She put Grim down and he twined himself about her legs. Then she climbed the steps and rapped on the attic door.
There was movement inside, and the creaking of floorboards, then her pere's voice. "Whoizzit?"
A lock slid, a chain rattled, the door opened. Grim slipped between the man's feet.
"Carmen, honey," he said as the girl threw herself sobbing into his arms. He carried her inside, unclasped her arms from around his neck, and put her down. Then he closed and locked the attic door while she wiped her eyes.
Her pere's workshop was a place of wonder. Sawdust covered the floor like leaf fall, soft and warm under her bare feet; it had a faintly medicinal smell that mingled with the scorched odour of the dust-coated oil lamps that were mounted in brackets about the room. It was the smell she associated with her pere, and she loved it because she loved him.
The room was cluttered with unfinished and abandoned wooden statuary. Joe Carmichael was an artisan. He worked through the day and often long into the night. His carvings would go on to adorn State buildings, the halls of Parliament, the People's Court, the offices of the Ministry of Information, of Universal Welfare, of the Media Ombudsman, and the Republican Consuls. The carvings were nearly always of labourers. They looked god-like and expressionless. It was difficult to tell the men and the women apart. Sometimes he was commissioned to create a likeness of Vernon Dervish himself. In life The Leader was corpulent, weak-chinned, and red-nosed; in the drawings he was heroic, gazing off into the distance, as if at a vision of some golden future.
Carmen's pere received one arg each week: the stipend paid to all workers. Carmen's mere earned the same stipend cleaning cells at Bedlam Prison. If his output began to flag, Joe Carmichael would be shunted along to a different job: cleaning chimneys, building roads, digging sewers. To lose his trade would be the ultimate humiliation. So he worked fourteen hours a day to keep it.
To supplement this income he made toys, which he sold on the black market. Trading illicit objects was a crime that could get you a ticket to hang at the Derricks, but when the alternative was grinding poverty many chose to take the risk. The irony was that these toys would usually end up in the homes of government officials. Few others had the money for such luxuries. The more successful criminals did, but criminals are practical people who have no interest in toys – or for that matter, families. The merchants and sailors who passed through Bareheep would sometimes buy them: the merchants to sell at faraway ports, the sailors because they were superstitious men, who considered unusual objects lucky. And the toys of Joseph Carmichael were unusual indeed.
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The Seven Sleepers | The Cave of Wonders: Book 1Adventure
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