Thanks for the challenge, Domi!
This is the kind of story idea that I usually end up telling in 1000 words or less, so fleshing it out was a big challenge. The ending was rushed because I knew I'd never finish it otherwise.
Suggestions for improvements are definitely welcome!
The First Birth
Normally it would have been near impossible to wake Rodney before daybreak, but today was special. The moment the golden curve of the sun peeked over the windowsill of his room in Yesterschool House, he leapt out of bed, scattering assorted books, blanket and a mildly affronted rooster onto the floor. Today was the day of RodneyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s first Birth, the day he would become a man.
His morning ritual of a splash of icy water onto his face and hair was more hurried than usual and the enthusiasm with which he scrubbed his face threatened to take his skin off. At least he did not have to think about what clothes he had to wear for the Birth - Dama had already set out some appropriate clothes for him. Even without his spectacles, he could see the neatly folded pile in the middle of his bedroom, mainly because it was at odds with the surrounding mess.
He launched himself at the clothes in a graceful slide across the wooden floor, managing to combine the action with the removal of his nightgown which was unceremoniously dumped onto the mess of his bed.
His first battle of the day would prove to be getting dressed. The shirt, a somber navy blue piece sporting the Yesterschool coat of arms and the motto, "No Yesterman is a YesterdayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Man", was starched so stiff that he could barely unfold it without it snapping in half. The long grey trousers were nearly as bad and more closely resembled the lower half of a suit of armour than formal dress. Rodney grimaced - Dama obviously belonged to the school of thought that the more important the occasion, the more starch that was required.
After a few full-bodied contortions, the clothes were flexible enough to allow for a dignified gait. As he bent and unbent his elbows, he pictured how he would appear to the others after the Birth. More wise, more grave, certainly. All of the men coming out of the ritual had looked impossibly older.
His own brother Leon had come out of his own first Birth in a daze, his eyes expressing a strange emotion that Rodney couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t read. The bond of silence had held true. No amount of wheedling had moved Leon to say anything about the Birth, except for a single comment.
"ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s messy, Rod. Really, really messy."
Thinking back on the sticky dark stains that had covered his brotherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s clothing, Rodney decided to improve his outfit with the rubber apron from his metalwork class. After the apron squeaked over the outfit, he added the enormous fishing waders that his father, an avid fisher, had presented to him the day he had moved to Yesterschool. It might have been overkill, but at least he wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have to burn his shirt and pants as Leon had done.
Breakfast was always held in the Yestersquire, a building that was unique in the Yesterschool as it was made entirely of clay. It was a Yester tradition that the senior boys would try to dupe the newly arrived juniors into thinking that nearby Yester Mountain was actually a front for the enormous kiln in which the entire Yestersquire had been baked. So far, the record endupement was four months and thirteen days, recorded in the year 1963, before the only bright boy in the class of Ã¢â‚¬Ëœ63 realised that the clay of Yestersquire was unfired.
As a result, Yestersquire was continually in a state of repair. Rainfall made the walls slick and malleable. Heavy rainfall in particular caused the entire building to sag unhappily. Extended days of sunshine made the walls crack and hot dry days were potentially life-threatening for slow-footed students when large slabs of wall fell off the building. Yet despite continuous protests from the Yester community, Yestersquire stayed, mainly by virtue of how cost-effective it was to repair, with the repair clay coming out of the Art departmentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s budget.
Breakfast was always an exciting affair, with students required to dodge the sudden showers of claypowder that threatened to fall into their bowls of gruel. This necessitated frequent shifting down the long benches that accompanied the giant dining table, meaning that you never knew who you might end up sitting with.
"So, Rod, todayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the day, huh?"
Rodney looked up to see Jacob Westerwinter, junior by three months, looking at him with a mixture of awe and apprehension. He nodded with what he hoped was an air of superiority and infinite calm.
"DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t worry Rod," Jacob squeaked, "It canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be that big a deal. Everyone does it on their 16th birthday and everyone lives to not tell the tale."
"IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not worried," Rodney muttered, though in truth his fingers were beginning to feel ever so slightly wobbly. RodneyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s gruel this morning contained a garnish of three daisyflowers, a silent acknowledgement that Lissa the cook, like Dama, thought that this occasion was of utmost importance. Also not helping was the sight of Yestergoon intruding on his vision. The plain white building where the Births were conducted was unfortunately situated so that it was the prime object of focus if you looked out YestersquireÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s windows. JacobÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s squeaky voice interrupted his thoughts.
"Gee, I wonder what the new kid will be called. I wonder if you get to have a say in it, or maybe itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s up to the teachers." Jacob considered for a moment. "IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d call it Wren."
"You and your birdwatching," Rodney refrained from rolling his eyes. To think that in three months Jacob would have his own Birth. He regarded the pale blonde youngster and the set of binoculars that perpetually hung around his neck. The boy had extensive maturing to do.
"Well what would you call it?"
Mercifully, they were interrupted by a clayshower. Rodney waited just long enough to see which direction Jacob would slide, then slid the other way. He figured the few grains of clay that fell into his gruel were worth the price of a peaceful meal. Until he looked up.
"So, Rodney, todayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s your first Birth," Gerald Lanyard, senior by six months, superior by about five hundred years, grinned at him.
"So what?" The day was rapidly going downhill.
"So what?" Gerald expertly flicked the dark brown curls from his eyes, "So what? ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a big occasion. The boy becometh the man. The mouse becometh the lion."
The asshole becometh the ass. "I know how important it is."
"I see youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve dressed for the occasion," Gerald smirked.
It was just his luck to be seated opposite the one Yesterstudent who had come out of the Birth unchanged. Perhaps the rumours were true. Perhaps Gerald had been deemed ineligible and had thus been shown absolutely nothing. It would explain his arrogance, as well as the fact that his outfit had been spotlessly clean when heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d exited the building.
Rodney decided to take the noble path of silence, feigning a mouth full of food. This did not stop Gerald.
"Look, Rod, I know IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve given you a hard time so far. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s all part of growing up. As I said, the boy becometh the man. Otherwise youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d still be like Jacob, lugging around your bug-collection kit."
"IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d still have it if you hadnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t broken it," said Rodney.
"And look where you are now. On the cusp of manhood and youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re free of that device. You should thank me."
Rodney refrained from showering the smugly smiling senior with a mouthful of gruel. "*Thank* you? IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d almost finished my collection of Henjays! It would have made both me *and* Yester famous!"
A strange expression flickered over GeraldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s face and his tone suddenly became serious. "But wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t you rather be famous for something really important?"
"Henjays *are* important," Rodney growled.
"More important thanÃ¢â‚¬Â¦" Gerald looked around carefully and leaned forward, lowering his voice. "Look, Rodney, between Breakfast and the ritual, you have a spare half hour. Meet me straight after Breakfast in my room, okay?" Noting RodneyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s expression, he added, "ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not a practical joke this time. I havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t wedged anybody since my Birth, or havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t you noticed?"
There had been a more contented atmosphere around Yesterschool of late. Besides, for once Gerald seemed in earnest, his dark eyes without their normal glint of malice. Rodney nodded.
"Good. Straight after breakfast." Gerald sat back as the glint reignited in his eyes. "And lay off the daisies, Rodster Ã¢â‚¬â€œ theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not your colour."
Gerald LanyardÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s room was a sophisticated affair, all dusky red leather, black walls and creamy fur. Even the fireplace that in every other bedroom was a standard stone affair was adorned with red velvet. Posters of GeraldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s racecar heroes (including his father) adorned the walls and his cornerchest bulged under the weight of grooming products with brand names like "Panther", "Golfer" and "Fiend".
Making sure that Gerald really wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t in the room, Rodney slid open the doors of the large cupboard that covered an entire wall of the room. After a brief, mothballed search, he found what he was looking for.
"Clean, isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t it?" GeraldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s voice made Rodney jump out of the cupboard. They both looked at the Birth outfit in RodneyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hands.
"YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re wondering why itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s so clean, when everybody else comes out a mess." Gerald crossed the room and took the outfit. He stared at it for a moment. "ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s what this is about.
"YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve heard the rumours, right? Of course you have. And thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the proof. I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t see a Birth and I wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get to see one until my 18th." He tossed the outfit onto his bed and rummaged through the chest of grooming products. He selected a can, opened it and fished something out of the cap.
"And this is why." He handed a plain copper key to Rodney. Its head was engraved with the letter D and nothing more.
"I got to Yestergoon early the day of my first Birth." Gerald sat on the edge of his bed. Once again, the malice was gone from his eyes. "So I decided to explore a little. I think Teacher Townsend must have left the door unlocked or something. Anyway, I was drawing a moustache on Highteacher SemthionÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s portrait when I noticed that the left corner of painting was crumpled-like. So I tried to smooth it over and found this flap instead. And inside the flap was this key.
"Now I had a full ten minutes before my Birth, so I decided to look for what this key fit into. You know what they say about Yestergoon and treasure Ã¢â‚¬â€œ why else is it locked up so tight? So I figured it must be the key to that door that everybody talks about Ã¢â‚¬â€œ youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll see it yourself when you go to your own Birth. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the only door that is plain in all of Yestergoon. Every other door has a plaque saying whatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s inside, but this one has nothing.
"Anyway, I went to the door and had a peek through the keyhole. There was nothing but darkness, but I did smell something funny. So I tried the lock Ã¢â‚¬â€œ it turned out the key fitted."
Gerald took a deep breath. "IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d opened the door slowly so that it wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t creak on me. The light from the hall was kind of dim, but the room was even darker. And boy did it stink! Smelled just like anatomy, so I figured this must be where they stored the body parts for class. I couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t find the light switch, so I lit a match.
"I was right. It *was* a place for body parts. The light didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t reach far, but I could see a big tank and I recognised some of the parts weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d used for class the month before. You know, the one I tattooed with Ã¢â‚¬ËœI love JacobÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s mumÃ¢â‚¬â„¢. That was a good joke." A brief smile flashed across GeraldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s face, but it quickly disappeared. When he looked at Rodney next, his eyes were large and dark.
"But that wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t all that was in the room. There was a really huge, huge glass case on the far side that my flame just reflected off. I went toward it and as I got closer, I could begin to see what was inside it.
"Whatever it was, it was dead. Dead a long time, I imagine, but it must have been stuffed because it was standing upright and it had glass eyes that shone at me. That was all I could see as I got closer, the shape of it standing and its shiny eyes."
Gerald sighed shakily, "ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s all I can tell you, Rod. Because then my match fizzed out and damned if I was going to be trapped in a black room with this dead thing. I mustÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve made some heck of a noise as I ran back to the door because when I got there, Teacher Townsend was there to meet me.
"After that, they decided to punish me by not giving me my chance to see a Birth. They took away the key, but you know my memory for these things. It wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t hard to make a copy." Gerald shrugged helplessly. "What was hard was trying to go back into that room. That thing, whatever it was, spooked the hell out of me."
Rodney had no doubt that Gerald was telling the truth. The transformation was remarkable. The normally self-confident, cocky student was pale and his shoulders were visibly trembling.
"Do you have any idea what it was?" he asked.
Gerald gave a weak smile. "I think I knowÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think I should tell you. Because the reason IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m letting you have to key is for you to see for yourself, and let me know if IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m right in my guess."
Rodney had an inkling of what Gerald was getting at. Ignoring the chill running down his spine, he spoke. "But how will I know what youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re guessing if you wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t tell me?"
"YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re right. I just donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want to say it." Gerald took a pencil from his writing desk and wrote a single word onto a piece of paper. He folded the paper into a neat square and tucked it into RodneyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s shirt pocket. "Open it when you get into the room. If IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m right, just tell me yes."
He stepped back and looked at Rodney. "I think you already guessed what IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m talking about." He smiled. "You look worried enough."
Rodney found himself being ushered firmly towards the door. Looking at the clock, he realised he had only fifteen minutes left before he had to be present in Yestergoon Room B for the birth.
As the door closed, Rodney heard Gerald call out.
"TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re right you know. It really does have the head of a human."
The piece of paper poked into RodneyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s ribs as he made his way to Yestergoon. Above him. the sky had become an angry grey, a colour reflected by the cubic walls of the large Birthing building. RodneyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s mood felt about the same Ã¢â‚¬â€œ how could his day have become like this? He was about to become a man and Gerald Lanyard was ruining it all. He took the piece of paper and without looking at the contents, shredded it to pieces.
"Demians!" he muttered as he let them flutter to the ground. As if the faculty would keep a demian, however dead, at Yesterschool. As if demians even existed. They were a bedside tale that parents told to their children to keep them in line, a purely mythological creation.
He remembered his own father threatening to send him to the demians when heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d stolen all his fishing lines to make a bug net. "And theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll take you with their clawed hands and rip you to shreds!"
Clawed hands, human headsÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ and their bodies dripped with an acrid ooze, according to the horror tales. They were just tales. But why the high wall around Yester? Why were the Teachers so silent on the subject of demians?
Rodney remembered his first Hallowsday at Yesterschool. All the juniors had banded together to make or break the Demian curse. Saying the word "demian" three times on the last three strokes of midnight was meant to make a Demian appear.
TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d done it and nothing had appeared, besides a bunch of irate seniors and teachers. TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d been punished with stale gruel and pondwater for the next week. A harmless joke had turned into thirty six semi-starved Yesterstudents and had robbed them of their sense of humour for the better part of a month.
Rodney checked his watch. He had thirteen minutes. Yestergoon loomed above him like a dirty sugarcube. What harm was there in just having a look in the room? Either he was about to prove the existence of Demians, or he would have an excuse to laugh at Gerald for the next week. As he walked past the threshold of Yestergoon, he pocketed one of the emergency torches that hung beside the door.
It wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t much of a torch. Rodney could have sworn that the light was so dim because it was struggling to get past the formaldehyde fumes. The moment heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d stepped into the room his eyes had begun watering. He was sure he was pickling his lungs with each breath he took.
The light illuminated a series of empty benches and a selection of bell-shaped glass jars on shelves. Inside the jars, oddly shaped creatures floated in a bleached and endless sleep. He made his way toward the back of the room, trying his best to stop the fishing waders from squeaking too loudly against the vinyl floor.
And then he saw the eyes.
Glass eyes, he told himself. His feet didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t agree, flatly refusing to take another step forward. From this distance, the torch picked out only the eyes and the glitter of the creatureÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s claws.
Come on, man, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s dead! Rodney willed himself forward, though his skin petitioned to leap in the other direction. The torchlight began to penetrate more deeply into the glass box, illuminating a flowing brown mane.
Whoever had made the eyes had done too good a job. They made the creature look alive, and even worse, uncannily humanlike. Rodney found that he could not look away from the yellowy-green gaze. Somewhere, a part of him sincerely believed that it was only his eye contact that prevented the creature from coming to life and shredding him to pieces.
The clink of his torch against the glass snapped him out of his trance. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d reached the enormous box and the light shone full on the creatureÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s face. It was the face of a human child. If he let his hair grow without clipping it, heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d have the same mane.
It was down below the head where things became awry. Rodney felt his breakfast come up into his throat. The thingÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s arms ended in long, red claws and the toes of its hind paws were a similar crimson. The worst was its torso, a misshapen and twisted mess. Hideous bulges jutted out of its chest and the creature had no genitalia. It looked at him silently through the glass. Almost human. Demi-human. His father had told him that the word had grown shorter over the years to become demian. Gerald had been right.
He was amazed when he stepped outside the room and it was still daylight. He was even more amazed when he discovered that he still had three minutes to go before the Birth was to start. He made his way to room B in a daze.
The heavy tread of Teacher Townsend vibrated down the carpeted hall. Rodney looked up to see the elderly Teacher nod at him as he passed in a sweep of black clothing. Townsend stopped in front of the door to room B and jumbled with a mass of keys on a silver keychain.
"Young Rodney, is it?" Townsend found the right key and jiggled it into the lock. He paused and arched an eyebrow at RodneyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s outfit, then nodded in approval. "Best to be prepared." He swung open the door and gestured at Rodney to enter.
Inside was a small white room, perfectly cubic and perfectly empty, aside from a door set in the opposite wall. Teacher Townsend put a hand on RodneyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s shoulder and marched him toward the door.
"You realise Rodney, that you will be bound by silence and that what you see cannot be spoken of, to anybody of Yester and beyond." TownsendÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s tone was grave and sonorous, yet the words were spoken automatically. Rodney wondered just how many times the Teacher had said those lines.
"A broken bond will likewise sever the bond that links all Yestermen," Townsend continued. "A broken bond will cause you to be taken outside the walls of Yester, where you will have no protection and no help. There you must survive on your own, on the outside where the Demians live."
Rodney started at the word. It was the first time heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d ever heard a Teacher say it. Townsend gave him a wry smile. Again Rodney wondered just how many boys had given the Teacher that same reaction.
They reached the door.
"Do you understand the bond, Rodney?"
His mouth was dry, but he managed a "Yes sir."
"Then by all means, you may witness your first Birth." And the door swung open.
The first thing he noticed was the smell, always the smell. It was the smell of blood.
The next thing he knew, he was being blinded by an array of powerful lamps.
The third thing he noticed was as a direct result of being blinded. As he blinked away the flashing purple afterimages, his ears caught the tail-end of a wail, a hollow, drawn-out wail that was diminishing by the second.
He felt Teacher TownsendÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s palm on his shoulder, holding him steady. As his eyesight returned, a flurry of black-coated motion was emerging, black-coated motion that was struggling with a writhing blanket Ã¢â‚¬â€œ no, a writhing man beneath a white blanket. A very fat, writhing man who was wailing in a curious high pitch.
He shook his head to clear his eyes more. The blanket wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t white. It had been white, certainly, but was now streaked with blood. And the black-coated motion was fast resolving itself into the shape of Teacher Galanthor, the Anatomy head. The man beneath the blanket shrieked again.
He felt TownsendÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s palm push him gently, but firmly toward the blanket, the Teacher, the man. The squeak of his waders disappeared abruptly as he stepped forward and the floor suddenly became slick under his feet. He looked down and realised that he was standing in a mess of blood.
Teacher GalathorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s arms were buried beneath the blanket, at the lower end of the screaming man. GalanthorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s face was brick red as he heaved and pulled at something. Rodney flicked a quick glance at Townsend. "The child," Townsend said simply.
The man screamed again and Rodney found himself staring into his face. It wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t a man, but boy. A boy with long hair. The boy reached out a clawed hand to the suddenly shaking Rodney as Teacher Galathor gave a final heave and was rewarded with a tiny wet human. It opened its mouth and screamed.
The demianÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s grotesque belly and Rodney collapsed at much the same time.
He woke up in the white room. From the streaks of blood that led from the door to where he lay, Rodney figured that the Teachers had dragged him in here while he was still in a dead faint. No sound now came from behind the door to the Birth room.
Teacher Townsend sat beside him, wringing out a small handtowel. From the looks of it, heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d been mopping up the gore that had splashed over RodneyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s arms when heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d fallen. The fishing waders had probably protected his trousers, but the back of his shirt felt like a sticky mess.
"You are awake." Townsend looked mildly surprised. "Usually the lads are out for much longer." He pulled Rodney to his feet and held him steady as his legs buckled involuntarily.
"Understand that what you have seen cannot be spoken of. Ask what questions you have before you leave this room."
Rodney managed a nod. "Did I- did I come from Ã¢â‚¬â€œ"
"And what happens toÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ to it afterwards?"
"We released it outside the walls of Yester." Townsend looked at him gravely. "We are not monsters, Rodney."
No, just human. "And has it always been this way?"
Townsend nodded. "For as long as IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been a Teacher. It seems we all come from Demians." The old manÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s gaze became unfocussed. "When I was a young man, I went on the hunts for them. We only took the ones with the swollen bellies. Sometimes they birthed humans, at others they birthed more Demians. When that happened, we set both creatures free." He shook himself out of his reverie.
"Nobody knows how or why a Demian might create a human. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a gift. All we know is that that is the only time a Demian is vulnerable, when it is spawning. The rest of the time, it is a dangerous creature." Here he fixed Rodney with a steady gaze. "They are not to be contacted."
With that, Townsend walked to the exit door and pulled it open. YestergoonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s main hall lay empty on the other side.
"Congratulations," the Teacher smiled, "You are now a man."
As he left Yestergoon, he wondered what he looked like to the gaggle of students who were just amassing at Yestersquire for lunch. He wondered how he would go back to talking of bugcatching and the next dayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s classes at the long dinner table when he felt like this. This was probably why most of the students whoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d just been through their first Birth usually asked Louise to take their lunches to their rooms. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d always wanted to know why the burly cook, usually so belligerent when it came to rules, was lax on the new men. Now he knew.
"Rod!" One of the yesterstudents broke away from the lunching crowd and ran up to him. He noted with little interest that it was Gerald.
"So Rod, was I right?" The seniorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s face was bright and eager and terribly young. "Was it a-?"
"I knew it! I knew it! Why would the Teachers keep a dead Demian on school grounds? I wonder what itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s for? I-"
Rodney pushed past the excited senior and walked on towards Yesterschool House, deciding that heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d skip lunch entirely that day. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d think about it more in the privacy of his room. And heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d light a fire in the fireplace that had stood cold and dusty for so many months. It might help to stop the trembling that had afflicted his hands since heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d woken from his faint.
Besides, he had some clothes to burn.