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Stories from the Verse
Garden of Versers
Chapter 56: Beam 14
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Previous chapter: Chapter 55: Brown 169
It only took two days for Bron to learn a spell that would enable him to hear what Bob was thinking. It wasn’t completely reliable, and every time he cast it he had to throw a penny at Bob which vanished before hitting him, and say something in some magical language. It took about half a minute to cast, and then lasted as long as Bron focused on it, but if something distracted him he lost the connection and had to cast it again. It wasn’t ideal, to Beam’s mind, but it worked, and he didn’t really understand magic.
They were thus on the road a day ahead of schedule, but it was a two-day journey requiring them to stay overnight at an inn along the way, where “suspicion” would be understating their treatment from the locals, who seemed absolutely terrified of Bob and not at all comfortable around Dawn. It was only because Bron explained that Beam was a powerful wizard whose assistance had been requested by King Rex in a delicate matter that they were able to secure accommodations and meals, and although the innkeeper was uncomfortable with the idea Bron insisted (over Beam’s objections) that they pay for their keep.
It was late the next day that they came to the palace; runners had spotted them and brought word in advance of their arrival. The King’s servants insisted that the party clean up quickly and join the guests in the dining room, as dinner was being delayed for them.
When the King entered, he sat at the end of the table. To his left sat three teenaged girls who at least dressed the parts of princesses. It was evident that the eldest, introduced as Margaret, was quite proper and formal; the second, Nerene, was clearly shy and a bit withdrawn; and the youngest, Olivia, had a clear tomboy streak, her outgoing playful and flirtatious nature being stifled by the presence of her father, but struggling all the same. There was an empty chair immediately to the king’s right, which Beam realized was for the deceased queen, and he was in the next chair, across from Nerene, with Bron to his right. Bob and Dawn were beyond Bron; Beam had explained to the servants that they required special diets and would not be eating.
There was much small talk, mostly of guests greeting the King, and then when the main course was served the monarch turned his attention to the question.
“My ambassador tells me that you have apparently agreed to come investigate and hopefully solve my problem with my daughters,” he said, “but that you have not named a price and did not seem happy with my offer.”
“Part of that is because I don’t really know what the job involves at this point. Your daughters retire to their rooms for the night, and in the morning they are exhausted and disheveled, yet they are never seen to leave their rooms. Has someone watched them during the night?”
“We have had guards on the door and outside the window.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
“You mean, has someone been in the room with them while they slept? That would be entirely inappropriate.”
“Well, that’s also a rule that prevents us from doing anything. I certainly understand why you wouldn’t let soldiers in the room, and I gather their mother is, well, not available. I think we’ll start by having Dawn stand watch in the room through the night.”
He noticed a look of dismay cross at least two of the faces of the girls across from him, and the third definitely glanced at the others. They were hiding something.
“I--I suppose that would be permissible. But what is your fee?”
“At this point, I am committed to investigating the problem. I don’t guarantee that I will be able to solve it; it might be something that can’t be fixed. However, if I can explain what is happening, I’ll expect you to accept that I own the Bloody Bucket and the surrounding village, tax free and without obligation, for life. If I think the problem can be fixed, we’ll talk about what that costs separately.”
“You want me to pay you if you don’t solve the problem?”
“I want you to pay me for looking into it, and even then I’m only asking you to pay me if I learn something. If you hire a private investigator, you pay him for his time even if he never learns anything you want to know, as long as he makes the effort. I’m being generous here: I’m offering to do the investigating for free if I don’t learn anything. But if I get real information from my effort, I expect to be paid for it. After all, the first part of the problem is that you don’t know what the problem is, and if I can tell you what the problem is, I’ve solved the first part. We won’t even know what the second part is until the first part is solved. Now, if you want my help, those are my terms, and if you don’t like them, no harm, no foul, we’ll stay at a local inn and head home in the morning.”
The King stared for a moment, then answered, “No, you’re right. I agree that if you can tell me what is happening to my daughters, I will acknowledge your free ownership of that village. You will not enter their room unless they are in trouble, but your girl may stand guard inside.”
“Very good,” Beam said, wiping his mouth. The food was very good, but very rich. “If you’ll excuse us, with your permission we’d like to survey the room while the girls are out. It’s evident that there is some kind of hidden or secret door that is being used to remove them from the room, and we’re going to look for it.” He gave Margaret a cold glare as he said this, and noticed that she hid a shudder, but did blanche some. “If you’ll have one of the servants show the way?”
The King seemed uncertain once again, but decided there was no harm in permitting them to examine the room despite the fact that, as he said, he was certain no such door existed.
They entered the bedroom, and Beam looked around at the walls, behind several tapestries. “We should at least check, although I’m pretty sure if it were easy to find the King would already know about it and we wouldn’t be here. O.K., Bron, I’m thinking that Bob already has the answer. Bob, when I told the King that there was a secret door in this room, the girls reacted, and I’m pretty sure they thought of exactly where the secret door is, because they’re using it to go out at night. I also know that you’re hearing all the thoughts of everyone in that room, but I’m hoping you caught the part about where the door is, and maybe how to open it. Bron?”
Bron had readied a penny while Beam was talking, so he spoke his words and threw the coin at Bob. It vanished in flight. Apparently picking up Bob’s thoughts, Bron spoke. “It’s under the large rug in the middle of the room,” he said. “They didn’t think of how to open it, though, only had an image of a wide staircase descending into darkness.”
“Well, that’s a start. Let’s pull back the rug and see what we can find.”
The two men quickly rolled up the rug, but all they found was a bare stone floor. Beam went over it twice, and Bron thrice, and he asked Turbirb’durpa and Dawn to examine it as well. There were no cracks, no levers, no latches, no loose stones, nothing to suggest a way of opening a door in the floor.
“Well, I sort of expected as much,” Beam said.
“Oh?” Bron answered.
“What’s under this room?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “Whatever it is, we can be pretty sure that a wide staircase doesn’t run through it to the outside. We’re looking at some kind of magic portal. They must use a spell to open it so they can go wherever it leads--unless, of course, someone opens it from the other side. We could hope so, because presumably they won’t know that Dawn is in the room tonight, so they’ll open it and she’ll alert us to the situation. But I think the girls open it themselves, and tonight they’re not going to go anywhere because Dawn will be watching.”
“Do you want me to see if I can detect any magic here?” Bron asked.
“You can do that?”
“It’s a useful skill. If someone brings armor or weapons to be repaired, it’s kind of important to know whether there’s any magic on them, because if you try to repair something magic it can react in dangerous ways. So yes, it’s something I do pretty frequently.”
“By all means.”
Looking around, Bron went to the dressing table where there was a ewer of water and took a handful. Returning to the location once covered by the rug, he spoke a few words and threw the water in the air. Instead of simply falling on the floor, it landed in a rectangular pattern and glowed for a moment.
“There’s your door,” Bron said. “Sorry I can’t open it.”
“That’s all right,” Beam answered. “I think we know someone who can. Let’s put the rug back and get out of the room. We’ll let them play the game tonight.”
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with twelve other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #291: Versers in Action. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: