The next afternoon, Jorac was loitering in the big open room at the base of the Wizard’s Tower when the council meeting ended. He could always tell because of the rush of air that meant several wizards were coming, flying down the 156 stairs that he’d probably have to climb soon. Though he’d had nothing important to do for weeks, a council meeting often produced an assignment, or at least some questions for him to answer.
He sauntered toward his office at a slow pace, and was rewarded by arriving at his door just as a rolled-up piece of paper winked into existence just above the circle on the floor near his desk. He sneezed, just once, and resolved next time to walk even more slowly.
To his surprise, the scroll said, “Wait there – will be down soon – Perg.” As far as Jorac knew, the head wizard had never been to his office, or anyone’s office. People visited Pergimtor, not the other way around.
The head wizard entered a couple of minutes later. “Honorable Kellor, so good to see you. I wanted to commend you on your job in the swamp.” He put his hands together. “Upon reflection, I’m convinced that what you did was best.”
Jorac was surprised. He’d thought Pergimtor had been severely annoyed at what he’d done with the Wolburn Sphere.
Pergimtor continued, “You didn’t tell any other wizards about it, did you?”
“Veseen knows, but he’s an apprentice, and he isn’t at all the power-hungry type. And Dorrie Velosp knows, but she’s probably the weakest wizard in your guild, and happy with what she’s got. Both of them have no reason to talk about it, and plenty of reason to keep it quiet.”
“Good, good. I was just wondering. Some people have enough power, and more might be bad for them, if you know what I mean. Keeping secrets is. . . tricky.”
Jorac didn’t know how Pergimtor thought, so maybe his comment was innocent, but maybe not.
Jorac chose his words carefully. “There are five people in Swampside who know about the liquid and the sphere, and two other constables. They all know there could be a big fight between the wizards if the news got out. But if something starts happening to them, if they start having accidents or something, then the news is sure to leak. No sense in keeping a secret that might kill you.”
Pergimtor said, “Hmm. Well, we aren’t all like Wolburn, don’t worry.” Jorac couldn’t tell if Pergimtor had discarded an idea, or if his warning had just given the wizard a new idea. He still didn’t trust wizards – in fact, when a wizard was nice to him, he worried. And Pergimtor was being nice.
“Anyway, your efforts were noted and appreciated, and the council has agreed to double your salary.”
Jorac was startled at the salary announcement, but didn’t get to react, because Pergimtor continued, “But I really came to see you about a different matter. What do you know about the rebellion in the north?”
“Respectfully, sir, there’s always a rebellion in the north. Has been ever since Benneso the Great took over the little kingdoms there one by one, eighty or a hundred years ago. Every summer, it’s fighting season, and there’ll be some province, sometimes just one town, trying to regain its independence. Usually it gets stomped down, and made poorer for its trouble.”
“So you don’t know that the province of West Luverna has declared independence, rallying behind Ozifaj the Sixth, the great-grandson of their last independent monarch? And that East Luverna claims to oppose them, but seems to be doing nothing to stop it?”
“Sir Wizard, I don’t pay much attention to it anymore. The army marches north each spring and puts down whoever is rebelling this year.” Jorac used to worry about such things when he was a wagon guard, because you had to know where the trouble might be coming from, but during his years in Vaggert he’d lost interest. But he was wondering why Pergimtor was concerned about this minor rebellion.
“The advance scouts tell their commanders they think there’s a wizard working with the West Luverna army. They say the enemy guesses right too often about their movements, and fights much too well in the dark. They don’t think the rebels have enough training to fight like that on their own, but there are some wizard spells that would account for it. They may be right, but spells like that require considerable power. Out in the provinces there are occasionally wizards like your Velosp woman whose abilities aren’t detected in adolescence, but they’re all quite weak. An unknown local wizard who’s that powerful is unlikely, but we’ve been asked to investigate.”
“Why would it have to be an unknown wizard? Why not a known wizard who chose to go there?”
Pergimtor frowned. “Now you’re getting into guild knowledge, but I suppose you have a right to know, so long as you don’t repeat it. Let’s say there are certain incentives for a wizard to stay here, or at least stay loyal to the emperor – social, logistical, and magical incentives. It’s not a coincidence that the only wizard training schools are here, for example. But it’s certain that no wizard as powerful as they claim was trained here. We’ve checked, and all the reasonably powerful wizards who prefer to live in the provinces are accounted for. There may some weak, self-trained wizards in the countryside who hide themselves very well, but not many, because we do search. I believe Wolburn was an aberration – it took his ex-wizard father to train him, and he was more crafty than truly powerful.”
“You said you search, sir. Can’t you send a wizard out with the scouts to check?”
Pergimtor sighed. “Jorac, if you never get involved in Court politics, you’ll be a happier person all the days of your life. As you know, I sit on the Emperor’s Council. The Emperor is a cheerful, earthy sort, but some of the council members are. . . well, never mind. Count Danak Melsim is the general of the army, and he has specifically asked the Council and the Emperor to order me not to send a wizard with the army this year. The Emperor has complied with his request.”
“I see.” A general who distrusted wizards, I’m not surprised at that, but him being able to exclude them from his army, that’s surprising. “So you want me to search instead. What would you expect me to do?”
“Go with the army, of course, and report back to me. I did manage to ensure that you weren’t under that idio. . . under General Melsim’s command.”
So I can do your bidding and not his. I’m probably the only “simple” you can trust. I’d better check up on this Melsim.
“You’ll be a detached auxiliary observer – it’s a recognized position. You’re supplied by the army, but you report to no one there. You’re allowed to bring a servant, or assistant, whatever you choose to call it. Some observers bring their wives, or, ahem, ladies with them. There are generally a half dozen or so observers in each campaign.”
He means they bring whores along. That probably causes all sorts of problems. I better check on the “observer” position too. “I see. When does this operation start?”
“Unfortunately, I think the army is scheduled to leave in just two or three days. Spring is breaking in the Outside areas, where we don’t stabilize the climate, and the roads should clear soon. Or so I hear.”
Crap. This sounds like a whole bucket of snakes. And he’s giving me practically no advance notice. No wonder he doubled my salary before he told me about it. “Well. . .” He paused, discarding various swear words that came into his head, until he could come up with something sensible. “How long would I be expected to remain with the army?”
“Only until you can establish whether or not there’s a wizard with the opposing forces. You can leave whenever you have an answer.” The wizard waited a moment. “Any other questions for me?”
Jorac shook his head, mainly to stop himself from saying something stupid. He’d learned when he was very young not to say the first thing that came to his mind when he was upset, so he didn’t blurt out a string of curse words followed by “I quit!” Instead, he said, “I need to think, and I’ll doubtless have some questions tomorrow. Am I to assume that you came down here for a reason, and this shouldn’t be discussed. . . well, upstairs, or anywhere outside this room?”
Pergimtor smiled. “Ah, you’re perceptive. Yes, that would be best. Drop a vague note for me in the message box tomorrow; I’ll know what it’s about.”
“Very good, sir. You might wish to have a draft of your orders for me then. So we’re both clear on what you want.” And so my ass is covered. A secret cat’s-paw for the head wizard is NOT what I signed up for. I wonder if I should just try to get another job. . . it might be hard to find one that pays so well. . . I wonder what this Melsim is like. . .
Pergimtor pursed his lips, but then nodded. “Perhaps that will be best. Until tomorrow then.” He strode out of the room, while Jorac’s head spun with the variables of this new assignment. He walked up and down his long, narrow office for a bit, then got out a fresh piece of paper and started making a list. The very first thing on the list was “Kimma!”
* * *
Jorac was hanging out just down the street from Dorrie’s later that evening. He’d put on simple, dark gray clothes with no ornamentation at all, and strolled up and down, trying to watch her front door without being conspicuous. There was light foot traffic in the area, so it was fairly easy to not be noticed as long as he didn’t stay in the same place too long.
When he saw a covered carriage pulled by a pair of matched horses come trotting up to the house, Jorac walked quickly toward it. He arrived as Skowers turned away from the departing carriage, but before he reached the door.
“Who. . . Oh, Constable, how pleasant to see you again. Your pardon, but I’m expected inside.”
Jorac put himself in front of the door. “It’s about that.”
Skowers drew up, a bit wary, and stayed several paces away from Jorac. His hand drifted down to his hip, where a weapon might be concealed. “What might I do for you?”
“I heard Schrog say this one time. We’ve done business, and done it square, right?”
“Well, you’re doing business here. Not my concern. But it stays business, right?”
“I’m not sure I take your meaning.” Jorac was pretty sure Skowers did understand, but he’d spell it out as clearly as necessary.
“How about I say it this way. At some point you’ll be teaching about courting customs. I expect decorum and appropriate behavior at every turn.”
“Why sir, decorum is just what I’m teaching. What else would you think?”
Jorac was tired of his verbal dancing, and still had things to do tonight. He rose to the balls of his feet and stared Skowers straight in the eye. In his best “menacing” tone of voice, he said, “Okay, one more try. Hands off Kimma. I find out you’ve been bothering her I’ll cut your balls off. This one ain’t business, it’s personal. Got it?”
Skowers took a half step back and looked at Jorac as if seeing him for the first time. Then, to Jorac’s surprise, Skowers laughed, a genuine mirthful laugh. “Ah, my good sir, again you surprise me. Now I understand you. I’ll admit that perhaps I did have some, well, some notions in that direction, but no more; it shall be as you say. It may be that later I find a different teacher for the young lady – a female one perhaps. Would that suit you?”
Jorac felt relieved that the confrontation had gone as well as it had. “Admirably. I thank you for understanding.”
“Not at all, sir. Now if I may enter?”
Jorac stepped aside and gave a sweeping “be my guest” gesture. On a whim he asked, “So how would a true nobleman say that? My father has a noble’s title, but he runs a sheep farm in the hills. Not much noble talk there.”
Skowers chuckled. “Very close to the way you said it. Perhaps he might say ‘geld’ instead, but perhaps not. It’s more in the tone. And your tone was – quite believable, actually.” And with that he knocked on the door, while Jorac backed away swiftly, so as not to be seen.
Jorac briskly walked to Constable headquarters, but found neither Cerom nor Hox there. He knew Hox was from a farm in the north and wanted to ask him about it, and he wanted to talk to Cerom about taking Hox as his assistant. But all he could do tonight was leave notes for both, and see them in the morning.
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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