The Korbat Who Couldn't Hang: Part Four
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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...