The next day, Jorac met with Cerom and Hox early, then went to Dorrie’s and briefly outlined the situation he was facing. Dorrie postponed an appointment so she and Kimma could talk it over with him.
“I don’t see how you can refuse to go,” Dorrie said. “The strongest wizard in the city isn’t a good enemy to have.”
“I don’t know that he’d become my enemy.”
“And you don’t know that he wouldn’t. Maybe he’d just speak his displeasure and someone else would do something, just to curry favor. Your choices are to take the assignment or leave the city. I don’t like it, but it comes down to that.”
“I don’t like it either.” Kimma looked distressed. Jorac was distressed too, but one part of him was unreasonably happy, to see that she’d miss him.
Jorac said, “And I don’t like it either, but I have to agree with Dorrie. Cerom said some of the same things. And he said Hox was getting bored here, so he didn’t yell too much when I asked him if Hox could go with me. When I talked to Hox, he said he’d jump at the chance to go back home – well, near there anyhow – and show off his new uniform.”
Kimma said, “Hox is a good egg. I never once heard him complain when that frog poisoned him.”
“And he saved our ass a few times during our little game with the big silver ball. I’ll just need to make sure he has enough clothes – nothing standard will fit him – and enough food.”
Kimma said, “I thought they were supposed to give you food?”
“I’ve heard it’s pretty bad – enough to live on but not much more. That’s probably where they can most easily skim money from the army. And Hox can eat.”
Dorrie added, “And eat, and eat some more.”
“Right. So I’ll have to check out this observer business. Cerom knows someone I can talk to.”
Kimma said, “Sounds like you’ve thought it through.”
“Well, sure, but there’s my new little house, maybe I can give you some money to outfit it, and. . . I just don’t. . . I’m not sure what you’ll. . . Oh hell.” It was hard enough to talk to Kimma when they were alone, but with Dorrie here it was nearly impossible. He just stared at her, trying to get his face to convey what his words couldn’t.
Kimma’s look back was at once pensive and smoldering, and Jorac knew he’d remember that look for a long time. . . But then Dorrie spoke up.
“I’d love to watch you two get tongue-tied for the next hour, but we don’t have the time. Kimma, you’ll wait for him, right? Not fall for a rake like Skowers, or one of the pretty noble boys, right?
Kimma looked a bit shocked, but nodded and said, “Of course. I. . .”
Dorrie interrupted her. “And Jorac, you’ll be good while you’re on the road, far away, right? Not dally with some pretty milkmaid or something, right?”
Jorac nodded silently, still looking at Kimma.
“Well then, it’s settled. Come back tonight after supper. But now, I’ve missed one appointment and I’m going to be late for the second. Kimma, go upstairs and get your costume on. Jorac, I’ll let you out the back door.” Dorrie stood up, which stirred the others into motion.
As Jorac was leaving, he told Dorrie, “I’ll bring some groceries, right? What would you like?”
Dorrie looked at him in puzzlement for a second, then cackled in understanding. “Anything that’ll take a good long while to put away will be fine, scallywag. Go!”
Pergimtor said, “I thought the army would supply your needs?”
“Well sir, I talked to a young man who was an observer a few years ago, and he had some most colorful descriptions. I wrote them down so I wouldn’t forget. . .” Jorac pulled a scrap of paper from his pocket and read his notes. “Food: flavorless, watery gruel twice a day. A few scraps of meat in there that came from no animal you’d want to admit eating, mixed with stale horse fodder. Blankets: moth-eaten scraps you could read a scroll through, not fit to keep you warm nor keep biting flies from you. Cartage: none unless you know who to bribe, and if you don’t do it correctly, your pack mysteriously falls in the creek or into the fire.”
Pergimtor’s eyes narrowed. “The army wouldn’t put up with that. The men would desert.”
“Yes sir, but the observers aren’t really in the army. No one with any power cares about their daily welfare. Things are better for the regular soldiers; you’ll note that the chain of command runs two ways, both up and down the chain – or for observers, doesn’t run.”
“So what did your man suggest?”
Jorac consulted his list again. “At a minimum, a sturdy wagon, with a cloth cover set up for sleeping. Some cooking and camping gear, like that made for traveling merchants. Some dried food, but mostly spices and flavorings that will pack small. And plenty of coins, coppers and silvers, not just gold. You can’t take enough food for the trip, but you can buy it at the villages on your way through.”
“So what would all this cost me? This is coming out of my own pocket, you know.”
Jorac had checked some prices, so he said, “About two hundred and twenty gold. Perhaps a bit more, sir, but in that range. And another hundred or so for supplies during the campaign.” He was padding his estimate, but not a lot.
Pergimtor said, “That’s too much. This is coming out of my pocket, not the treasury. What could you do with a hundred and fifty?”
Jorac was distracted, and short on sleep, and answered with a curt, annoyed, “Fail.” Then he was aghast at what he’d just said. That was NOT the way to talk to any wizard, much less the most powerful one in the land.
Don’t you ever learn, idiot? Pick your words carefully, or keep your mouth shut!
Pergimtor glared for a second, and then to Jorac’s relief and surprise, barked a laugh. “Ha! Fairly said. Alright, shop carefully, but get what you need. Here’s a hundred now; bring me receipts or owe-notes and I’ll pay for your gear. And you say the huge young constable is going with you?”
Jorac accepted the pouch from the wizard and said, “Yes sir. He knows the country in the north, and isn’t as dumb as he plays. He’s young, but he’ll get over that.”
Pergimtor sighed a little. “Yes, we all get over that.” The wizard looked like a man of late middle age, but you couldn’t tell with wizards, and he suddenly reminded Jorac of a much older man. “I’ll have your orders tomorrow. But you should get your supplies quickly; I believe the army is almost ready to depart.”
“Yes sir. Anything else?” Jorac was impatient to get started; he already had some shopping lists made.
“Well, yes, there is one more small thing you might look into when you’re in the north. Last month, I got a note – a paper note, delivered by a merchant. See what you make of this.” He handed Jorac a yellowed, wrinkled piece of paper.
The note was written in a good clear hand, with thick letters in faded ink. It read, “Perg – ran into a spot of bother here in Labblox. A Simple thing needed, don’t you or your pals visit, just send some help – Lartimaparian.”
“Who’s Lartimaparian? And how was this delivered?” Jorac handed him back the note.
“The only one I’ve ever known with that name was a teacher of mine. If it’s the same person, he must be ninety or more years old by now. He wasn’t a bad sort; he taught Ethics, and D&S – that’s Divination and Scrying. A runner-boy brought this from the river gate; he said he didn’t remember the sender – some merchant type.”
“Is he asking for non-wizard help? That word ‘simple’ is seems to be emphasized.”
Pergimtor looked at the paper again. “It could be. Actually, this note probably means nothing – my name gets used many times for things I know nothing about. But since Labblox is in East Luverna, I thought you could ask around for an old man by that name if you get there. He might be in his dotage; if so, bring him back here and we’ll take care of him.”
“Yes sir. Best put that in the orders too, so no one in the army will question me leaving. I know they get testy about keeping the army together.” It had taken the ill-equipped observer that Cerom put him in touch with several weeks to find a chance to desert, but that was a detail Pergimtor didn’t need to know.
“Very well. Tomorrow, then.”
* * *
It was late the next afternoon when Jorac and Hox pulled their large wagon up outside the Wizard’s Tower complex. They’d found a converted ore wagon, big enough for both Hox and Jorac to sleep inside in bad weather, and a pair of large, older horses to pull it. They were still rounding up supplies but were running out of time; they were scheduled to leave in the morning.
Pergimtor came down from the tower and gave them their official orders, a small cask full of copper coins, and a purse with silver and gold pieces in it. Jorac was now carrying more money than he’d made the entire previous year, but he didn’t feel rich; mostly he felt the weight of the coins as an anchor. Hox, never disrespectful, was exceedingly polite to the head wizard and said as little as possible.
After Pergimtor dismissed them and went back inside, Hox urged the horses into action. The oversized wagon wasn’t easy to maneuver, but Hox handled the job well enough, and they worked their way through the streets and soon arrived at the market area near Dorrie’s house.
Jorac climbed down and handed Hox the list of supplies still needed. “Dorrie and I asked some of the sellers here to stay late for us – there’s one now. Buy anything else you want that’s small – any spices you like. And we still need to get some oats for the horses too.”
“Where are you going?”
“I need to take some groceries to Dorrie. Long story. I’ll be back in an hour or so.”
* * *
Kimma answered the door and gave Jorac a long look that warmed his heart and curled his toes.
Dorrie came downstairs and greeted him. “You’ve got everything you need?”
“I think so. Hox is loading the last of the food. Kimma, I know you offered that double crossbow, but we’ve got two normal ones and I’d worry if you didn’t have it. I used to guard a traveling merchant, so I know what we need. I think we’ll be okay.”
Kimma said, “Alright. But I worry anyway.”
Jorac smiled at her and said, “Good. I worry about you too. Oh look, Dorrie, I found this nice bag of dried beans.”
Dorrie smiled a knowing smile as she took it from him.
Jorac added, “I’m afraid the different types all got mixed together.”
“Well, gosh. How inconvenient. I guess I’ll just have to go sort them out. That’ll take a while. I’ll be in the kitchen. Don’t disturb me, I’ll need to concentrate to do this well.” With that, she left the room.
Kimma rushed to his arms, and the half hour that Dorrie spent in the kitchen was well spent. They finally got to talk privately, in quiet tones, between kisses. Jorac felt better after hearing Kimma’s sweet and loving words, and he thought she looked happier too, hearing his. But too soon for either of them, Dorrie started making noise, then came back into the room. This time, they didn’t step apart but continued to hold each other’s hands. It would be their last chance for several months.
Dorrie said, “I hate to break this up, but Jorac has to go. There’s only so much Hox can do by himself.”
“I hate it when you’re practical, and right,” Jorac said. “But I do need to go.”
Kimma gave him a fierce hug. Finally she let go, whispering, “Come back.”
He whispered back, “I will. To you.”
And before everyone’s emotions spilled over, he let himself out, and hurried back to the market.
When Jorac found Hox, he was haggling with a foul-tongued merchant, and Jorac wrenched his thoughts from Kimma to practical concerns. After a few more hours of haggling and loading, they got their wagon supplied with the essentials for the trip. Jorac had wanted more and a better variety, but they could get by on what they had for at least a few weeks.
And that was all the time they had. Hox took the wagon to the constable quarters, while Jorac went to his new house and tried to sleep. Sleep was a long time coming.
Author/publisher update 3-May-2011:
Please buy, or encourage your friends to buy this book. It's on sale! E-books are just 99 cents, 99 pence, .99 euros, around the world!
This is now the penultimate chapter on Neatorma. Sorry, but commercial considerations have reared their ugly head and I need to encourage people to buy my fine book.
Tom Van Natta
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.
Visit http://www.wizardconstable.com/neatorama.html for an index to all posts for this book, maps and related info, and special prices for Neatorama readers.
Check out previous chapters of Wizard Constable right here., or visit the Wizard Constable Website for chapter links + maps.