The heart is a hard book to read, even to a woman as learned as myself. But in retrospect, I suspect that I loved Silvio di Forenti from the moment I saw him, cool and serious, standing in the doorway of my drawing room. I have met many wild animals in my travels, and intensity has come to mean more to me than all the pleasantries in the world.
His bow was stiff yet perfectly appropriate, as if he measured out manners by the ounce. It was hardly a surprise from a master of his craft.
Outside the window a carriage rolled past, and the city hall clock chimed in chorus with the one on my mantelpiece.
“Professor Liveci.” Without pausing for small talk, Master Forenti crossed the room and knelt beside my chair. His gaze focused on the stump of my wrist. “The wound has been well stitched. That will help.”
“My manservant’s surgical skills are excellent.” I nodded to where Antonio stood discretely in his usual corner, and he blushed slightly. He reddened further as Forenti, without so much as asking permission, took hold of the stump. My breath caught in my throat, both at the transgression and at the thrill of his delicate fingers on my skin.
“That makes sense for an explorer.” He opened his bag and took out two carefully jointed metal hands. The ends of their clockwork innards caught the light as he compared their width to that of my arm. “Would you prefer brass or steel?”
“I…” All I had thought about was the need for a new hand, and that I was one of the lucky few who could afford one. Now I felt like a fool – for once I had not done my research. “Whichever you think will look best.”
He ran a finger along my forearm and stared at the colour of my skin. I had only felt so intensely scrutinised once before, facing a mountain lion during the mapping of Gawatob.
My heart raced.
“Brass.” He nodded. “It will bring out your warmth.”
Rising, he placed the gleaming hands back in his bag.
“I will need a month for the main mechanism.” He glanced at Antonio. “Your man can assist with the attachment, or I can bring a surgeon.”
“I would prefer Antonio.” I hesitated as Forenti headed for the door. “Master Silvio, would you care to stay for supper?”
Now he hesitated, back still to me, before shaking his head.
“I understand the compulsion to offer me such politeness,” he said. “But there is no need.”
With that he was gone.
To my surprise and delight, Silvio di Forenti called upon me twice more during the making of the hand, to check the sizing of parts and discuss finishes for the metal. My joy in these visits was alloyed by the stiff formality of his demeanour, which spoke of no interest in me as a woman, and by the knowledge that all this would end once I had my hand.
So I determined to make one last push at conversation, that I might find an excuse to meet again.
Despite an alchemist’s draft and several good measures of brandy, the operation itself was agonising. I spent the following week sleepless, feverish and in pain, while my body adjusted to its new part. By the time Forenti returned to check on his work, I was just about lucid, and had begun to move my mechanical fingers.
“I feel that I should be striking the hours.” With slow, careful movements I brought the thumb and index finger together. It was a strange experience to see them touch but feel nothing.
“Why?” He tightened one of the joints with a tiny clamp.
“Because I have clearly become a clock,” I replied. “I have a mechanical hand, and it is driven by gears.”
“Not all hands tell the time.” He rose and packed away his tools. “I am done. I should go.”
“There is no need to rush.” Flushed with embarrassment at my failed humour, I was still determined to buy a little more time. “Perhaps you would care for a drink?”
“There really is no need for pleasantries,” he said. “I have already taken up far more of your time than I would for most. An indulgence for which I apologise.”
He half turned away, then stopped, staring at the clock on the mantelpiece. Suddenly he laughed, a sound I had never heard before.
“Hand has two meanings.” He turned to face me again. “I am sorry, I am not good with jokes. It is one reason so many find me disagreeable, but I would never wish to be disagreeable to you.”
“I am not good with pleasantries.” I smiled. “But I would like the chance to be pleasant to you. So please, will you join me for a drink?”
“If you mean it, then nothing would please me more.” He set his bag down and took a chair next to mine. “Tell me, what sort of beast took your hand?”
“A manticore,” I said. “Let me tell you the tale…”
The door creaked discretely shut as Antonio, always wise to my needs, went to take his time finding the sherry.
* * *
This week I was going to write a steampunk story, to mark the release of Aristocracts and Artillery, the third book in my Epiphany Club series. I’m really excited to have this book out – based on feedback from my beta readers, each of these books is better than the last – and I hope you’ll all give it a look. If you haven’t started on the series yet, book one is free on Amazon and Smashwords, and book two is only 99c from all the same places.
But despite that excitement, I didn’t manage to come up with a steampunk story. As I’ve mentioned on the blog before, I suffer from depression, and this week I’ve suffered from the worst patch in a year or two. Writing anything was hard, so rather than fight to write something that fitted my plans, I wrote something that caught my imagination. Thanks to that decision, I’ve written some fresh fiction for the first time in over a week. I guess there’s a lesson in there about writing what you love, but my main take away is a huge sense of relief that my brain is recovering, if only a little at a time.
As always, I hope you enjoyed this week’s story, and if you’d like to have these sent direct to your inbox each Friday, as well as a free copy of Riding the Mainspring, please consider signing up for my mailing list.