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"And
you'll never be a great magician if you can't make half an understanding do for
a start," Mairelon said, dropping the scrap into the salver.
"A competent one, perhaps, but not a great one.
The
chalk, if you please."

           
Sighing,
Kim handed him the chalk. He sketched three careful crosses in the remaining
corners of the table,
then
drew an unsteady circle
around the salver on the handkerchief. Absently, he stuck the chalk in his coat
pocket as he surveyed the setup. Then he looked up at Kim. "Now you may
demonstrate the results of your studies for me. I want you to set the
ward."

           
"Me?"
Kim stared at the candle in her hand, suddenly appalled. The warding spell was
nearly always set when a complex or dangerous enchantment was being attempted;
in theory, it protected the mage from outside interference, and any bystanders
from the consequences of a spell gone wrong. In practice, the degree of
protection such a spell afforded was directly related to the skill of the
spellcaster. An apprentice's ward was unlikely to stand up to more than an
apprentice-level mistake. And Mairelon wanted Kim to set a ward while he worked
a new spell.

           
"Don't
worry," Mairelon said. "This is a relatively simple enchantment.
Normally, I wouldn't bother with a ward at all, even though this is the first
time I've ever cast it. But you can use the practice, and it will keep our work
from disturbing anyone. Or from attracting attention outside the house,"
he added as an afterthought.

           
Only
partially reassured, Kim nodded. She thought for a moment, to make sure she had
the steps of the warding spell clear in her mind. Then she took a deep breath.
"Fiat
lux,"
she said, concentrating on the candle.

           
The
candlewick burst into flame. Kim held it still for a moment, until the smell of
melted beeswax reached her and the tingly pressure of a spell in progress ran
up and down her arms. Then, keeping her eyes fixed on the
candle,
Kim turned and walked in a slow, clockwise circle around Mairelon and the
table. As she walked, she recited the words of the warding spell four times,
once for each side of the table. She had more difficulty than she had expected
in judging her speed correctly so that the words came out even, but she managed
it. When she reached the spot where she had begun, she turned to face Mairelon
and said the final
"fiat."
With considerable relief, she felt
the ward rise around them like an invisible curtain.

           
"Very
good," Mairelon said softly. "I couldn't have done better myself.
Now, watch carefully, and try to split your concentration so that you can still
hold the ward while you watch. You may not always have someone handy to cast a
ward for you when it's needed, so you'll need to learn to hold it without even
thinking about it."

           
"Sort
of like picking a lock and listening for the nabbing culls at the same
time," Kim said, nodding carefully. She felt the ward shift as she spoke,
and hastily returned her attention to it. When it was steady again, she
whispered, "Only trickier."

           
Mairelon
laughed. "Yes, I imagine it would be. Very well; it's my turn."

           
He picked
up the scrap of cloth and concentrated for a moment, then crumpled it and
dropped it into the salver. The springy wool flattened out immediately, but the
scrap was too small to cover much of the salver. Uncorking the bottle of ink,
Mairelon poured it slowly over the cloth. The ink soaked quickly into the wool,
then rose around it in a flat black pool. Mairelon studied it a
moment,
then picked up the salver and tilted it this way and
that until the ink coated the bottom with shiny blackness.

           
When he
was satisfied at last, he set the salver on the handkerchief once more. Holding
his left hand over it, he began speaking, too rapidly for Kim to follow. The
tingling sensation of a spell in process struck her with renewed force, and she
had to concentrate to keep control of the ward. Mindful of his instructions,
she tried to pay attention to Mairelon's spellcasting, but her Latin and Greek
were still rudimentary. She recognized perhaps one word in twenty, but even the
unintelligible phrases had the hard-edged feel that only came with magic. They
hung in the air around Mairelon's hand, building the invisible, dangerous
structure of the spell.

           
Kim
suppressed a shiver. She did not want to distract Mairelon; even a small
mistake would send razor-edged words flying like shards of shattered glass. She
wondered whether she would ever be sure enough of her control to risk building
a spell around her own hand. It seemed unlikely, but a year ago the thought of
learning magic at all had seemed not merely unlikely, but impossible.

           
Mairelon
finished speaking and, without moving his arm, folded his outstretched fingers
in toward his palm. The hovering spell slid past his hand onto the ink-covered
salver. "Now, we look," he said.

           
Puzzled,
Kim stared at him; then she realized that he meant for her to look at the
salver. She lowered her gaze, and saw that a picture had formed on the surface
of the ink, like a reflection in a mirror or a puddle of water.

           
A man
muffled in a scarf, top hat, and long cloak hurried along a narrow street. The
shop windows behind him were dark and shuttered, and the wind whipped his cloak
out behind him. "Well, well," Mairelon murmured. "It looks as if
you were right, Kim. Our housebreaker is a gentleman. Let's see. . . ."

           
The
picture in the ink wobbled,
then
shifted so that the
man was hurrying directly toward them. His head was down, and one hand gripped
the brim of his hat; between that and the scarf, little of his face was
visible. Gold gleamed on his middle finger, and Kim leaned forward to look more
closely.

           
"Blast!"
said Mairelon. "I wanted a look at his face. Perhaps if we try another
angle--"

           
The image
wobbled and distorted, like a reflection in water when a pebble drops into it.
Kim got a brief impression of blue eyes and a damp wisp of hair plastered wetly
to a high forehead, and then the picture was gone. The shiny surface of the ink
reflected only a glimmer of light from Kim's candle.

           
Mairelon
scowled at the salver,
then
reached for the ink-soaked
wool. As he lifted the cloth, the
ink slid off like hot oil
running out of a pan, leaving the threads clean
. "You can drop the
ward now, Kim," he said as he pocketed the scrap.

           
Obediently,
Kim recited the closing phrase and blew out the candle. Hunch collected it and
the empty ink bottle and carried them off. Mairelon continued to frown at the
salver. "That was not nearly as useful as I'd hoped," he said.
"Perhaps I should have waited; we might have gotten a glimpse of his
rooms. But I was hoping to see his face, and I didn't want him to have a chance
to change his coat."

           
"Well,
if you'd waited much longer, he wouldn't
of
had the
coat at all, I'll bet," Kim said.

           
"Why
do you say that?"

           
"Why
else would a toff be on
Petticoat Lane
at this time of night, unless he had something for the togs-men?"

           
Mairelon
blinked. "
Petticoat Lane
?
You're sure?"

           
Kim
snorted. "I spent enough time there. He was just down from Flash Annie's,
by where Willie Bast used to lay up. It's a good job for him that it's a mucky
night out, or he'd be rid of more than his coat."

           
Hunch
returned and picked up the salver with a disapproving look. "Are you done
with this, Master Richard?"

           
"What?
Yes, of course. Did you notice anything else, Kim?"

           
"He
has blue eyes," Kim offered. "And he wears a gold ring with a flower
on it and a ruby in the center."

           
"And
he has his boots from Hoby," Mairelon said. "It's not much to go on,
but it's a help. Now, let's make a list of these books and see what we can tell
from it."

           
The pile
of books on the table had stopped glowing sometime during Mairelon's scrying
spell. Mairelon sat down and began sorting through them, while Hunch brought
him a pen, paper, and a fresh bottle of ink. As Mairelon wrote titles, Kim
shifted books so he could see the ones he hadn't written down yet, and in ten
minutes the list was complete.

           
"There,"
Mairelon said, and glanced around the library. "I believe that's all we
can do tonight." He picked up his list and, in the absence of a blotter,
blew gently on the ink to hasten its drying.

           
"What
about tomorrow?" Kim said.

           
"Tomorrow,
I'll take this over to the
Royal
College
and see whether Kerring has any thoughts on it."

           
"Who's
Kerring?"

           
"Lord
Kerring is head archivist at the Royal College of Wizards," Mairelon
replied. "If there's a connection among all these titles, he'll spot it.
He might even have some idea which wizards would be likely to know a bit about
burglary."

           
"That
cove didn't know the first thing about the crack lay," Kim said. "I
wouldn't
of
heard him at all, if he had."

           
Mairelon
looked thoughtful. "Possibly he's more of a magician than I'd been
thinking. If he was depending on magic to pull off his theft--"

           
"He
was still a clunker," Kim said firmly. "And I didn't notice any
spellcasting."

           
"He
invoked the spell he had stored in this," Mairelon said, holding up the
broken rod.

           
"Then
why didn't I notice it?"

           
"Because
it was
invoked
, not
cast
," Mairelon replied. "The
spellcasting took place when the spell was originally stored in the rod, which
could have been hours ago, or even days. When the spell is invoked, you
wouldn't notice anything unless you were touching either the storage container
or the object the spell was intended to affect."

           
"I
think I see," Kim said.

           
"If
our burglar had another trick or two like this, he could have used them without
alerting you," Mairelon went on, fingering the rod. "Rather a good
precaution to take if you're going to burgle a wizard's house, now that I think
of it. I believe we should set a few wards around the house tomorrow, just in
case he comes back."

           
"What
if that there burglar comes back
tonight
?" Hunch said.

           
"Then
the library will no doubt be a wreck when we come down in the morning, Harry
will probably collect another lump on his head, Aunt Agatha will be prostrate
with the vapours, and I shall have to apologize to everyone for my
carelessness." Mairelon smiled sweetly at Hunch.
"Unless,
of course, you spend the night here, on watch."

           
"I
might 'ave known you'd think of that," Hunch muttered. "Well, as long
as you don't go 'aring off after 'im while I'm busy elsewhere."

           
"Hunch!
Would I do such a thing?"

           
"You 'ave before."

           
"I'm
a reformed character."

           
Kim
choked back a snort of laughter. Mairelon turned and looked at her with mock
disapproval.

           
"I
seem to recall telling Aunt Agatha that I'd send you up before you took a
chill. As we appear to be finished here, for the time being--"

           
"As
long as you don't go haring off after that burglar without me," Kim
echoed.

           
"You're
getting to be as bad as Hunch," Mairelon said, and Kim laughed and left
him.

3

           
When Kim
came down to breakfast the following morning, Mairelon was there before her.
Mrs. Lowe was fortunately not in evidence, and Kim bolted her meal in hopes of
getting away before she turned up. After five minutes, Mairelon looked up and
said mildly, "What's the rush?"

           
"Mrs.
Lowe," Kim replied,
then
flushed as she realized
how it must sound. Well, she'd wanted to talk to Mairelon about his aunt,
hadn't she? She just hadn't planned on blurting it out over breakfast. She must
be more tired than she'd thought.

           
"Ah."
Mairelon looked suddenly thoughtful. "Has Aunt Agatha been so much of a
problem?"

           
"Nothing
I can't manage," Kim said. Then honesty forced her to add,
"Yet."

           
Mairelon
glanced at Kim's almost empty plate. "I see."

           
Gathering
her courage, Kim said, "Yesterday, she said something about--"

           
The far
door opened, and Mrs. Lowe entered. "Good morning, Richard. You're up
early. Good morning, Kim."

           
"I've
a busy day ahead of me," Mairelon said, rising politely to greet her.

           
Mrs. Lowe
helped herself to eggs and herring from the platters on the sideboard,
then
joined them at the table. Much to Kim's relief, she
took the chair beside Mairelon. "I hope all this running about will not go
on indefinitely," she said, picking up her fork.

           
"Some
things are difficult to be definite about," Mairelon said.

           
"Your
levity is unbecoming, Richard, and not at all to the point," Mrs. Lowe
said, giving him a stern look. "In another week, the Season will be upon
us, and as you have chosen to come to Town for once, I shall expect you to find
a little more time for your social and family obligations."

           
"Oh,
you may expect whatever you like, Aunt." Mairelon's tone was careless, but
there was a set to his shoulders that told Kim he was not pleased.

           
"People
are already arriving, and I fear there are still quite a few who are . . .
confused about your proper standing."

           
"I
can't imagine why. I'm the least confusing person I know."

           
Kim
choked on her toast. Mrs. Lowe frowned, but it was impossible to tell whether
it was at Kim or at Mairelon.

           
"I
think you are being deliberately dense, Richard," Mrs. Lowe said after a
moment. "I am of course referring to your role in the theft of the Saltash
Set from the Royal College of Wizards seven years ago."

           
"I
had no role whatever in the
theft
of the Saltash Set," Mairelon
said, frowning. "I had a role in its
recovery
. Rather a large
one."

           
"Yes,
of course, Richard, but still. . . . Your innocence may have been established
in a legal sense--"

           
"Not
'may have been,' " Mairelon put in, his frown deepening
.
"Has been."

           
"--but there are those in Society who still have doubts.
Your . . . eccentricities since your return have done nothing to reassure the
ton
."

           
"Eccentricities?"
Mairelon raised his eyebrows.

           
"As
you chose not to appear socially during last year's Season, you perhaps do not
realize just how much talk there has been." The muscles in Mrs. Lowe's
neck tightened, and Kim realized that she was carefully not looking in Kim's
direction.

           
Kim
tensed angrily,
then
forced herself to relax. It
wasn't exactly a surprise that Mrs. Lowe disapproved of her, and it might be
true that the existence of Mairelon's unusual ward had somehow tarnished his
reputation. Toffs were odd that way; even after a year of life among the
gentry, Kim knew she didn't understand them.

           
"Gossip
drives the Season," Mairelon said, and there was a faint edge beneath the
outward blandness of his tone. "I'm glad to have been of service."

           
"It
is no service to yourself or your family," Mrs. Lowe said severely.
"If you do not exert yourself a little this year, I shall have to wash my
hands of you."

           
Kim
looked up hopefully, but managed to bite her tongue before anything untoward
slipped out. Mairelon, however, caught her expression and laughed. His reaction
drew his aunt's attention to Kim, and, after giving them both a quelling look,
Mrs. Lowe said, "There is another thing I have been meaning to speak to you
about, Richard."

           
"And
what is that?"

           
"Your
ward's education," Mrs. Lowe replied, and Kim's stomach clenched.

           
"Kim
has been doing very well," Mairelon said. "She's learned to read, and
her magic skills are coming along nicely. It will be a while before she has the
necessary Latin and Greek, of course, but she has a remarkable memory for
chants and invocations, and an eye for detail that will be very useful when she
gets to more advanced work."

           
Pleased
and a little surprised by the unexpected compliment, Kim looked down at her
plate.

           
Mrs. Lowe
coughed. "I was referring to her
social
education, Richard. It has
been sadly neglected. No doubt you had your reasons, and it could not matter
much while she was safely in
Kent
,
but now that you have brought her to
London
it is imperative that she learn how to go on."

           
"Why?"
Kim demanded, looking up. "It's not as if I'm going to balls or
anything."

           
"So
long as you are my nephew's ward, you will undoubtedly meet persons of
consequence from time to time," Mrs. Lowe said. "Your behavior toward
them will reflect on your guardian, and on the rest of his family. And while
the Merrill family is undeniably well-connected and well-off--"

           
Forty
thousand pounds in the Funds is only "well-off"?
Kim barely
managed to stop herself from shaking her head in disbelief.

           
"--connections
are no protection from scandal." She turned to Mairelon. "So long as
her time is so completely occupied by her magic studies, Kim is unlikely to
learn what she needs to know in order to cope with Society."

           
"But
does Society know how to cope with Kim?" Mairelon murmured. "Still,
perhaps you're right." He looked at Kim. "How would you like to come
along to the Royal College of Wizards with me this morning? It's time you had a
look at it, and I'm sure you'll like Kerring."

           
Kim,
caught with her mouth full, could only nod emphatically. Mrs. Lowe frowned.
"Richard! That is not at all what I meant."

           
"No?
Well, I'm sure it will work out."

           
"Furthermore,
Kim and I have an important engagement this afternoon for tea," Mrs. Lowe
said. "She can't possibly spend the day at the
Royal
College
."

           
"Oh,
it won't take all day," Mairelon assured her. "Kim, if you're
finished lingering over your breakfast, we should be going."

           
Kim
dropped her cutlery at once and stood up. Mrs. Lowe frowned. "Richard, you
can't take that girl out in--I mean, her conduct is not always to be depended
upon."

           
Mairelon
smiled seraphically. "According to you, neither is mine. We'll make a
splendid pair. But don't worry; Hunch will keep us on the near side of
acceptable behavior. Kim?"

           
Choking
back laughter, Kim followed him to the door, while Mairelon's aunt sputtered in
annoyance behind them.

           

           
The Royal
College of Wizards occupied a long, rectangular building on the
Thames
,
across from Westminster Abbey. The central section dated back almost to the
Conquest; the rest was the work of latter-day heads of the college who had
maintained their privileged position against subsequent kings and bishops
alike. Westminster Hall, where Parliament met, had had to expand into a palace
upriver, instead of onto the desirable land already occupied by the wizards.

           
Kim did
not have much chance to study the outside of the building. As soon as their
coach pulled up at the entrance, Mairelon jumped down before the footman could
reach the carriage door. He headed briskly for the weathered oak doors of the
college, leaving Kim no choice but to hurry after. Inside, they whisked past
the main hall, allowing Kim only a glimpse of threadbare banners and stone pillars,
and a brief whiff of musty air. They climbed a narrow flight of stone stairs,
whose centers had been worn down a good two inches by centuries of magicians
hurrying up and down. At last, they emerged in a small, bare entrance room with
two other doors. Without hesitation, Mairelon crossed to the far door and
tugged sharply on the faded bellpull beside it.

           
"Now,
if Marchmain hasn't got all the apprentices busy hunting out historical
documents for some project or other--Ah, here we are."

           
The
right-hand door opened, and a slender, brown-haired young man entered and
peered at them nearsightedly. "May I be of assistance?"

           
"I'm
Richard Merrill, and this is my apprentice, Kim. We need to see Lord Kerring,
if he's here. Is he?"

           
"I
believe so," said the young man, "but he's busy."

           
"Kerring's
always busy. We'll see him anyway. Come along, Kim."

           
"I
don't think that's a good--" The young man broke off. Mairelon had already
brushed past him and disappeared through the doorway.

           
"Don't
worry," Kim told him as she followed Mairelon. "If this Lord Kerring
cove knows Mairelon--I mean, Mr. Merrill--then he'll know who to blame for
interrupting him. And it won't be you."

           
With the
apprentice trailing after, they made their way through a maze of narrow
corridors. Finally, Mairelon stopped before a door that, to Kim, looked exactly
like all the others they had just passed. He waited just long enough for Kim
and the apprentice to catch up, then opened the door and went in.

           
The room
on the other side was much larger than Kim had expected, but there was very
little space to walk in. Bookcases not only lined the walls but poked out at
right angles to them, leaving only narrow aisles which were further choked by
occasional precarious stacks of books on the floor. A narrow table beside the
door was piled shoulder-high with books, and there were more books under it.
The room smelled of musty paper, old leather, and dust. Kim sneezed.

           
From one
of the alcoves, a deep voice boomed, "What's that? Who's there? Never
mind, just go away. I'm working."

           
"You're
always working, Kerring," Mairelon said. "We'll leave as soon as
we've gotten a couple of answers."

           
A very
hairy head poked around the side of one of the bookcases. "You're not
going to get them that--Richard Merrill! Why didn't you say it was you? What
have you gotten into this time?"

           
As he
spoke, Lord Kerring emerged from behind the bookcase, and Kim could not help
staring. At first, she thought he was short, but as he came toward them she
realized that he was actually of average height; he only looked short because
he was so round. He was of middle age, and his clothes looked like something
out of one of the ragbags on
Thread-needle Street
--they
had clearly been of excellent quality when they were new, but now they were so
rumpled and dusty that they would not have looked out of place on a
costermonger in the Hungerford Market. A tuft of cat hair clung to the back of
one sleeve. He had dark, curly hair and a bushy beard, both much in need of
trimming.

           
Kim
stared.
He's a
lord
?
And a wizard to boot?

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