Six weeks later, Jorac got up early and walked to Dorrie Velsop’s shop.
“Hi Dorrie. Your new sign looks good.” She had a freshly gilded sign out front, with the “Licensed Wizard” part even more ornamented and prominent than before.
“Thanks, Jorac. Kimma isn’t here. She’s down at the market; she’ll be back in a couple of hours.”
“I know. It’s you I wanted to talk to. Do you have any appointments?”
“Not this morning. We try to keep Moonday free for shopping and such. What’s up?”
“It’s Kimma.” Jorac hesitated a little, then went on resolutely. “I really like the girl, you know.” He paused, awkwardly.
“I know that. I like her too.” Dorrie was amused, and Jorac could see her trying to keep from smiling. “I’m glad to see you’re coming out of your shell a bit, at least.”
“I’m trying . . but Dorrie, you’re, well, cramping my style. I can’t talk to her the way I want to, when you’re there all the time. And she’s. . . well, she’s. . .”
“She’s what?” Dorrie’s eyes narrowed a little, and the smile started to leave her face.
“She’s. . . confusing.”
Dorrie’s smile came back, and lit up her whole face. “I was afraid you were going to say she was a strumpet’s daughter, and I was trying to figure out how I was going to slap you.”
Jorac shook his head. “I never think like that. She’s a hero, to you and me and lots of folks from the swamp, even if some of them have never seen her face. But I don’t know what she’s thinking half the time. Or even less than that. I think she likes her new life with you. But how would I know?”
“Good question. Okay, I see your problem. Tell you what. If she agrees, I’ll upgrade you to a ‘prospect,’ all right?”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Well, it’s sort of the nobles’ way of letting two people see if they can get along, without too much risk. It technically means the family has checked you out, and you’re an acceptable candidate, marriage-wise. Don’t worry, it’s not a promise or anything. It just means the aunties – meaning me in this case – have decided that perhaps you’ll do – just perhaps. Which means that you and she can occasionally take luncheon alone, if she’s willing. Nothing after dark, mind you.”
“Do you think she’ll agree to me being a prospect?”
Dorrie smiled a secret smile. “Oh, we’ll have to see. I’d have to say I like your chances.”
Jorac felt unexpected glee at this. “I know you’re trying to do everything properly for her. Did I tell you my father is a member of the nobility? A baronet. That makes me in line to be Emperor. Somewhere near the end of the line, of course, but I’m in the line.”
Dorrie laughed. “I know how many nobles there are in this city. If everyone in front of you dies, I think we’ll have bigger problems than an Emperor Jorac. But, as her stand-in auntie, I’d say it’s a point in your favor.”
Jorac said “Hmm,” and waited for as long as he could – maybe ten seconds – then asked, “So, are you going to need Kimma at lunchtime today?”
Dorrie laughed, and waved him out the door. “Be gone, you. Come back around noon, and ask her yourself.”
* * *
“. . . So,” Kimma was saying, “with the reward money from your wizards and such, I’ve got some money saved, but no income to speak of. And Dorrie wants me to play the snooty young noble lady, just in off some farm. That’s kind of fun sometimes, but I keep thinking they’ll catch me at it, and they’ll know I’m not Kimathea Ravensclough.” Kimma took a quick look around the outdoor dining area in the market square to make sure she wasn’t heard. The square was empty this early afternoon, with the morning market over and shut down.
“I thought I knew most of the noble names. I know Ravensclaw and Riverclough – is it supposed to be something like that?”
Kimma put on her finest noble accent. “An old family, not without tradition, but one that produces mainly girls. I believe my late father was the last of the line.” In her more normal “city” voice, she added, “Dorrie looked it up and everything. The name is in some old records, but she thinks it’s just a writing mistake.”
“Dorrie is a humdinger sometimes. Always has an angle. Do you want some more bread?”
“Thanks, but I’ve had enough. I’m watching my figure. I haven’t been walking nearly as much as I used to, and my clothes don’t fit like they should.”
Jorac wiggled his eyebrows, and in a comically exaggerated leer he said, “I’m watching your figure too, dearie.”
Kimma flushed, and sat in embarrassed silence. After a little while, she said, “That’s one of the things Dorrie doesn’t understand. When you say something like that, I know you’re just joking, but I don’t know what to say back. I missed that time growing up, with people my own age, and it’s like. . . like everyone knows the steps to the dance but me.”
Jorac considered a little and said, “Well, if you like it, you say something like, ‘Aw, hush up, now,’ but in a way like you don’t mean it. If you don’t like it, you just sort of stare in a cold way, or turn your back. Then I won’t do it anymore.”
“Well then, hush up now.” She giggled a little.
“Yes ma’am.” Jorac smiled back at her. He still liked her laugh.
* * *
Jorac went back to his office and looked for something to do. He was expected to spend several hours there each day, “just in case,” but he’d even caught up on his petty paperwork, and no new jobs had come from the Wizard’s Tower. When he first started the job, he’d refused on principle to discipline the older apprentices, which had seemed take up most of his predecessor’s time. It was too late now to start dealing with them out of sheer boredom.
He sighed. I’ll go on patrol, I guess. Maybe I can go find someone doing something bad to a wizard, or more likely the reverse. Probably not, but at least I’ll get a walk. I wonder what Cerom is up to
. . .
Cerom was finishing up his shift by the time Jorac got there. After they’d exchanged greetings, and bantered about Jorac looking bored, Cerom said, “Hey, Jay. You ever going to tell me the real story of what Schrog and Hox and you did in that swamp?” He’d asked before.
“Not today, sorry. Wizards’ secrets and all that. And don’t ask them too much either, okay? This one is touchy, best to keep it quiet. We just happened to be there when some treasure was found, and we were around when the good folks in Swampside had an impromptu party to celebrate.” That was the official story everyone on Jorac’s team and in Swampside had agreed on. That was the whole story; no other details were offered or available. It frustrated people like Cerom who were good at seeing beneath the surface, but it couldn’t be helped.
“Yeah, right. I know those ‘good folks in Swampside’ too, but okay, I can leave it alone. You couldn’t pull a word out of Schrog with a mule team, and he’s teaching Hox too. I’ll give up.”
“So, how’s our young giant shaping up? He seemed to like being a constable, even after seeing the more, um, quaint parts of the city.”
“Well, he took those trips with you and almost got killed twice in a week, once by an axe-wielding bandit, once by a poison frog, and he tells me he’s never had more fun in his life. I hope standard patrolling doesn’t get too dull for him. I don’t want to lose him to some private guard.”
Jorac sang part of the introduction to a bawdy drinking song. “’Oh, to be young and full of joy; A day in Spring should last forever. . .’ I better stop before I get to the ‘midnight’s pleasure’ part. Hey – he’s just nineteen. He’ll grow out of it. Try to keep his jobs varied, I guess. Say, can I buy you a beer when you’re done here?”
“Not today; I promised the missus I’d get right home. Speaking of that, I hear you were out with a lady, I mean a real fancy one?” Cerom’s tone was friendly, not leering. He knew the constables had trouble meeting decent women, those who weren’t for sale or didn’t want something from them that went against their oaths.
“Yeah. She’s . . . nice.”
“Yep.” Beautiful, and deadly with a crossbow, and at home in Swampside but trying to learn to fit into noble society. Too much detail. . . “Pretty pleasant, actually. She’s staying with Dorrie Velosp – you remember her. Dorrie acts as a chaperone, mostly.”
“Oh, a chaperone. Um.” Cerom said this knowingly; only “good” young ladies (or noble ones) had chaperones. Having one was good and bad; it made things a bit more serious for the man involved, but the young woman was more likely to be worth the effort.
Cerom shrugged. “Well, good luck to you, however it works out. Worse comes to worse, I may still remember a few tricks for escaping from the minder – my wife and I dreamed them up, before we were married.”
Dammit, it isn’t fair. I don’t know how serious Dorrie is about this chaperone business, and I don’t know what Kimma thinks most of the time, and I’m not even sure about how I feel about her. Damn.
“Thanks. I may just take you up on that, someday. Right now. . .” he paused.
“Chaperone.” Cerom finished.
* * *
The next week, Jorac had a day off, and talked Dorrie into letting Kimma lunch alone with him again, partly by promising that the three of them would go out for dinner that night, at one of the fancy places across the river.
Part of Dorrie’s grand plan for Kimma’s Makeover was her wardrobe. She was never to be seen in anything a noble lady wouldn’t wear in similar circumstances. Luckily, noble ladies dressed down to go to the market, and so she wore a simple brown dress with large pockets, with perhaps just a bit more trim than usually seen in Dorrie’s working-class neighborhood.
Like most clothes, Jorac thought it looked good on her, and he told her so.
“This old thing? Well, thank you.” Kimma smiled as she said it. Jorac knew that the dress was new, just delivered this week, with other fancier outfits to follow.
He grinned back at her. “You’ve been practicing. That sounds properly hoity-toity. But if you want my opinion, you could use a little more astonishment that anyone would mention these practical clothes.”
“This old thing?”
She laughed, and took his proffered arm as they set off down the street.
She leaned in and said quietly, “It’s better than any dress I ever owned before. I’m afraid of getting it dirty.”
“Just give it to the laundry woman.”
“We don’t. . . oh, I guess I’ll have to think like that. I’m so used to doing for myself.”
“Knowing how to do things yourself is good, but not having to is more fun. Like today: we’re letting someone else cook us lunch.”
Jorac led her to a tavern near his rooms. They ate a spicy fish stew and fresh bread, and drank far too much tea, as Jorac told Constable stories. Some of what the constables dealt with was bloody and frightening, not a good topic for ladies at lunch, so he told only the funny stories, or those with happy endings. There were plenty of those too, and Jorac wasn’t getting tired of her smile. Kimma was using her upper-class accent, and it seemed to get them slightly better service, though Jorac had been here many times before.
They lingered longer than the usual mid-day crowd, and the restaurant was mostly empty when they finished.
“Kimma, do you have to get back right away? I’d like you to look at my place.”
She frowned. “I don’t know. . . I think Dorrie would. . .”
“With an escort I mean. I’ve just got a tiny room over a stationer’s shop. I wanted to show you that, and then ask you to help me look at some bigger places. I saw what you did with your little house. . .” he stumbled. “I guess I want it to be a place you’d like.”
Kimma looked at him speculatively. Finally she said, “All right.”
The tired-looking, middle-aged scullion came to clean off their table, and Jorac asked her to come back with the owner, after reassuring her it was nothing bad.
“Pajlo, can I borrow your lady here for an hour or two? I’ll pay you and her a couple coppers each.”
Her eyebrows raised to her forehead. “Now listen here, young sir. I don’t know what you think, but I’m not the kind to run off for an hour for money, and what would your lady here say? That’s just. . .”
Jorac interrupted her. “No, no, no. And because you’re not that kind, that’s why I want you to be the escort for the young lady here, all very proper. I’m going to ask her to go look at my room, and then go look at a few more places, and of course a chaperone is always needed for a young lady. I ask nothing strenuous, nor ungentlemanly. Or gentlewomanly.”
Her face broke into a wide, crinkled smile. “Oh, a proper escort. I’ve done that in my time, yes indeed. Mistress Nuff, at your service. Pajlo, since he’s paying you too, you can clean up, right?”
“Aye, Nuffie, go ahead. You watch now, see how the upper-class act, all right?”
“Let me clean myself up, won’t be two shakes!” She left the dishes on the table, and almost ran back to the kitchen.
Pajlo, amused, took the dishes from the table (and Jorac’s coppers) back to the kitchen.
Kimma said, “So you really liked my little house?”
“It was great. Nothing fancy, but nice. Welcoming, kind of. You had colors there – all my stuff is mostly brown or gray. I want you to help me find a place like that, one you’d like. I mean, a place you’d like if you were there yourself. Or would want to visit with Dorrie.” Jorac couldn’t help think, or all alone. . . for hours and hours. . . but he hoped that thought didn’t reach his face. “I just don’t want a cave like my place now. It’s quiet, but it’s cheap and it’s ugly, I know that. I want something nicer, like. . .”
“Like you.” Jorac reached out across the table, and took her hand, softly.
Kimma squeezed his hand, and smiled at him, and said quietly, “Aw, hush up now.” The look she gave him made his blood rise a little.
Then, as Nuffie and Pajlo returned, she pulled her hand back and stood up. “If we are to embark on a little quest, I believe I should, uh, adjust my coiffure first.”
“Right this way, mistress. I figured that, so I cleaned it up nice.”
Jorac made a tiny questioning gesture to Pajlo, and received a tiny rueful shrug in return. Upper-class ladies didn’t want to hear that the toilet was ever anything but spotless; Nuffie still had a bit of education in front of her. But Jorac appreciated the attempt.
* * *
They looked at several places, and decided the nicest one was a red brick house, complete but tiny, hidden behind an older house that was now a candle shop. It had a small sitting room, a large and small bedroom, a small kitchen and bathroom, but the private toilet (rare for any house this old or small) was what decided Kimma, and Jorac was willing to be instructed. The fact that it was between the Wizard’s Tower and Dorrie’s house was a bonus; he’d be only a ten minute walk from either place.
Kimma said, “We need to ask Madame Velosp to survey this residence. She would know what furniture you should seek to obtain.”
“I was thinking the same thing. Mistress Ravensclough, Mistress Nuff, I shall return shortly; I believe I heard the landlord just outside.”
Nuffie said, “Take your time, good sir. A pleasant afternoon, ’tis.” If it wasn’t quite upper-class, at least she was trying. Jorac turned away to hide his smile, and quickly settled with the landlord. He’d pay a little extra so the cleaning lady would visit his new place twice weekly, and was given a set of keys. He could move in anytime.
* * *
Later, when Jorac and Kimma had gotten back to Dorrie’s, she’d just returned with some groceries.
Kimma said, “Dorrie, you’ve got to go look at the little house Jorac’s rented. It’s so cute! He’ll need your help picking furniture. I saw where he lives now – don’t worry, we had a proper escort – and he needs just everything. I was looking at rugs in the market on our way back. . .”
It took many minutes for Kimma’s excitement to run down, and Jorac was happy to see her so animated. He was too much of an old campaigner to care much what his furnishings looked like, so if someone wanted to pick things for him, it was all to the good.
Finally, Jorac got a word in. “So Dorrie, when do you think you can look at the place?”
“Not tomorrow; I have appointments all day and evening. The day after, maybe.”
“Perfect. Tomorrow morning I need to do some reports, and then the Council meets in the afternoon and they usually have something for me to do afterwards. Kimma, what about you? Are you going to work with Dorrie?”
“Onc’t the morrow, good sir, I shall assist the Madame in the light of day; howsoever I believe my instruction in Deportment is scheduled for the morrow’s eve.” Kimma giggled – her parody of noble language was as good as her serious efforts.
Dorrie added, “It turns out Skowers offers instruction on getting along in noble society, when he’s not passing there himself.
“Ah, good.” Jorac wasn’t sure it was good, knowing Skowers was rather a ladies’ man, but he could keep an eye on things and warn Kimma if necessary. He didn’t want to disturb her needlessly.
But still he felt uneasy. After a pause he said, “Where’s all this going, anyway? When Kimma is accepted as a noble lady, what then?”
Kimma and Dorrie smiled at each other, and Dorrie said, “Simple, we’ve got a foolproof plan. For now, Kimma will be my assistant. It’s a little unusual, but it’s a respectable job for a gentlewoman, since I’m licensed and all. Then when she talks to the nobles, she tells them the truth about what I can do, as simple as it is, and I increase my prices eightfold, and we split the increase. The value of the lost trinkets and jewelry in those circles ought to more than pay for it.”
Jorac was almost convinced. “And the knack you have for learning who the father is, they’ll need that too.”
“True. But there’s other wizards do that, after the kid is born at least, and I don’t want to make them mad. I’ll stick to finding the baubles, mostly. The other only for special clients, at special rates.” Her smile was avaricious. “We’re going to go through them like a hot knife through butter. It’ll be so much fun!”
It wasn’t Jorac’s idea of fun, and he wasn’t so sure about Kimma either, but he couldn’t think of any arguments against it. He thought he ought to be happy they were looking to move up in the world. And it really wasn’t any of his business. Best to keep his mouth shut.
“Now Jorac, you run along. Come back in an hour, or better yet two, if that’s not too late. If we’re going to that fancy place you told us about over in Westmire, we need to dress properly. You’re lucky, your fanciest constable uniform is correct anywhere.”
“They’re open past midnight, so don’t worry. I’ll wipe the crumbs off my uniform, and see what I can do about the gravy stains. Maybe I can find a dog to lick them clean?”
Dorrie laughed, “Get along now,” and started up the stairs. She and Kimma slept in the rooms upstairs.
Jorac turned to Kimma, and said, “Thanks.”
Kimma looked surprised. “For what?”
“For helping me with the new place, and, oh, for being nice.” The last bit came out a little hoarse, a bit forced. Jorac wondered how it sounded to her.
She flushed slightly and gave him a crooked smile. “Oh, um, you’re welcome. And-you’re-nice-too.” Then she bounded up the stairs two at a time.
Jorac let himself out, and whistled a bit as he walked home.
* * *
The dinner at the fancy tavern was good, even excellent, if you liked tiny servings of dozens of dishes. Jorac would have rather had larger portions and fewer choices, but he wisely didn’t mention that, and the ladies seemed to enjoy themselves. Afterwards they were all a little over-full and welcomed the walk back. When they got to Dorrie’s house, she told Jorac and Kimma to relax, and walked to the door leading into the kitchen.
“Now I need to put away the rest of the groceries. No, Kimma, I can handle it. I think it’ll take me several minutes. I’ll probably bang some pots and pans, so don’t mind me.” She turned and left, with a backwards glance and a wink at them both.
Kimma looked a little surprised, but Jorac reached out and took her hand. “I think our chaperone is giving us a few minutes alone.”
Kimma said, “Ah.” Then, smiling a shy smile, said “Ah!” again.
Jorac bent down to kiss her, and a bit clumsily, she responded. After a few light kisses, she banged her nose into his. She hugged him close and buried her face in his shoulder.
She murmured sadly, “I can’t even kiss right.”
Jorac whispered, “Practice makes perfect. . .”, and within a minute or two her technique had definitely improved. Jorac stopped before things got too heated; they were both conscious of Dorrie in the next room. Instead he held her close and stared into her face. If she wasn’t the best-looking young lady in the city, she was surely in the running. But her skill with a crossbow attracted Jorac even more, and someday he’d try to figure out why. For now he just enjoyed it.
“Kimma, I know Dorrie wants to work the nobles like a barker working a crowd – she loves that sort of thing. But you need to decide if you want it too. Don’t let her make you into something you aren’t, okay?” He suddenly wondered if he was being too paternalistic. He had no right to tell her what to do.
She seemed to take it okay. “I used to know who I was. I had a life in the swamp, not too far I could rise, not too far I could fall. I guess I’m not sure what I am here in the city – at least not yet. I guess I’ll learn, though.”
“Well, however that turns out, I like who you are, deep down, and that won’t change, okay?”
She nodded, smiling a wry little smile, and said “Okay.” Then the smile warmed and she very quietly said, “You said. . . practice?”
They had to step apart quickly when Dorrie came banging her way into the room a few minutes later. If they both seemed a bit flushed, Dorrie had the grace not to mention it or smirk. Well, not smirk too much anyway.
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.