Story for the Day: Bartleby Crulge
Bartleby Crulge is one of Marridon's greatest inventors. Today, he is credited with creating various contraptions that facilitate many aspects of Marridonian life, but he wasn't always a celebrated scientist. He was laughed out of his place in the Marridon Academy when one of his inventions went awry, and was demoted to research head at the Grand Marridon Library. Feeling frustrated with his peers, he left Marridon to enjoy a life away from the pressures of the Academy. During his time away, he joined a pirate vessel and there had a chance to perfect his inventions. Here he is aboard Danaco's ship, meeting Damson for the first time:
With some effort, Damson was able to move his forearms into place at his sides and use the power in his elbows to support his torso. He sat up by slender degrees, his shoulders steady though his head hung low and wilted at his back. A few jolts of his neck swung his head round to front, his chin resting neatly on his chest. There was enough light from the candle on the desk and setting sun from the latch in the ceiling for Damson to see his state: his limbs were wrapped in bandages, his body braced with wood slats, he was not sitting in a pool of his own blood—or at least he believed so—and, an entirely new idea to him, he was without his armour. He had scarcely removed it since it had been given him. The suit had been inherited from the last knight in his family’s house, and the moment he had tied the greaves, fixed the pauldrons, and oiled the sabatons, he knew he should never be without his precious encasement again. He did remove it after a good stint of tilting to cleanse it of his opponent’s blood, but he only removed one piece at a time and replaced the segments before his body could miss them.
“Your armour is just there,” said the old man, in a flat tone, pointing to the foot of the desk where the pieces of plate lay and not looking up from his book, though he caught the knight inspecting himself with some concern from the corner of his eye. “Rannig had to peel it from you. Judging by the rust on the inside, you must never take that nonsense off. Absurd being so well-casked, if you ask me, and I know you didn’t, though I thought I should tell you anyway.” He licked his forefinger, planted it on the corner of the paper, and turned the page. “You must feel rather un-apparisoned without your armour.”
Damsons did not quite understand the old man’s manner, but he looked down at his braced body and said, “I do feel somewhat naked without it, sir. Nay, I am naked, indeed.” And he was, excepting a breechcloth and his bandages. “May I ask, sir, where my linens have gone?”
“You may ask, though I have half a mind not to tell you. The other half a mind I keep for this book, so your inquiry will have to wait until I am of whole mind and done the page.”
Damson construed this for some minutes and then said, “Do you mean to say that you’re reading at the moment, sir?”
“I mean to say that I’m busy, sir knight,” the lucubrator hissed, glowering momentarily at the knight before returning to his book.
“I apologize for disturbing you, sir.”
“Do you? Then be silent and give me reason to forgive you.”
“Yes, sir. Terribly sorry, sir.” Damson paused here, but his wondering strain brought him back to his supine state and his injuries. “I am sorry to disturb you, sir,” he began, brooking the prolonged exhalation from the old man, “but I would ask, sir, are you the one who healed me?”
Agitated and grumbling, the old man slapped the covers of his book together, removed his spectacles, and whipped round to face the knight. “Do I look like a cleric?” he demanded, staring at him with simmering indignation.
Damson would have moved back from the old man if he could have moved at all. He studied the old man’s dress and aged countenance: the lirks and gullies lining his mouth, the sad ptosis of his left eye, the tilt of his overwrought brow, the languid droop of his jowels, his pursing pout, the over all air of pedantic passulation, paired with his long robes and folded hat, betrayed him as much more than what being only being a member of the clerisy could recommend. “You might be, sir.”
The old man gave him a flat look. “Do you appear healed?”
Damson looked down at himself. “I do have the air of being healed, sir, but I do not feel healed.”
“Then I’m not cleric or an apothecary, am I?”
“No, sir,” said Damson, somewhat ashamed. “I suppose not.”
“There it is, then. You are ribshot and rather miscomfrumpled, and I should not move were I you. Your wounds have been dressed and your ribs have been braced. Hardly like healing at all. It is you who must do all the healing in the question. I did little more than clean the prodigious gash in your back. You were so heavy, even without all that nonsense on,” motioning toward the armour, “that I had to ask Rannig to hold you up.”
“And my linens, sir?” Damson asked, with a hopeful aspect.
“Oh, hang your linens, sir knight. There was hardly anything left of them besides. Your armour did a credible job ofshredding them, or you are a master of ragrowtering, I do not know which . When was the last time you changed your linens? They are probably being used as mortar for a gull’s nest by now. And what in the name of barding do you need so much armour for? I should think it scandalous to traipse about in that much metal. The noise you must make. Fortunately for us,” he sibilated through his teeth, “you make enough noise without your armour.”
“I do apologize for my clamour, sir, and I do thank you for your service to me. It was very generous of you to show me your charity and kindness by dressing my wounds and bracing my bones, and I will repay you when I can, sir, but you see, sir, I must some how return to Marridon, and once I am there, I will need allies to— the king, sir. The king means to kill Her Ladyship—“
“A woman,” the old man scoffed, glinking and sneering. “When Danaco told me that you fell from a cliff, I was ready to consider him as flarting me, but now I cannot but believe him. It is always a woman that sends men over cliffs, has men expelled from houses and excommunicated from countries.” He shook his head. “Nothing like commerce and venery for you young men, bedswervers all of you. I’m sure the trip off the cliff has taught you. You will do well to keep your nose away from callicolpian frippets; you’ll breathe better if your nose isn’t so concentrated in a woman’s vale. Read a book, sir knight. There’s a better night’s hoghmagandy than an evening of meretricious congress can afford. Better parting the covers of a weighty volume, to delicate in knowledge and plunge into study, than to part thighs and discover disappointment. Women are such horrid bablatrices besides, always after one to clean his mess and clear his things away. The only duty of a woman is to interrupt one’s reading, I’ll tell you as much. Knowledge is better acquired without such bothersome brabblers.” Proud of the lecture and certain that the knight must be envious of his vast excess of knowledge, the old man licked his finger and turned a page, craning his neck and fixing his spectacles at the end of his nose as he began droning over a particular paragraph.
“Is that why you are on this ship, sir,” said Damson, “because there are no ladies present?”
“That is not why I came here,” said the old man, raising a brow, “but that is why I stay. To be left quite at one’s ease, to read and study and improve one’s understanding, to lose oneself in the finely tailored word without the usual interruptions-- there is nothing else that would temp me to suffer being at sea so long, with such abominable food and questionable company. How one can eat tack and gruel forever, I shall never understand. Fortunately we stopped for supplies and we are in potatoes again. We are in sad want of a tolerable cook, however. Rannig makes a fine baked potato, when the lad can be asked. The galley is wanting a woman, for she is only made tolerable by her powers at cookery. A sated stomach, however, comes with a heavy price when a woman has been the cause of it.”
Damson tried not to smile. “You speak as though you have been married, sir.”
“I am no meacock, sir knight,” the old man insisted, “to be swayed by belgards and buxom bodies.”
The old man humphed and snurled and was very ready to ignore the knight again, for what did he know about women? His only judge of a woman was by how eager one was over the other to have him joust in their honour. Nonsense all the hastiludes of old, for what did they augur but broken limbs and unwarranted affection? Books were where safety lay, where no woman could intrude, no societal standard could touch; reading was always acceptable, and books always useful, and the old man might now feel satisfied that he had given up all chance of being miserably married in favour of what succour the sparkling seas and solitudinary studies could supply.