Jorac hadn’t slept on a bed so lumpy in quite some time, and he awoke in the middle of the night several times, tossing and turning. He must have dozed at last, because there was some light leaking through the window shutters when he stirred again. He went outside and used the tiny outhouse (it reminded him of the one his family had when he was growing up). Here there weren’t corn cobs or wads of grass, but a papery, fuzzy leaf of some sort in a small pile near the seat; it proved not as comfortable as the cotton wool used by the rich houses, but better than most alternatives.
When the Dorrie and Kimma came out of the house, the men were up and dressed for the day, and Veseen and Schrog were preparing a list of needed supplies. The squad hadn’t been planning more than a day trip deep into the swamp, so they had only the one tent and little food. Hox was still sleeping, and would be another day recovering. The young giant still needed a bit of tending, and would doubtless need some food when he awoke; the pair of day-old breakfast pies they’d saved him wouldn’t last him long.
It took only a few minutes for everyone to agree that Schrog and Veseen would go into town for supplies, and Dorrie and Jorac would stay here with Hox. Jorac gave Schrog some money; he’d brought quite a lot, and was mentally composing his expense report. “T’ings go right, we prolly be back by lunch time,” Schrog said. “Anyti’ng else you needs?”
Jorac thought a moment. “Yeah, I’d better let our bosses know where we are.” He smiled wryly. “Not that the wizards would come looking for me in time to help, but I can probably avoid a lecture if I tell them.” He scrawled a brief note on the paper he’d brought and handed it to Schrog. “Can you get one of those Swampside runner boys to take it to a constable? Cerom will know where we are, and he can get word to the Wizard Council for me.”
Veseen said “Master Radyry” to Jorac in a quiet voice.
Jorac nodded. “And I need to get word to Master Radyry too. I warned him Veseen might be in late last night, but we’re past that already. Here, let me write another note.” Jorac forced himself to take his time and wrote a flowery, respectful note to the wizard master explaining that Veseen was safe and would be needed further, stressing how valuable the boy had been on the trip. He could have written less, but it was all true, and Veseen’s school marks might benefit.
After Schrog and Veseen set off, Jorac followed the women into the shack, where Kimma checked on Hox. She left a water skin near him and whispered, “He’s okay,” then motioned them outside so they wouldn’t disturb him.
When they got outside, she said, “No fever, arm looks good. Nearly normal color, no swelling.”
“When do you think he’ll wake up?” Dorrie asked.
“Maybe this morning, maybe afternoon. Hard to tell. That potion mostly makes ‘em sleep about one day.”
“You know,” Jorac said, “we haven’t paid you for that potion yet. How much do we owe you?”
“Eh. Well, I tells people anywheres from fifty coppers, up to a couple hundred, depending on how well I likes em. With Schrog here. . . aw, I don’t know. Call it a hundred.”
Jorac knew he had barely a hundred coppers, and wanted to keep them. He reached in his pocket, opened his pouch, and pulled out a gold coin.
“Sorry, I can’t pay a hundred coppers; you’ll have to take this instead,” he said as he handed her the gold. It was worth about five times her asking price.
“What the hell you tryin’ to pull? I gave you my price.” She looked as if she was going to throw it back at him.
Jorac put his hands up in a don’t-blame-me manner. “Hey, I’m on expenses. I’ll turn in a report and collect it back from my bosses. And remember, Hox is so big you had to give him a double dose of potion. Not to mention that you knew what potion to use for his problem and how to use it, and you’re sheltering not only the patient, but four other people who came with him! I’m not sure what I gave you is even enough.”
“Aw, ‘twern’t nothin’. Okay, I’ll keep it.”
Jorac said, “It’s perfectly fair, even at your reasonable rates. Actually, what you’ve done for us is worth a lot more than that. When I get back to the city, I’m going to apply for a reward for you.”
“Reward? What for?”
“You saved the life of a constable on duty. One working for the Wizard Constable, so that counts extra, and I know how to do the paperwork. We’ll get you compensated.”
“Aw, de orange and green frog just make ya sick for a while; it ain’t like it was the orange and purple. He’d have lived.”
Dorrie stepped in. “Young lady, don’t low-rate yourself. You saw what Hox needed and you did it, even after you saw Schrog, and before you heard his tale. And where else were we going to get help for him? You saved his life, and he was on duty, so you get a reward from the constables, or the wizards, or maybe even both. Got to know how to play the game, make them think it’s their idea. Me and Jorac can work on that. And don’t forget to add on your fees when you guide us; we’ll need to make sure that gets paid too.” She smiled. “Of course, you’ve got to come into town to get it.”
Kimma thought for a long moment. “Well, thanks,” she said quietly. “I guess I can use the money.”
Jorac had the impression she was thinking of the future for the first time in a while. He knew what that was like; he remembered the night at his father’s house when he realized he had to find something better to do with his life. The next day he’d shaved the beard he’d grown with the tribesmen, and set out finding the job as a guard that eventually led him here.
Dorrie said, “If you’re going to make money in your business, here’s some advice. You need a special price for nobles and wizards. Five times as high.”
Jorac grinned. “And I just paid it, because I’m working for the damned wizards now – begging your pardon, Madame Velosp.”
Kimma was confused by the remark, so Jorac and Dorrie explained how Dorrie was able to parlay her limited magical ability, along with her theatrical skill, into a good living.
In return, Kimma explained some of the economics of her business, such as it was. Miz Madouve had a good reputation as a healer, more reliable than most. A few other healers came and went in the swamp, sometimes eking out a living for a few years while waiting for some problem in the city to quiet down. Miz Madouve’s clients weren’t numerous and couldn’t afford high prices, so she often ended up bartering her services for food and supplies. “Sometimes I get two or three folks in a day,” she said, “but I go lots of days when I don’t see nobody.”
Jorac asked conversationally, “So, what do you do on days like that?”
“I put on de outfit, an’ Miz Madouve usually goes out swamp-crawlin’. Stuff to hunt out dere.”
“Ur, um, like those soft leaves in the privy? I’ve never seen the like.”
“Yeah, stuff like that. Maybe find some stuff I can trade. I should go out again soon, too.”
“Mind if I go with you? I want to collect some more of those leaves. I imagine we used a week’s supply for you, and if we’re camping I’d like some more.”
Dorrie volunteered, “I’ll sit with Hox. I don’t mind.” She looked at the shack, not at Kimma.
Kimma looked at Jorac and Dorrie, obviously weighing the offer. Jorac didn’t blame her for the caution; despite their constable uniforms and knowing Schrog, she’d only met them yesterday.
Finally she said, “Yeah, alright.” Then her voice changed. “But out dere, I’m Miz Madouve, got it? And don’t do nothin’ stupid.”
“I’ll obey your every command. I don’t want to end up like Hox.” Or with a crossbow bolt in me, he thought, and I know she’d do it. Somehow, that thought more pleased than worried him; competence was something he highly approved of.
Jorac went to grab a few things from his pack and waited in the yard. When Kimma came out, she was wearing the bulky dress that disguised her figure and the thick veiled hat that hid her face. And she was carrying the double crossbow.
“You lead,” she said in her old-lady voice.
Jorac went down the path, and closed the gate behind them. She turned the sign upside down when she left.
“Means I’m not dere. Anyone tries anything, dey knows de traps might get ‘em. Won’ set de yard traps, wit’ you folks dere. Yer Dorrie, she already knows to stay out of de house.”
Jorac thought it was an interesting way of handling security, as good as many others he’d seen, so he said nothing. Instead he questioned her about the plants along the path. He asked about a low bushy one with a tall thin stalk rising from its center.
The old lady voice answered him. “Dat’s snakeplant. Don’t do nothin’ for snakebite, just kinda peels like snakeskin sometimes. Ain’t good for much.”
“What about that one?”
“Pop bush. Seed pods go pop after it rains. De swamp mices eat it sometimes. Not good for much either.”
Jorac was fascinated, and asked about a few others that caught his eye. She explained that most of the flashy ones he was asking about didn’t have much use (except for one that was poisonous). Most of the useful ones were small and blended in well with the swamp.
They went down a succession of paths, with Jorac in front, turning where he was told. Some of the “paths” were a surprise to him, for they included climbing around the base of gnarled trees on spreading tree roots, above an area of standing water. He had to hold on to the tree trunk with both hands, but she managed it easily, and they got back to slightly higher ground.
Finally they went up a thin path and came to a small rocky area ending in a dead-end hillock a little higher than most of the swamp. A few tall, broad-crowned trees grew here, unlike the broad-based ones in the lower areas.
She pointed at the trees. “Dere be your leaves. Just gotta go get ‘em.”
“Climb the tree there, you mean? I can do that.” The limbs were fairly close and looked sturdy enough.
“Yep. You should try to get de new leaves up near de top.”
It took only a few minutes for Jorac to climb up the tree and fill the small bag he’d brought. They’d have plenty to replace Kimma’s stock, and for the rest of the journey. He looked down and saw that she’d turned her back to the path and removed her veiled hat. It had to be hot for her, and they were in a place where they could see people coming from quite a distance so she could do without the camouflage.
As he climbed down he said, “What’s this tree called, anyway?”
“I never heared it had a name.” She lowered her voice and switched from the harsh old-lady voice she’d been using. “Miz Madouve never told me about this tree. I found it myself.”
“Well, you get to name it then. The soft-wipe tree?”
“Hee. No, I don’t think so.”
“The Butt-velvet tree? Balm of Behinds?”
Now she outright giggled. “Eh, you’re good with the jokes. I don’t know any jokes. Not many jokesters out in the swamp.”
“You don’t know any jokes?”
“Let’s hear it.”
“It’s dumb. . .”
“All right. What’s the difference between an apple pie and a cow pie?”
“Um, I don’t know.”
“Well, I’m never sending you to the bakery!”
Jorac laughed, and she did too – she didn’t sound much like Miz Madouve when she laughed. It wasn’t very funny, but she told it well. “Yep, that’s dumb,” he said with a smile. “You should learn more jokes.” What he really thought was that she should laugh more, but he couldn’t say that to her.
“Well, maybe. Never thought about it much.”
“Oh yes,” he said rather bitterly. “I know the feeling. Too busy with today’s troubles.”
She turned and looked at him. “How do you know about that?” Her voice was her own, pitched low and intent.
Jorac sighed. She deserved an explanation, but not the usual tale he told young men who’d just been dumped by their sweetheart. “My wife and daughter died in a fire. Seven years ago. For a few years after that, I don’t think I was very good company.”
She looked at him with surprise. “At least it’s better knowing, I guess. I always wondered about my ma.”
“I’m not sure about that. I saw. . . I saw the cradle, the one I carved, or what was left of it after it burned. Maybe I shouldn’t have gone in there, but I had to know.” Jorac’s voice grew husky, and tears welled in his eyes a little. He’d never talked about this before, but somehow he felt she’d understand.
Her eyes went wide, her face very solemn. “Oh. Maybe not better. Different, anyway.”
“I’d go that far. But after a few years raising hell, I went back home, took a wagon guard job, finally ended up a constable.”
“You like it?”
He thought for a bit. “I guess so. It’s kind of like what you do; I get to help people now, at least sometimes.”
She stood there for a little while. Jorac couldn’t read her face, but it looked like she was considering something. He decided it was a good face, not just a beautiful one, but one with character too.
Finally she said quietly, “Good to hear.”
Nice face, but watch yourself. Jorac found his mind going down a little-remembered path, one of interest in a young lady without a small part of his mind constantly worrying about her safety. At least this girl can take care of herself.
She put back on her veiled hat, and pitched her voice back into the old-lady tone. “Eh, we should be goin’. Schrog be back soon.”
* * *
When they got back, all was as they left it, but it quickly changed. Within a few minutes, Schrog and Veseen returned, and when they took their packs into the shack, they found Dorrie talking to a just-awakened Hox.
Jorac asked, “How you feeling?”
“Like I slept too long, that’s all. My arm doesn’t hurt much now. Need a drink, need to go to the necessary.” Dorrie handed him the waterskin, and Jorac and Schrog helped him to his feet. After a few moments to steady himself, he walked out to the jakes. Jorac walked with him, just in case.
Kimma came out of her house to watch Hox walk back to the shack. “Still feeling a bit dizzy, are you?”
“Yes ma’am. Thanks for that potion.”
“Glad to help. Let me see that arm. . . yeah, looking good. Well, eat a bit, rest, get a good meal tonight, and tomorrow you’ll be good as ever.”
Hox nodded groggily and went back inside. He sat carefully on the sturdiest-looking bed and found it held his weight, and Dorrie showed him the cold and soggy breakfast pies, now over a day old, which he ate happily. Jorac figured with him eating like that, he was going to be fine.
* * *
Schrog had bought mostly food that would keep for a few days – salted meat, eggs, a pot of pickled vegetables, waybread – and also some fresh fowl and fruit for this evening. They spent the afternoon discussing the swamp, repacking, and resting. Jorac and Schrog found some tools and roughly repaired the bench that Hox had broken so that it was as good as before, which wasn’t saying much.
That night, Kimma invited them into her house, which was smaller but more comfortable than the shack they’d slept in. Jorac was surprised at how clean and nicely decorated it was, out here in the middle of the swamp; inside it looked like a home, not a shack. Kimma and Dorrie cooked again; Jorac and Schrog had offered to help but were turned down with amused grins.
The dinner was good, and they talked mainly about cooking and food; it was a friendly topic, one everyone could join in. Kimma admitted she wasn’t much of a cook. She’d never paid attention when she was a young girl living in the city, and though Miz Madouve was a good cook and taught her some things, they only had what the occasional trader brought them and the limited larder of the swamp to work with.
Schrog talked about his mother’s job, cooking for a big house. “Kimma, if you want, my ma can teach ya’ cookin’. Good cookin’, I mean. She got some sauces fit fer de emperor.”
Kimma looked at him with interest, and Dorrie added, “Yeah, that’s something you need to think about – getting some training and finding a position. Do you really want to spend your life out here in the swamp, hiding from everyone? Some folks want to be alone, but you don’t really strike me as that kind of person. And a woman alone, well you already saw what happened to the old Miz Madouve.”
“I used to think about that all the time. Not so much recently. Been too busy keeping Miz Madouve from doing something foolish. Why, you got some idea?”
“Nothing specific yet, but I’ll think on it. I know some people at the market in town, and I can ask them.” She paused a moment. “When I’m working with my customers, I’m. . .” – she dropped her voice a half-octave and added a slightly spooky overtone – “Madame Velosp, at your service. What would you have me ask the spirits on your behalf?” Her voice returned to normal as she continued, “Can you do any different accents? Might help me figure out what kind of job we can find you.”
Kimma looked demure and said, “My mother always asked me to speak with the utmost accuracy, good diction, and correct grammar.” She said it in a cultured, upper-class accent.
Everyone stared at her as she continued. “My mother was quite forceful on the subject. She asked me to listen to the manner of speaking in certain of the card rooms. She had me assigned to serve drinks and wait quietly in the corner, when the right sort of people were there. Also, she had one or two of her gentlemen friends converse directly with me, and asked me to observe their particular linguistic practices, and emulate them when the occasion suited.”
Jorac was floored. Speaking like that, she’d be accepted in any of the finer places in the city. Better than he would, to be truthful – he was still working on losing the last of his farm-boy accent and improving his vocabulary. People’s manner of speaking was important in the city, and it had taken him a while to figure this out.
Then her usual accent returned. “But I figure talking that way ‘round here ain’t no good. Draws attention.”
Jorac’s open admiration must have showed, because she looked at him, blinked twice, and looked away, a little embarrassed.
Dorrie said, “Girl, you’ve got a real talent there. I know we can find you a place in the city.”
“Well, maybe,” Kimma said doubtfully. “But Miz Madouve ain’t ready to go traipsin’ off yet. Got too many good customers here, and they depend on me. Who’d do the healin’ if I left ‘em?”
“Didn’t you say there were a few other healers?”
“Well, yes, but they come and go. Sometimes they go back to the city, sometimes they make a bad mistake and the swamp gets ‘em. Miz Madouve was – is – the only steady one.”
“Oh, I understand,” Dorrie said. “Well, we can think about it. We’ll talk later.” And then the conversation drifted off to other subjects.
That night, trying to get to sleep on his lumpy pallet in the shack, Jorac thought about the possibility that Kimma might be willing to leave the swamp. Dorrie was right: with the girl’s amazing facility with language, she could do very well in the city. . . He sternly put that intriguing idea aside and thought about tomorrow. Now with Hox essentially recovered and “Miz Madouve” to guide them, they could go on and follow where the disappearing manites led, at least for another day or two. If nothing was resolved by that time. . . well, he’d just have to decide what to do then.
Jorac’s an ordinary city constable in the city of Vaggert; he’s allergic to magic but still takes the job of Wizard Constable, working for the city’s overbearing, officious wizards. He encounters cutthroats, slavers, poison frogs, crazed wizards, hidden beauty, and much more - this is not stereotypical “epic fantasy”, it’s a fast-paced, fun adventure story.
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Check out previous chapters of Wizard Constable right here., or visit the Wizard Constable Website for chapter links + maps.