Masked like all others at carnival Screw was handsome. It was the new year, the very birthday and anniversary of Parquet, and just as high above the lordly and grand wore their masks then so too in the Rules did the base and the powerless celebrate. The oldest part of the Delves the Rules were the lanes, the word from Ruelles, and all stood crowded upon one another across the caverns like so many hundred stacked boxes so that the ceiling that brushed the highest limits was rarely seen at all.
Screw was dead. He had been born dead. His ma and papa were dead, they were of the dead. They had dwelled in these depths since they had been natural caverns, longer even than the goblins (that his ma’s stories had told Screw as a boy) had themselves been wrecked here so very long ago. The dead were non- people, there but never seen, rarely noticed, but in his mask of the beaming youth then at carnival at least Screw could have been anyone; and so he was someone.
The Rules crammed and crowded, compressed and gloomy was the poorest place in Parquet. The dead lived in worse places, but they were not of Parquet. But here and at this time of year then perhaps because life was so very bad for the rest of the year, then in the Rules they celebrated all the harder. There was drink and there was food, and all sent from above, so that celebrating the wretches and the horrors would not see the grand cheer above and fester amongst themselves certain ideas. Indeed, during carnival the Rules were the very place to be for all across the Delves. All things permitted, nothing denied. Screw ducked through a series of arches that made up this lane, stepping over a fat woman with her snakes and two men that picked at a third before fighting over the glass gully knife that had killed him.
Where the wider lanes squeezed and rose between the cracks in the layers of stacked boxes people jostled, stole, laughed and chased one another. A hundred stalls fought for attention. A thousand stolen delights were bought and fought over. Cit picaroons in packs dusted the cruder colour of the celebrants in their very best. Palliards paraded, cursing those they crowded for a cog. Salteador waited to rifle the drunk. One too weak would flee to the laughter of those through whom he fled to the shouts of his pursuers, the salwog chase of the nithing man as they called it here. Drabs sold themselves from windows whilst their punkaterro men guided the worthies to their doors. Here and two damp drums, a fiddle and a pipe competed and still people danced. Everyone was masked, and some of those masks were heirlooms generations old. Some of those masks had names and identities that went back decades no matter who wore them in these frenzied and wonderful few days. Light flared from fire breathers and lit-farters. A young girl with a medusa face thrust a gaping fish at Screw whilst another caught hold of his cods, and he pushed then back with his cudgel and to their catcalls and insults. He was barged when a thin man all stick limbs and belly was ridden in a race with a shaved dog and a chariot of tea-trays pulled by three children. Vomit just missed Screw from high above as a stall holder tried to force yellow ribbon upon him and demand its price.
Then here in the opening that went right to the unseen roof that they called the Circle Squared, tents had been raised. Screw knew that normally this was where all the stalls were found, the market, all now pushed and forced further into the Rules. A space where once mirrors had reflected light from the great burning lumiere deep inside Parquet but which now with their theft, breakages and ignorance was only the darker because of it. The tents were of sailcloth, rudely painted, cracked and patched and were here for the many that would never otherwise have set foot in the Rules if not for carnival.
“Welcome back my friends,” called a barker with a gaily-striped speaking trumpet, “to the show that never ends. We’re so glad you could attend. Come inside, come inside!” He was a fine fellow, tall in his high boots and coat padded to double his shoulders. About him there were knots of outsiders. Screw himself was just that, but alone and dressed as he was, masked, few would have guessed at it. He pointed at each that had come to gawp, to be thrilled, and Screw saw a young man too well protected and too eager to enter to be anything other than some patron from high above slumming it slyly and doubtless hard and giddy at the memories he was making. “There behind the glass is a real blade of grass,” the barker pointed, “Be careful as you pass, move along, move along. Right before your eyes, we pull laughter from the skies, and he laugh until he dies. Until he dies, ‘till he dies!”
And there was Berthold, whom they called Bertie the Bawd. Masked or not Screw recognised the figure having seen him only in silhouette before now.