Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 90,556,131 Issue: 162 | 15th day of Collecting, Y6
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The Korbat Who Couldn't Hang: Part Four


by janejinn

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Gripping a pair of flat-nosed pliers in each hand, and a piece of green glass in the pliers, Isabel gave a careful pull. The glass broke cleanly along the line she'd scored earlier, and she held up a perfect triangle with a grin of success.

"How many does that make now?" asked Master Malor from the table where he was soldering some lead together.

"Five," said Isabel.

"Excellent. We'll soon have that border ready to go." Master Malor smiled encouragingly.

Isabel picked up the next piece of glass and fitted the paper pattern to it. She hadn't expected to be doing this sort of work as Master Malor's assistant - but then, she hadn't known what to expect at all. If she'd thought about it at all, she'd have expected to be stuck with work that any idiot could do, such as stoking the fire, carrying water, or fetching things from around the village so that Master Malor could work.

Instead, Master Malor had been keeping Isabel busy in the workshop for the last ten days. He'd shown her how to "score" glass by running a glass cutter along the edges of a paper pattern, and how to use two pairs of pliers to encourage the glass to break where it was supposed to. Bending the glass until it broke proved to be less efficient than simply pulling the two pieces apart, which had surprised Isabel. She'd also learned how to use the grinder to soften the razor-sharp edges and to smooth away any bobbles that she might have made during scoring. Now, ten days later, Master Malor was letting her cut small triangles from the scrap glass, saying that he would use them in a pattern for the border of a certain window. She almost felt like she was an apprentice more than a temporary assistant, and the thought didn't make her unhappy at all.

Still, she did have the "fetch and carry" job of getting their food each day. One of the first questions Master Malor had asked her had been if she could cook, but when he'd found out she couldn't, he'd started handing over a supply of Neopoints each morning and telling her to buy two of anything that she liked for lunch, along with supplies for supper and breakfast. "Just make sure it doesn't have any graspberries in it."

"Yoo-hoo," called out a cheerful voice from the open door of the workshop, and Isabel glanced up. At first, the sight of red wings made her think for one moment that it might be her mother, and she gave a little start of pleased surprise, but then sank down again in disappointment. It was only the Korbat matron from the other side of the village, whom Isabel secretly referred to as Madam Graspberry, and she was holding a familiar covered dish. Forcing a smile onto her face, Isabel placed her tools carefully on the table and stood up to receive the pie. Master Malor pretended to be very busy; glancing up once and waving his soldering iron, then bending over his work again with an industrious air.

"There'll be a storm tonight," the older Korbat woman said. "You'll be glad of a pie to keep you warm."

Actually, it was always warm in Master Malor's house, because he never let the glass furnace go out, and Isabel had to open the window each night for a breath of cooler air. But she took the dish and thanked the woman anyway, surreptitiously glancing up at the sky. There was indeed a bank of black clouds rolling in, and Isabel hoped that it only meant rain, and not thunder and lightning.

"I wouldn't like to be out travelling in this weather," Madam Graspberry went on. "Still, it'll probably clear up by the time you'll be wanting to move on?"

"I was just thinking that I might want to stay here forever," Isabel replied, not at all untruthfully. She had already wondered several times if Master Malor would want her back once she'd been to the Healing Springs, but hadn't quite had the courage to ask.

"Really." Madam Graspberry's voice was suddenly flat and emotionless. "Well, I must be getting on and make sure my lightning rod's up."

As the Korbat woman flapped away, Isabel waited. Lately, the old blue Draik who sold Master Malor's stained glass windows had been making a habit of stopping by as soon as Madam Graspberry had come and gone. This time, Isabel saw the old blue Draik peek once around around the corner of a nearby house as though he'd been hiding there, then come out again and walk casually towards the door of the workshop. She remained standing by the doorway, ready to offer him the customary piece of pie.

"Miss Broadtail. Master Malor. Window done yet?" he asked as he came in, but his eyes sought out the dish in Isabel's hands.

"You're a bit early," Master Malor said. "Come back again tomorrow. But here, take that graspberry pie with you."

"Won't say no," the blue Draik replied, reaching out eagerly. "Storm's coming up. Be glad of a pie to keep me warm."

When he'd gone, Isabel and Master Malor looked at each other, then started to laugh in unison as they went back to their work.

That night, forgetting her mirth at the antics of the old blue Draik and the old red Korbat, Isabel fell asleep worrying about the clouds. She was awakened sometime later by a flash of light and the loud rumble of thunder through her open window, along with the steady pounding of rain on the roof. All Korbats in Isabel's village were afraid of lightning because of the danger that it might strike their family trees, and a thunderstorm was a signal for everybody to make a dash to the village hall and huddle together inside on the floor. There were gruesome tales about those Korbats who hadn't left their trees in time, and had been fried alive as they hung from the branches.

For a moment upon awakening, Isabel had expected to be at the foot of her family tree, with her parents dropping down to land on either side of her, covering her with their wings as they ran for shelter. But another bolt of lightning lit up her surroundings, and instead of the familiar branches, there was only an empty metal bar suspended menacingly above her. Isabel's breath caught in her throat and her heart pounded painfully in her chest. She tried to count the seconds until the thunder came, as her parents had taught her, but it rumbled before she could even start. Too close!

Panting, she stood up and raced out of her room, not even bothering to knock as she pushed open the door across from hers. "Master Malor! I'm scared!"

"Hrrrruh?" came a truncated snore from around foot level. In the darkness, Isabel moved forward carefully, extending one hand to feel for the bar that she expected to find hanging in the master's room. Instead, her claw hit something on the floor. Fearing that she'd accidentally kicked him in the face, Isabel bent down. "I'm sorry! I'm just - I'm scared!"

The lightning flashed a third time and in the instant of light that it afforded, Isabel became aware of two things. One, Master Malor's window was also open. And two, there was no bar in his room! He was lying on his back on the floor with his hands folded over his belly, and the part of him that she had hit with her claw had been his foot, not his head. The knowledge was almost enough to shock the fear out of her.

"Scared?" Master Malor murmured. "Oh, the thunderstorm. Well, snuggle up here. I'm afraid I don't have a bar here for you to hang from, but you're welcome to share my rug."

Isabel stretched out gingerly on the floor next to him, shivering a little at a rumble of thunder. "Why don't you have a bar here?"

"I can't hang," the older Korbat said matter-of-factly. "I had an accident with my foot when I was a toddler, and nearly sliced my claws off. Ever since they've healed, I haven't been able to bend them properly."

"Oh," Isabel breathed. "Didn't the other children tease you?"

"Some of them did - enough that I was always self-conscious about it. But eventually I learned that it's not important what you can't do. It's what you can do that's important. I can make beautiful stained glass windows, and that's what I concentrate on."

"I can't hang, either," Isabel admitted slowly. "My foot didn't develop properly before I was born, and two of the claws are practically useless."

"And you were too embarrassed to tell me not to put a bar up in your room?"

"Hm, yeah. Sorry."

Master Malor laughed. "It doesn't matter. Honest work never hurt anyone. And speaking of honest work, how about if you come back and be my apprentice once you've been to Faerieland?"

There was a flash of lightning and an explosion of thunder, but Isabel scarcely noticed. "Me? You mean it?"

"You've got the knack for it."

"I'd love to! Thanks!" A thought formed itself slowly in her mind, and she stammered, "But I'm not sure -"

"Not sure about what?"

"Whether I need to go … whether I want to go to Faerieland now, anymore." She felt certain that Master Malor had meant the Healing Springs when he'd mentioned Faerieland, the first time they'd met. He probably hadn't forgotten his reason for going, but no doubt it had seemed much less urgent, the less he'd concentrated on his foot and the more he'd worked on making windows.

"Indeed, you've still got time to decide. If you do go, I'll still be here when you get back, hale and hearty - graspberries notwithstanding."

They laughed together again.

"D'you know," said Isabel, unconsciously copying the old Korbat's manner of speaking. "I think I'll stay here."

"Wonderful," Master Malor said, beaming. "And now, if my young apprentice doesn't mind, her old master needs to get some sleep."

Isabel found it hard to get back to sleep that night, but she knew it was more because of excitement than because of the storm.

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» The Korbat Who Couldn't Hang: Part One
» The Korbat Who Coudn't Hang: Part Two
» The Korbat Who Couldn't Hang: Part Three
» The Korbat Who Couldn't Hang: Part Five



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