The Wizard at Pembrook

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Janet Wrenford had an ordinary life, living in the capital with her sister and brother-in-law and working as a secretary, until she was offered a job as assistant to the wizard Lord Fairfax at Pembrook. Now she’s living in a mysterious house, surrounded by magic, and possibly being followed by a stranger. Can she unravel the secrets of the wizard at Pembrook? Illustrated, print version 350 pages


 Chapter 1

The day I met him, I was in the middle of a project that involved sending letters to every client of Fitzsimmons and Company. I had spent the morning addressing envelopes and sorting them by the types of services the client requested most often — licenses for gaming establishments or pubs (by far the largest stack), requests to be considered for a royal warrant (not that we had any influence, we just did the paperwork), researching of other people’s licenses to find loopholes in the competitors legality (mainly to see if magic had been used — it hadn’t, ever), investigation to see if a license was actually needed (it was), and a smattering of requests to see if license requirements were met — so I could copy the correct portions of the letter for each of them. Having made significant dent in the project, whose purpose I had not been told, I decided to go out for lunch. Mr. Frederick Fitzsimmons, owner of Fitzsimmons and Company, went out every day in the afternoon to eat, while his only employee, me, stayed in and kept an eye on things, and maybe read a bit of the latest magical journals while I ate. But on that day, I wanted to get out. It was a beautiful day, warm and sunny, but not hot. And if I stayed in the office, I would feel obligated to finish addressing the envelopes while I ate, and I needed a break if I wanted to preserve what remained of my sanity.

So I went into Mr. Fitzsimmons's office. Today he was studying a thin book which, judging by the diagrams I could see, contained a system for beating a card game, but I couldn’t identify which. I didn’t know if I should interrupt, or pretend that I thought he was doing work. He solved my dilemma by sneezing, which forced him to look up. “Ah, Miss Wrenford, just the person I was looking for. I need some things copied into these ledgers in a hurry. I’d do it, but. . .” He made a random sort of gesture as he stood and grabbed a stack of ledgers. “Just see how I’ve been doing it. Ask if you have any questions.” And he dumped the books into my hands before I could even think of a question.

I shifted the books under my arm and hoped they would be self-explanatory since accounting was not part of my job, or a field I had any knowledge of, although I doubted it. “I wanted to ask you. . .”

Mt. Fitzsimmons had gone back to his book, but looked up when I spoke. When I thought I had his attention, I went on.

“Would it be all right if I went out to lunch for a change?”

“Sure, sure, Janet. No rush on those books.”

I was used to him contradicting himself. From him, a rush usually meant he’d forgotten to do it. “I’ll be back in half an hour then.”

“Fine, fine.” He was already absorbed in his book again.

I left the ledgers on my desk and collected my hat and gloves, starting to wonder if I should have said I’d be gone longer.

Now I had the problem of where to go. There were plenty of places nearby to eat, but I was more interested in getting out than in finding something other than my sandwich from home. I set off for the old town, on an island in the middle of the city. It was a good place for walking, with beautiful old buildings and lots of shop windows. And there was a market there, so I could get something interesting to eat, then stroll around and look at stalls of things I couldn’t buy until I started to feel guilty and went back to work. And it was close to the office, but a long enough walk that, even when I did start feeling guilty, I’d have a bit of time on the way back. I set out for the nearest bridge.

When I got to the bridge, there was a buzz of activity. I couldn’t see any disturbance on either bank of the river, but the bridge was filled with people, a dense crowd of hats and dark hair, all shuffling slowly across toward me, then breaking off in all directions once they stepped back onto the street. It would delay me, that was certain, and the bit of my mind that was going to make me feel guilty later suggested a nice walk around the square instead, and there was the stack of ledgers that Mr. Fitzsimmons should have been doing himself, on top of the stacks of letters to copy. But if I was only going to walk around the square, I might as well go all the way back to the office and eat at my desk. I crossed the road and pressed into the crowd.

I craned my neck as I stepped onto the bridge, hoping to see what the trouble was, but there were no overturned wagons, no obvious footpads being pursued. It was as if everyone had suddenly remembered that they were supposed to be somewhere else. And I couldn’t get very far. As soon as my foot touched the divide between the cobblestones of the street and the older, hewn stones of the bridge, I was almost shoved into the gutter by a small man pushing a wheelbarrow. I stumbled into a woman with her market basket still empty coming off the bridge. She glared at me as she shoved her way around and continued on.

I pushed my way to the side of the bridge, trying to get into the flow of people heading to the market, but no one seemed to be going that way. As I forced my way ahead, using the stone sides to buffer the crowds on my right, I scanned the faces, looking for clues to what had happened, but there were none. No one seemed panicked or excited. I overheard one woman muttering about a forgotten wallet, a man in a hurry for a forgotten appointment — an epidemic of forgetfulness — but nothing really unusual, nothing that explained why I was the only one who was going to the market.

The crush of people on the bridge got harder to navigate as I continued. I couldn’t find the current that would bring me across the bridge, so I picked a spot and pushed my way through, weaving around the other people as best I could, trying to avoid being jabbed by too many elbows or pushed down as I walked.

When I was almost a quarter of the way across, there was a hand on my back, not the bumps and jabs I’d been feeling, but a hand deliberately placed, and staying put. I pulled away; clearly I had been mistaken for someone else. But the hand was insistent. It pushed forward and kept its place on my back. I tried pulling away again, moving forward and to the side as much as I could in the press of people around me. This time, the hand linked through my arm. I was going to turn, to tell the body attached to the hand that it had clearly mistaken me for someone else and needed to let me go before I screamed, when a voice whispered in my ear.

“We'll make it across faster together. I'll make a path for you,” and he pushed ahead of me before I could say anything, his arm still firmly linked through mine, pulling me along in his shadow.

I was still planning to disentangle myself — the grip on my arm was firm, but light enough that I could break free easily—when my captor turned and said, “Please,” with such a desperate look, I didn't. 'As long as his hand is this light,' I told myself, 'I'll stay.’

It was easier going with the mysterious man in front of me. He seemed safe enough, with a boyish face and tousled blond hair, despite the desperate look in his eyes. He was finding us a path through the crowd, pushing his way through when there was no path, parting the people in front of us enough so that I could slip through after him. With him on the one side and the wall of the bridge on the other, I was able to walk without being shoved or in constant danger of being trampled.

Sensing that I wasn’t going to run yet, the stranger slid his hand down and wove his fingers through mine. It looked like the tight grip of a lover, but he was barely touching me. I could have broken away at any moment, so I stayed, with one eye on the crowd around us, looking for friendly faces attached to strong bodies, just in case I had read the situation wrong.

I didn’t see anyone else going to the square until we had passed the large gas lamp at the center of the bridge. Then one woman looked down at her market basket and realized she’d forgotten something. She turned and shoved past a banker to weave her way through the crowd towards the market. This seemed to please the stranger. He pushed a tinkerer out of the woman’s way and let her pass us.

Then another person, a man in a suit, reached for his watch. He seemed to remember an appointment back in the square and turned around. After we had passed the next lamp, the stranger slowed down and meandered along, letting people pass us as they crossed the bridge. And people were passing us, going to the square. It was easier to walk now that we weren’t fighting against the tide. I leaned in close to the stranger, like I was whispering to a love struck swain, “What’s going on?”

He pulled me a little closer. “I have no idea what you mean.”

I smiled sweetly. “I’m not a fool. Everyone was going away until we crossed the middle of the bridge. You’ve gotten me mixed up in some kind of magic, haven’t you?”

The stranger brought his lips close to my ear. I could feel his breath on my cheek as he whispered, “No, you’re not a fool. Keep up the act. You’re in no danger, but there is magic involved.”

I turned, putting my mouth quite close to his. “I will want an explanation.”

I expected the stranger to refuse or become mysterious, but he surprised me by smiling. “I’ll tell you if you’ll wait. It’s a matter of safety.”

He seemed to mean it. “Very well.” Magic was strong stuff, and those who used it had power even if they chose not to flaunt it. Someone who didn’t know what they were doing could do serious damage if they interfered with a spell in progress. I hoped he knew what he was doing, since I certainly didn’t.

And then, simple as that, we were off the bridge, and everything seemed normal. I held very still for a moment, feeling for the distinctive feeling of magic in the air, a sort of thick-fog-without-the-damp sensation. There was none. Whatever the spell had been, it was broken now. I turned to the stranger.

He was very still, checking for magic too, I suspected, and doing a more thorough job than I had. Apparently he was satisfied since he turned to me quite abruptly and said, “It has been a most pleasant encounter, but I am afraid I must. . .”

“Explain to me what happened.”

“Beg pardon.”

“You were going to say, ‘I am afraid I must explain to you what happened'.”

“Oh, I was?”

“Most definitely. And you were going to tell me what kind of magic you’ve gotten me into.” The last bit was what I was particularly worried about.

“You’re not involved in the magic.”

“How can you be certain?”

“It was directed at me. You’re quite safe.” He took my hand and prepared to bow over it. As he bent over my fingers, his jacket fell back, and I could see the slim wand pocket sewn into the lining, with about an inch of a dark-wood wand poking out.

I wasn’t letting him leave until he told me exactly what was going on. “You were going to explain it to me if I stayed with you.”

He opened his mouth, to argue no doubt, then his expression changed from blithe urbanity to calculating. He stared at me for several seconds, then said, “I was, wasn’t I?”

I wasn’t sure which was more irritating, his condescension or his focus. The latter was definitely creepier.

“It was an attempt to separate me from the market crowd. As you can see, it was unsuccessful.”

I had expected to argue with him for any scrap of information. Having so much given at once threw me. The stranger bowed quite properly and melted into the crowd before I had recovered enough to ask who, why, and would I now be a target since I had kept him out of their clutches. I sank down on the nearest park bench.

So it had been a spell, and a fairly strong one if it had affected all of the people in the market square. But why had I been able to cross the bridge? The spell was definitely gone now; the streets were filled with shoppers and office workers like me out for lunch. Thinking of lunch made me hungry again, and if I didn’t eat soon, there wouldn’t be time for it before I went back.

I found a woman selling toasted cheese sandwiches and bought one to eat while walking along Wool Street, admiring the skeins of yarn and knitted goods offered at the stalls. While I admired a display of lace shawls being set out, I tried to figure out what had happened. Other than the certainty that it was magic, I couldn’t figure out anything useful. While the stranger had explained more than I thought he would, he hadn’t given me any real information, nothing I could use to determine the type of spell or its purpose.

As I moved on to a stall of socks, I realized that everyone was setting up, even though the day was half over. I couldn’t believe everyone had come here this late, so that left only one other possibility — they had been packing to leave. So the spell had reached as far as the merchants. It was one thing to turn a moving crowd, quite another to get people in their established places to leave. The more I thought about the magic, the more powerful it seemed. I hoped the stranger had been right about me not being involved in it. This was not the kind of magic I wanted to be on the wrong side of. I decided to stop thinking about it. I concentrated on my sandwich, which didn’t take my mind off of anything, then went back to the office.

Mr. Fitzsimmons was still in his office. He’d read about a third of his book, which told me I had been gone a little longer than I intended, and that he wouldn’t notice it. I didn’t say hello, just sat down at my desk and pulled the ledgers towards me. Mr. Fitzsimmons had never let me near the accounting before, not that I wanted to be involved in his finances beyond the money he gave me every week. I wasn’t completely sure where the money he used to test out his betting systems came from, but I had my suspicions, and they were enough to make me quite content to be far from the company finances.

I spent half an hour reading through the old entries to figure out what was put in each column and ended up thoroughly confused. When I went to ask Mr. Fitzsimmons, I found he had left through the back door for his own lunch. I went back to my desk and started sorting the notes to be copied by what they were, hoping that would make it make more sense. Then I took each stack and found the old entries that were closest to them to use as a model. If Mr. Fitzsimmons couldn’t be bothered to do this himself, he’d have to live with my mistakes.

I fumbled through the books as best I could until Mr. Fitzsimmons came back in through the front door, in a good mood. “Afternoon, Janet. Glad to see you doing those, they need to get done today so Bertie can look them over for me tonight.”

“Would you mind going over a couple of things with me?”

He seemed taken aback, but he came over to the desk and looked at what I’d done so far. “Beautiful. I knew you had a talent for this. Keep up the good work,” and went back into his office before I could ask any questions. I got up to follow him, but I could see he had disappeared behind his paper, and I wouldn’t get any more out of him. I went back to copying as confused as I had been before he answered my questions. 

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