister could simultaneously believe that he was both smart enough to do the phenomenally complicated mathematics of time and space and also stupid enough to have come in search of a conflagrationeer without knowing exactly what a conflagrationeer was.

'It's not an entirely false comparison," Blister said in a tone that told Trigemine the other man had noticed his lack of attention.

'I know all this," Trigemine replied patiently. "Of course I know all this. But the mechanism has never yet given me false results. This is where and when we need to be in order to find the one we're after."

Blister sniffed. "I believe you.' The wagon left the shade of the trees, and the pony clopped along a stretch of road that ran beside a steep decline. Far below, the city spread out on the banks of a sheltered bay. Dozens, scores of ships crowded the water. "I suppose with all the comings and goings in this city, it's the one place I shouldn't be surprised to... well, to be surprised. And to meet another conflagrationeer'it really has been a long time, Foulk. Ages upon long ages. Have you any idea where I ought to begin looking?"

'more than an idea. You know Nagspeake somewhat, I take it?"

'Fairly well. My colleagues and I pass through from time to time."

Trigemine glanced at the sky again. "It's late to begin the search tonight. What say you to finding a public house for the evening, and then tomorrow we'll start in earnest?"

'Certainly. Where?"

'the Quayside Harbors."

'Ah.' Blister smiled. 'very good. Jalap knows the way to the Harbors, don't you, fellow?' He gave the pony another flick with the reins, then wound them around one ankle and picked up the banjo. "Listen, Foulk. Here's a ditty I've been practicing. I very nearly have it down to memory. See if you recognize it."

Trigemine pressed the space between his eyes again as the twanging began once more. "Delighted, friend."

Copyright © 2018 by Kate Milford


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