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Wrede, Patricia C - Mairelon 02

BOOK: Wrede, Patricia C - Mairelon 02
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The Magician's Ward

 

A TOM DOHERTY ASSOCIATES BOOK
NEW YORK

           
This is a
work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in
these novels are either products of the author's imagination or are used
fictitiously.

           
The Magician's
Ward
copyright (c) 1997 by Patricia C. Wrede

           
All
rights reserved.

           
An Orb
Book

           
Published
by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC

           
175
Fifth
Avenue

           
New
York
,
NY
10010

           
www.tor-forge.com

           
ISBN
978-0-7653-2632-4

           
First
Omnibus Trade Paperback Edition: June 2010

           
Printed
in the
United States of America

           
0 9 8 7 6
5 4 3 2 1

 

 

For Lois Bujold
,
without whom this would still be stuck in Chapter 7.
Twice.

         
Acknowledgments

 

           
This book
would not have been possible, let alone finished, without the aid and comfort
of the following people:

           
Pamela
Dean Dyer-Bennet, Beth Friedman, Raphael Carter, Sarah Withee, and Elise
Matthesen, who helped with sundry accents and foreign languages, and James
Bryant, who provided the answer to a tricky research question. Any errors are,
of course, my own.

           
My
critique group, The Usual Suspects past and present, who were amazingly good
about sitting through the same scenes over and over until I got them right, and
who performed prodigious feats during the final days of production: Lois
McMaster Bujold, Peg Kerr Ihinger, Elise Matthesen, Bruce Bethke, and Joel
Rosenberg.

           
My
editors, Delia Sherman and Patrick Nielsen Hayden, who were supernaturally
patient when patience was most
required,
and who
somehow knew exactly when it was necessary to crank up the heat.

           
Caroline Stevermer, Rosemary Ighel, Lois Bujold, and Pamela Dean
Dyer-Bennet, who provided much-appreciated moral support, encouragement,
lunches, and a careful eye to period detail.

           
My family, who were exceedingly understanding as regards late
Christmas presents and last-minute cancellations.

1

           
Cold rain
drizzled on the dark
London
streets--at least, it
looked
cold. Kim peered out her bedroom window at
the deserted square two stories below and pulled her shawl closer around her
shoulders, though the fire in the grate was almost too warm for comfort. She
hadn't had to shelter, shivering, in a doorway for nearly a year, but the
memories lingered.

           
Still no sign of Mairelon.
Is he going to stay out
all night?
Kim thought resentfully.
He gets to jaw with Lord Shoreham and
eat at the
Royal
College
of Wizards, and I'm stuck here with a great thick square book and that
poker-backed aunt of his.
She shook her head. It was not what she had
expected a year ago when she had agreed to become Mairelon's ward and learn
reading and magic. Then, she had thought it would be a great adventure.

           
" 'Anything
might happen,' I thought," Kim said
aloud to her reflection in the rain-dark window.
"
'Anything
at all.' I must have been touched in the head." She
crossed her eyes and stuck out her tongue at her mirror image.

           
"Dicked
in the nob, that's what I was," she muttered.

           
The
bedroom door opened. "What did you say, Kim?" Mrs. Lowe asked in a
mildly disapproving tone.

           
With a
faint sigh, Kim slid off the window seat and turned. The relentless
respectability of Mairelon's paternal aunt was very wearing. It seemed much
longer than a week since they'd found her ensconced in the townhouse on their
arrival in
London
. And since they
were all technically guests of Mairelon's brother Andrew, who as elder son had
inherited the townhouse, there was nothing to be done about Mrs. Lowe except
spend time elsewhere. Which Mairelon had been doing rather a
lot.
Kim wished she had that option. "I didn't say anything," she told
Mrs. Lowe in as mild a tone as she could manage.

           
"I
was sure I heard your voice." Mrs. Lowe hesitated. "It wasn't any of
that . . . that thieves' cant, was it?"

           
"Flash
lingo," Kim said helpfully.

           
Mrs. Lowe
frowned. "After
all my
nephew has done for you,
the least you could do is to be more careful of your language."

           
"Mairelon
doesn't mind the way I talk."

           
"My
nephew is not always as conscious of the social niceties as he should be,"
Mrs. Lowe said. "Nonetheless, they must be observed. And you really should
refer to him as 'Mr. Merrill.' He is your guardian, and it would show a proper
respect."

           
"Did
you want me for something?" Kim asked, hoping to dodge the discussion.
"I have studying to do." She waved at the fat, leather-bound book on
the nightstand beside the bed, and suppressed a grimace. Three more volumes
were waiting for her in the library below.
Why he keeps shoving them at me
when he knows I'm no great hand at reading . . .

           
"More
magic, I suppose." Mrs. Lowe shook her head. "I'll speak to Richard
about that in the morning."

           
"Speak
to him?" Kim said, beginning to be alarmed. For the past week, Mrs. Lowe
had made Kim's life a respectable misery. She had insisted that Kim accompany
her to pay interminable morning calls on dull but acceptable acquaintances,
forbidden all walks alone, and made it quite clear that, in the unlikely event
of Kim's encountering any of her former friends, Kim was to cut them dead. Thus
far, however, she had not attempted to interfere with Kim's magic lessons.

           
"I
am sure you will have plenty of opportunity to study when you are back in
Kent
,"
Mrs. Lowe said. "Magic is all very well, but it is hardly a necessary
branch of knowledge for a young woman in your situation. While you are in
London
,
we must make the most of your chances. I cannot say I have any great hope of
success, given
your
. . .

           
circumstances
, but there are one or two possibilities--That
is why I wished to talk to you tonight."

           
"I
don't understand," Kim said warily.

           
"Mrs.
Hardcastle knows a gentleman who sounds as if he will do very nicely. Well,
perhaps not a
gentleman
, but respectable enough. She has arranged for us
to meet him tomorrow afternoon, and I wished to warn you to be on your best
behavior."

           
"Best
behavior--You can't be thinking of getting me leg-shackled to some gentry cull!"

           
"If
what you just said was some sort of reference to arranging a suitable marriage
for you, yes, that is precisely what I was referring to," Mrs. Lowe
replied stiffly.

           
Kim
didn't know whether to be amused or appalled. Her, married to a toff? In her
wildest notions, she had never thought of such a thing. She looked at Mrs.
Lowe, and her amusement died. The woman was serious. "It'd never
work."

           
"It
certainly won't if you burst out with a remark like that over Mrs. Hardcastle's
tea table. Consider carefully what I have said, and be prepared tomorrow, if
you please. I am afraid that your . . . interesting background means that you
are unlikely to have many opportunities of this nature; you would be ill
advised to waste this one. Good night."

           
Kim
stared at the closing door,
then
flung herself back
into the window seat.
Marriage!
She's
the one who's dicked in the
nob. There isn't a toff in
London
who would marry a penniless, nameless sharper, even if I have gone all
respectable.
She shifted restlessly in the window seat. Respectability did
not sit comfortably with her, but what other choices did she have?

           
She
couldn't go back to the streets, even if she were mad enough to want to. What
with all the regular eating, she'd filled out more than she'd have thought
possible; posing as a boy now would be out of the question. She hadn't the
training to be a housemaid or take up a trade, even if she could find someone
to hire her. Mrs. Lowe's "respectable gentleman" wasn't a serious
possibility, but sooner or later Kim would have to think of something. She
couldn't stay Mairelon's ward forever.

           
Though that doesn't seem to have occurred to him.

           
But
Richard Merrill--whom she still could not think of as anything but Mairelon the
Magician--didn't look at things the way other people did.
Well, if he did,
he'd never have got himself made my guardian.
For all the awareness he
showed, you'd think he was perfectly willing to go on feeding, clothing, and
housing Kim until they both died of old age.

           
Maybe she
should ask him about it. Maybe she would, if she could figure out what
"it" was, exactly--or at least well enough to explain. "I'm
bored" would only get her a larger stack of books to study; "I'm not
happy" sounded ungrateful; and "Your aunt is a Friday-faced
noodle" was insulting. But there had to be some way to put it.

           
Meanwhile,
she had three more pages of Shepherd's
Elementary Invocations
to
decipher before morning. She didn't want Mairelon to think that she wasn't
working at her lessons, not if that Mrs. Lowe was going to ask him to stop
them. Sighing, Kim climbed out of the window seat.

           

           
The text
on magic occupied Kim for several hours, but when she finally laid it aside and
went to bed, she found it impossible to sleep. She lay in darkness, staring up
at the plaster ceiling and listening for the clatter of Mairelon's carriage on
the cobblestones outside. Around her, the household quieted as the housemaids
and sculleys finished their day's work and climbed the narrow servants' stair
to their beds under the eaves. The watchman's cry, muffled and perfunctory,
came faintly through the window.
Poor old cull
, Kim thought as a gust of
wind sent raindrops rattling like gunfire across the panes.
I'm glad I'm not
out in this.

           
Suddenly
she sat bolt upright in the bed.
That sounded like
. . . The noise came
again, soft but clear.
Someone's downstairs.
Someone who's
got no business being there.

           
Kim slid
out of bed. Her eyes slid past the bellpull without pausing. If she summoned a
maid, she'd only have to send the girl for a footman, and by the time all the
running around was done, the cull downstairs would have gotten away. And if she
was wrong, if there wasn't anyone, she'd have to endure endless lectures from
Mrs. Lowe. She could call someone when she was sure.

           
She
started for the door,
then
stopped. Her white
nightdress stood out in the darkness; she didn't want the cracksman to spot her
and pike off before she got a footman or two to help catch him. Her dressing
gown was a dark, rich blue that would blend with the shadows; she picked it up
and struggled into it. Then she eased the door open and slipped into the
darkened hallway.

           
Moving
lightly, she made for the stairs. Another soft, scuffing sound came from below,
followed by a distinct creak; hadn't
anyone
else noticed?
Probably a
novice, on his first crack lay. Somebody should have told him to stick by the
walls. Mother Tibb wouldn't have sent anybody out that didn't know at least
that
much
.

           
Suiting
her own actions to her thoughts, Kim plastered herself against one wall and
started down the stairs, setting her bare feet as near the wall as she could.
No creaks betrayed her. Halfway down, she caught the flash of a dark lantern
and froze. The light flickered past. A moment later, a figure skulked down the
hallway, opening doors and peering through them. The strong smell of a cheap
lard candle and the scent of wet wool preceded him; he must have been standing
in the rain for some time to be so drenched. Finally, with a grunt of
satisfaction, the man let the last door swing fully open and disappeared into
the library.

           
The
library
?
What could a thief want from the
library? The silver was downstairs, on the ground floor, and Mairelon's brother
didn't keep valuables on display in his townhouse. The whole thing had more of
a rum look by the minute. Kim frowned, considering; then a hastily stifled
expletive decided her. There was no knowing what this cove was up to. She'd
just make sure he couldn't pike off, and then she'd call the footmen.

           
Silently,
she crept down the remaining steps. A cautious look showed the cracksman bent
over the end table, peering at the shelves behind it by the light of the dark
lantern. Kim smiled grimly and, holding the handle to prevent the betraying
click of the latch snapping into place, carefully closed the library door. Now,
if she could just lock it in place somehow. . . . But the door had no lock, and
there was nothing nearby she could use to jam it. Magic, perhaps? She ran over
in her mind the short list of spells she could cast with some reliability.
There was one that might do the trick, if she could get it right.

           
She took
a deep breath,
then
focused her eyes on the handle. In
her mind she pictured it as it was, staying as it was, motionless, frozen,
immovable, and in a voice barely above a whisper began the spell that would
make the image real.

           
An
outraged bellow and a loud crash from inside the library rattled her
concentration. "--
sta
, atque
--"
she continued, and then the door burst open, knocking her sprawling. An instant
later, the escaping housebreaker stumbled over her and went down. Kim shouted
and grabbed at him. Her hands slid against silk, then tightened around thick,
damp wool. The burglar twisted and something tore; the man scrambled away from
her, leaving her holding a scrap of cloth.

           
Kim tried
to roll to her feet and ended up tangled in her dressing gown. The man regained
his feet and pelted down the hall, just as a sleepy-eyed footman appeared on
the far stairs. The burglar shoved the hapless footman against the wall and
dashed down the stairs and out of sight. Crashing noises and yells marked his
continued progress. The footman recovered himself and plunged after his
assailant. More shouts drifted upward.

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