Cadmus was putting the finishing touches on a music box when the silence in the shop was broken by the silvery tinkling of the bell above the shop door. That was odd. He had no appointments today. Maybe someone was lost or hadn't noticed the 'by appointment only' sign on the door. Would hardly be the first time. Setting down his tools and jeweler's loupe, he picked up his gloves and pulled them on as he stepped through the curtained off doorway that divided the front of the shop from the backrooms.
A young woman stood staring in rapt fascination at his display pieces, so enthralled with them Cadmus flushed with pleasure. Nothing was more gratifying than seeing his work so openly admired.
She appeared to be alone, which was odd, because by her costly clothes she was nobility and young, wealthy women did not go anywhere without an escort. She was dressed in an elegant green walking dress, the bustle decorated with ribbons and lace enough to resemble a frothy waterfall made of silk. Her beautiful curls were barely restrained by a matching ribbon, and a handsome black and green hat was perched on her head, a matching parasol clutched in one hand.
"May I help you, my lady?"
The woman turned, smiling brightly, her eyes as green as her dress, skin dark brown and flawless, set off handsomely by gold and emerald jewelry. "Good afternoon, sir. I am sorry to intrude, but I did come intending to commission a piece and can certainly make an appointment for another day. I was simply so excited once I thought of the idea that I could not bear to wait to act upon it."
Cadmus chuckled and motioned her to the table on the far side of the room, then went to make a quick pot of tea. He set it on the table with a box of biscuits from the fancy bakery at the end of the lane. "You chose a good day to come, my lady. I have no appointment today so have plenty of time to speak with you. What is it you are seeking that had you so eager to see me immediately, Miss…?"
"Imperia. Serena Imperia." She made a face when Cadmus froze. "Yes, that Imperia, I'm afraid." The daughter of the Chief of Police, one of the most notorious figures in the city. He was also handsome, compelling, fierce, and a marvelous dancer. "You are Master Cadmus Tulari, the toymaker whose creations never need winding, but don't rely on magic, and will work for a hundred years?"
Cadmus smiled, flushing again at the praise. "Yes, that is me. Toys, music boxes, and many other clockwork devices—even boring old clocks on occasion." He winked, making her laugh. "So what manner of novelty do you seek, Lady Imperia?"
She caught her bottom lip between her teeth, eyes dipping to the table. "A gift, actually, for a young man I favor." She looked up, regarding him warily. "My father would not approve, you see, he is very strict. Understandably so, given his position and all that he sees about the city every day."
"The less you tell me, the better," Cadmus replied. "My job is not to judge or admonish or advise, it is only to make the novelty and deliver it to the recipient. That being said, you are hardly the first to commission a piece meant to be gifted to a sweetheart."
Her shoulders eased and her smile returned. "Oh, good. I was worried I meet seem strange or forward."
Cadmus laughed. "Oh, my lady, you are a long way from forward. What sort of novelty would your sweetheart like? Figurines of some sort? A music box?"
"The figurines!" She replied, clapping her hands together. "I saw one in Lady Betherford's parlor that had a little boy and girl picking apples and it was absolutely charming. I was wondering if it might be possible to contrive something like that, only of a boy reading in a little library, or pulling a book off a shelf or something like that."
Sparks tingled along Cadmus's neck and down his spine as the image bloomed in his mind. He could feel the pieces he needed, the final creation they would make, the warmth and beauty of it. "I can do that," he said. "It will take me a couple of weeks, and will not come cheap." He quickly sketched a rough approximation of the design and listed a figure, then slid the sheet of paper across the table to her.
She teared up, and pulled out a handkerchief to dab at her eyes. "Master Cadmus, if it only half-resembles what you've sketched, it will be above and beyond perfect. Is it true you build clever little secret drawers and such into them?"
"Could you do that for me? I would like to leave a note in it for the recipient. Nothing nefarious or anything, if you are worried about being caught up in something untoward."
"I do not ask such questions unless the client gives me cause. You've not give me that cause. I will begin work and when it's partially done I'll send word so you can approve the rough. We'll fine tune any details you'd like altered, adjust the price if necessary, and then I'll make the final product. The down payment is one quarter of the price."
She clapped her hand and dug happily into her reticule, and dropped several heavy, gleaming coins onto the sketch before sliding it back across the table. "One quarter, sir."
Cadmus smiled. "Return at this time I precisely one week and I will have the rough composite for you."
"Thank you so, so much," she said, and pushed to her feet, darted around the table, and instead of shaking his hand she threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly. Kissing his cheek, she then stepped away and said, "I truly appreciate this, Master Cadmus. Thank you so very, very much."
"My pleasure, my lady." He slowly ushered her to the door, mentally marking all the things she rambled about to decide on including or not in the final product.
Once she was gone, he locked the door and turned the sign to closed, then returned to his backroom. He settled on his stool and picked up right where he'd left off, polishing the little silver mice with sapphire eyes that would run around a gold cat with emerald eyes. The cat's twitching tail had taken him the longest, though timing everything so the mice would run under the tail as it twitched up had been the hardest.
But now the hardest parts were done and he was simply on cleaning and fussing. Soon this beloved treasure would be ready for its new home.
The doorbell came again, and Cadmus sighed. Standing, he went to see who the latest uninvited guest was—and perhaps, when they were gone, he would turn the sign to 'those with appointments only'.
He growled as the smell of a familiar cologne, too sweet and too sour all at once, reached his nose right as he pushed through the curtain. "I told you to get out and stay out."
Smiling, the man at the door prowled further into the room. "Now, Cadmus, I've been a reasonable man so far—"
"You're not a man, you're a scheming snake," Cadmus snapped.
The too-pleasant expression on the man's face vanished. "We're not snakes, and you're one to talk, you overgrown, scaly bird."
Cadmus pointed to the door. "Get out of my shop."
"I've offered you more money, more jewels, more treasure than you could acquire in another two hundred years—"
"And I have told you countless times that the secret to my automatons is none of your business. I don't need a slimy wyrm offering me cold treasure you probably stole from someone else." Cadmus stepped around the counter and barreled toward the man, shoving hard when he was close enough, over and over again until the man slammed into the door.
Reaching up, Cadmus wrapped a hand around his throat and hissed, "Stay out of my shop, Vidner, this is your last warning." He threw the door open and shoved Vidner out, then slammed it shut and turned the lock.
Hands shaking he returned to his backroom and immediately set to work going through every drawer, cabinet, shelf, and box to count every single piece of treasure. It was all there, he knew it was all there, he'd feel it if something had been taken—but Vidner left him feeling sick and afraid, and he wouldn't be soothed until all his treasure had been counted, every last gear, cog, jewel, wire, and all the gold, silver, and other metals he used. Then the tools, fabrics, wood…