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Wrede, Patricia C - Mairelon 02 (2 page)

BOOK: Wrede, Patricia C - Mairelon 02
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As Kim,
muttering curses, struggled to a standing position at last, she heard footsteps
on the stairs behind her. She turned and found Mrs. Lowe, lamp in hand, staring
at her with shock and disapproval.

           
"Kim!
Whatever have you been doing?
And in such a state!"

           
Kim
glanced down. Her dressing gown had come undone, and she showed distinct
traces, even in the lamplight, of having rolled about on the floor. A torn and
ragged bit of lace trailed off the hem of her nightdress, and her hair was
probably every-which-way, too. Mrs. Lowe, of course, was turned out in more
proper style--not a wisp of gray hair escaped from under her dainty lace cap,
and her dressing gown was crisper and neater than Kim's had been even before
her encounter with the burglar. Kim pulled her dressing gown closed and
discovered that several of the buttons were missing.

           
"I
heard someone in the library," Kim said as she scanned the floor for the
buttons. One of them lay next to the baseboard, beside a piece of wood with a
splintered end. Kim bent toward it.

           
"Nonsense.
You were dreaming, I'm
sure."

           
"I
wasn't asleep." Kim reached for the button, and her fingers brushed the
splintered wood. A light tingling ran up her arm, and she jerked her hand back
in surprise.
Magic?
She touched it again.
Not
a strong
spell
, but recent. Mairelon'll want a look at
this.
Frowning, she picked up wood and button together and shoved them in
the pocket of her dressing gown.

           
"If
you
did
hear something, it was probably one of the maids. They keep
different hours in town, and I expect you are not yet accustomed--"

           
Kim
tucked another button in the pocket of her dressing gown and looked back at
Mrs. Lowe. "It wasn't one of the maids. They wouldn't be carrying on like
that if it had been," she added, waving at the stairs. The shouts and
crashing noises had ceased, but it was nonetheless obvious that there was far
more activity on the ground floor than was normal at this time of night.

           
"At
least you had the good sense to put on your dressing gown before you came
down," Mrs. Lowe said, tacitly conceding the point. "Still, wandering
about the house
en deshabille
at this hour is most irregular, no matter
what your reasons."

           
"I
bet Mairelon won't think so." The injudicious words slipped out before Kim
thought.

           
Mrs.
Lowe's thin lips pressed together in a hard line. Then, in deceptively soft tones,
she said, "Mr. Merrill, Kim, not Mairelon. Showing proper respect
is--Where do you think you are going?"

           
"To
find out whether they've caught the flash cull that was turning out the
library."

           
"Indeed
you shall not," Mrs. Lowe said. "You will return to your room at
once, and we will discuss matters further in the morning."

           
"What
matters?" said a new voice from the lower stairs.

           
"Mairelon!"
Kim said, turning toward the voice
with a sigh of relief.

2

           
Richard
Merrill climbed the last few steps and stood eyeing Kim and Mrs. Lowe with a
quizzical expression on his round, cheerful face. His dark hair looked damp and
a little disheveled, but his coat and pantaloons were immaculate. Kim wondered
what he had done with his cloak.
Probably left it in a
heap in the front hall because the footmen were too busy chasing burglars to
take it.

           
"What
matters?" he asked again. "And why wait to discuss them? From the
look of things, no one's going to get any sleep for hours. Kim, Harry says he
rescued you from someone, or possibly several someones, who from his
description were apparently seven feet tall and more indestructible than the
strong man down at Astley's Amphitheatre. Ought I to congratulate him, or
should he merely be sent to the kitchen to sleep it off?"

           
Before
Kim could answer, Mrs. Lowe frowned and said in tones that promised dire
retribution for someone, "Who is Harry?"

           
"One of the footmen.
He's on his way to the pantry to
receive a hero's due, on the strength of a bruised shin and a knock on the
head. The question is
,
does he deserve it?"

           
"He
got banged up against the wall when that cracksman piked off, that's all,"
Kim said.
"Unless they had a run-in later."

           
"No,
the fellow got clean away. Still, I think we'll leave Harry to his laurels,
well-earned or not. What I want now is the rest of the story." He looked
at Kim expectantly.

           
"I
was upstairs when I heard--"

           
"Not
tonight, Kim," Mrs. Lowe broke in. "You have had quite enough
excitement for one evening, and tomorrow is going to be a busy day. I'm sure
that if Richard thinks about it, he'll agree that you ought to be in bed.
You'll have plenty of time to talk in the morning. Come along."

           
Mairelon
put out a restraining hand. "I appreciate your concern, Aunt, but I wish
to speak to Kim now, if she's agreeable. It won't take long."

           
"Of
course I'm agreeable," Kim said.

           
"That's
settled, then." Turning his head, he called down the stairs, "Hunch!
Bring a lamp when you come up."

           
Mrs. Lowe
looked startled. "Kim is not the best judge of what is most appropriate,
Richard. If you will stop for a moment and think, you will see that."

           
"What?
No, no, Kim is quite good at this sort of thing. Go on, Kim--you were upstairs,
and you heard something."

           
"She
will catch a chill, running about half dressed at this hour," Mrs. Lowe
said firmly. "She belongs upstairs in her bed."

           
"Half
dressed?" Mairelon said with mild interest. He looked at Kim and shook his
head.
"Nonsense.
She's wearing a dressing gown.
Now, I'll grant you, it wouldn't be quite the thing if she were going to go
walking in Grosvenor Square in the rain, but I promise you I won't let her.
We'll stay right here in the library."

           
"Kim
needs her rest, Richard."

           
"She's
more likely to get it if she has a chance to talk first," Mairelon said,
frowning slightly.

           
"I'm
not sleepy," Kim put in.

           
Mrs. Lowe
sighed.
"If you insist, Richard.
I shall join you
as chaperone, of course."

           
"I
think not." Mairelon's attention was firmly fixed on his aunt at last, and
his expression had gone bland and unfathomable, the way it did when he was
about to be particularly stubborn about something. Mrs. Lowe did not seem to
realize it.

           
"Richard,
Kim's reputation--"

           
"--is
quite safe. I'm her guardian, remember." His tone was polite and gentle,
but brooked no contradiction.

           
Mrs. Lowe
hesitated,
then
acquiesced. "Very well, Richard.
No doubt you have your reasons. I must tell you, however, that it is most
irregular, and the possible consequences--"

           
"In
the morning, Aunt," Mairelon said. He glanced at Kim and gave a tiny nod
in the direction of the library. Turning back to Mrs. Lowe, he went on in a
soothing tone, "As you said, it is late, and I'm sure this has been a
strain on your nerves. Things will look different when you've had a good
night's sleep."

           
Kim
slipped quietly around behind him and into the darkened library. The murmur of
voices in the hall continued; then she heard heavy footsteps on the stairs, and
Mairelon's voice: "The library, Hunch." She stepped back as
Mairelon's manservant came through the door, carrying a candle. He was tall and
thin, and everything about him drooped: his shoulders, his mustache,
the
baggy trousers he insisted on wearing.

           
" 'Ere
now, Kim, where--oh, there you are. Stay still;
I'll 'ave these 'ere lamps lit in no time."

           
Light
flared,
then
steadied as Hunch adjusted the lamp-wick.
"There.
Now--'Struth!
That
'Arry wasn't 'alf right, by the look of it.
What 'appened?"

           
The
burglar's dark lantern lay on its side next to an overturned end table; it was
a good thing the candle had gone out. A dozen books were scattered across the
floor, some looking as if they had fallen when the table went over, others as
if they had been dropped or thrown.

           
"An excellent question, Hunch."
Mairelon entered,
closing the door firmly behind him. "We've heard Harry's tale; I trust
yours will be somewhat . . . less imaginative, Kim."

           
"I
thought I heard something, so I came down to have a look," Kim said.
"A man with a dark lantern was in the hall, looking in all the rooms. He
went into the library. I was going to lock him in and call a footman, except he
must of heard me working the spell or something, because he came charging out
while I was still in the middle of it. He tripped over me, and I yelled, and he
got away from me. The footman--Harry?--was coming up to see what the noise was,
and the rum cove ran slap into him before he piked off down the stairs. That's
all."

           
"Brief
and to the point," Mairelon said. "Though not, perhaps, up to Aunt
Agatha's standards of elocution. What a good thing we sent her off to
bed."

           
"I
found this in the hallway after the turn up," Kim said, pulling the scrap
of wood from her pocket and laying it on top of the books. "I don't know
what it is, but it's been magicked."

           
Mairelon
picked up the scrap and turned it over in his hands. It looked like a piece of
a wooden rod, about four inches long and as big around as Kim's little finger.
"Technically, the term is 'infused,' not 'magicked,' but in a general sort
of way you're quite right."

           
"What's
the difference?"

           
"Something
that's been enchanted, or 'magicked,' as you put it, has had a spell cast
on
it. Something that's been infused has had a spell stored
in
it."
Mairelon frowned at the piece of rod.

           
"What
kind of spell?" Kim asked.

           
Mairelon
blinked,
then
smiled. "That
is
the next
question.
One of them, anyway.
Normally, once the
spell has been invoked, it's used up--there's no way to tell what it was."

           
"That's
normally," Kim said, recognizing the tone. "What's weird about
this?"

           
Mairelon's
smile broadened. "Whoever made it was exceedingly clumsy; it's as if he
put the spell together from bits and pieces. And not all the bits and pieces
went off when the wizard invoked it."

           
" 'E's
a beginner, then?" Hunch said.

           
"Mmm. Possibly.
But Kim's a beginner, and she could do
a better job than this."

           
"Well,
are there enough bits left that you can tell what it was supposed to do?"
Kim said, trying to decide whether she should be pleased or insulted by the
comparison.

           
"Let's
find out, shall we?" Mairelon pointed the piece of rod at the nearest
bookcase and muttered something under his breath.

           
Nothing
happened. Mairelon frowned and said something longer that sounded like Latin to
Kim. As he spoke, he waved the rod in a slow circle.

           
Several
of the books began to glow with a soft, golden light. Mairelon gave an
exclamation of satisfaction, then began muttering rapidly, moving the rod in a
rapid, complex pattern. The glow dimmed,
then
steadied. After a moment, Mairelon relaxed and set the rod on the table.

           
Kim
looked down. The books that lay scattered about the floor were all glowing as
well. "This is crazy! He couldn't of sherried off with all those."

           
"If
it were that simple, we wouldn't have books all over the library floor,"
Mairelon said. "I'll wager he was looking for one or two particular
volumes. The question
is,
which ones?"

           
"If
you
was
to clean up a bit o' this 'ere mess, you might
'ave an easier time figuring it out," Hunch said.

           
"An excellent notion."
Mairelon stepped forward
and lifted the little table back onto its crocodile paws. "Put the books
here, and we'll have a look."

           
Hunch
picked up the scattered volumes, while Kim rather gingerly helped Mairelon pull
glowing books from the shelves. When they were all piled on the end table, they
made an impressive heap.

           
"Now,
what have we here?" Mairelon murmured.
"The Mountains of Doubt,
Collegium Sorceria, Discoverer, Apres Cinq Cents Ans, Fire Keepers Vol. VI
--I
wonder why he didn't want the first five?--
A Pottery Pigeon, Reflecting
Quadrille, Maturing Without Heaviness. . . .
Our housebreaker appears to
have excellent taste."

           
"Well,
'e can just taste things somewheres else next time," Hunch muttered.

           
"I
am inclined to agree with your recommendation, Hunch," Mairelon said.
"I don't suppose you got a look at his face during all the excitement, Kim?"

           
"No,"
Kim said with regret. "I got a piece of his coat, though. He's a toff, or
someone as wants to be."

           
"Really?"
Mairelon looked at Kim with interest.
"How did you deduce that?"

           
"He
was wearing a silk waistcoat. I felt it. And this isn't homespun." Kim
pulled the torn piece of wool from her pocket. Two buttons came with it and
bounced off under the settee.

           
"Ripped
his coat, did he?" Mairelon said.
"How lucky for
us."

           
"Lucky?"
Kim said, mystified.

           
"Yes,
of course." He crossed to the heavy table in the middle of the library and
studied it a moment, frowning. "Help me move this closer to the center of
the room. Hunch, get me the blue chalk and a pot of ink.
Oh,
and an unused candle for Kim."

           
"You ain't doing nothin' dreadful now, Master Richard,"
Hunch said in a stern tone. "Not in Master Andrew's 'ouse."

           
"Hmm?
Oh, not at all, Hunch," Mairelon said as he
and Kim shifted the table. "It's only a spell Shoreham's been working on
for a while--an adaptation of the standard scrying spell. He showed it to me
the day before yesterday; it's quite clever. You'll see."

           
"All
right, then," Hunch said, though he continued to frown. "Lord
Shore'am is a proper gentleman."

           
Mairelon
shot his servant an amused glance and pulled a handkerchief from his pocket.
Carefully, he spread it over the tabletop, smoothing the creases with his
fingertip. The corners of the handkerchief hung over the center of the table's
sides, so that a triangle of bare wood was left in each corner.

           
"Yes,
but what is this spell supposed to
do
?" Kim said.

           
"Help
us catch our burglar, with luck," Mairelon replied. "Hunch, where's
that ink? Thank you. Give Kim the chalk." He set a small ink bottle on one
of the bare corners of the tabletop.

           
"Mairelon--"

           
"You'll
see in a minute. Now, what can I use--ah, yes, this will do nicely." He
plucked a small silver salver from a shelf beside the door and positioned it
carefully in the exact center of the handkerchief. "There. Hand me that
scrap of cloth you found."

           
"Mairelon,
I'm never going to learn any magic if you don't give me any explanations,"
Kim said in exasperation as she gave him the piece of wool.

BOOK: Wrede, Patricia C - Mairelon 02
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