2. Lameel’s Simply Amazing Magic Shoppe
“Why are you wasting your time on that?” Meg demanded, fuming as she paced back and forth, her long red hair billowing behind her like flames. “We both know that the only thing of any real value is the amulet! The old man admits it himself. ‘It’s my most treasured item,’ he said. ‘So very powerful that I wouldn’t be where I am today without it.’ You heard him.”
Jamine held the single pearl on her necklace between her fingers to allow her the strongest reading. ‘Be quiet, Meg! Do you want to be overheard again? I am tired of casting charms of forgetfulness on Mrs. Hagelbeck just because you can’t keep your voice down!’
A picture formed in Meg’s mind of Mrs. Hagelbeck with her ear to the wall in the shop next door. She shook the image away, knowing that it was just a stray thought. If the old woman had actually been there, Meg would have sensed it. She could not explain how she was able to sense such things. It had been a gift from the gods since she was young—a gift that Jamine lacked. They shared mind speak, but only Meg could sense when people were near. “That busybody is senile. You’re wasting your charms on her,” Meg whispered loudly.
‘She wasn’t senile before we got here,’ Jamine thought in Meg’s mind, looking up at Meg over the pearl.
“Oh, very funny,” Meg muttered.
They had been in this village for several weeks, far longer than prudence would allow. When everything slipped from their hands in Vendia they did the only thing they could: they ran. First they tried to hide in larger towns. Every place they went was not far enough. Lucky Jamine was good with scrying spells. Five times in the first two weeks alone they narrowly escaped capture. Each time they barely got a night’s rest before they had to fly again. Duke Valterius was hunting them and like a good hunter he cut off all their paths of escape. His soldiers and agents seemed to be ahead of the sisters on every road out of Korish.
So Jamine turned them inland toward the heart of the Korish farmland. They did not stop at any village, but camped well off the roads in dry gulches or thickets. When they ran out of supplies they stole more. After a few days of hard riding they felt they had shaken their pursuers. When they had gone deep into the heartland, Jamine turned them north, toward Moorin. Several more days and Meg was convinced they must have crossed the border but Jamine kept them moving.
Then catastrophe hit.
One evening just after they made camp in a gulch, a hush fell over the forest around them. They heard rumbling in the distance. Moments later they saw a wall of water rushing toward them. They grabbed their packs and scrambled up the side of the gulch as the torrent tore through their camp. It swept away their food, bedrolls and most importantly, their poor horses.
They followed the flash flood’s path downstream for half a day, hoping to find their horses. They never did. Then the rain came pouring and they were forced to seek shelter. That night they huddled together in a rock alcove that was nothing more than a cutout that kept out most of the rain.
On foot in a rainstorm that lasted three days, they made their way along an uneven cart road. They headed north, deeper into Moorin. Eventually they found the small village called Rilen’s Crossing. They would have kept going but without horses or money they were forced to try a new tack. They conned their way into the house of the old magician who owned this shop.
“Meg,” Jamine spoke aloud with that mild tone that so aggravated Meg and brought her out of her thoughts. “I know you want to get the amulet but I might as well check these items while the shop is ours. Lameel will be back soon, so I don’t have much time.”
Their master touted the little shop as amazing. It was anything but. There was a long glass case near the door. Shelves lined a twenty foot wall behind it, filled with trinkets from near and far. It was junk, either fake or with only minor charms or abilities. An archway with a curtain hanging over it in the wall behind the case led to a storeroom stuffed with more of the same. A magic shop in Vendia or Rolig or even Kerjeel would have been stocked with items of much greater value. In the provinces, magical artifacts were much harder to come by. Lameel’s shop, though a mockery to Meg, was truly marvelous to the locals.
Beyond the storeroom were the living quarters. Lameel was able to provide the girls their own room in exchange for working in the shop. It took weeks before the old man trusted the sisters enough to leave them alone there. Since then, Jamine took advantage of every opportunity. She sifted through the junk again and again, searching for something valuable. They had to get further away from Duke Valterius. It had been three months since the fiasco with the palace. But since the duchess had been inside when the scepter disappeared it, Meg knew full well that he was still relentlessly pursuing them. If they could make it to the city of Rolig they would be safe. Jamine insisted they had to find something valuable enough to at least get them horses. Meg had given up, but Jamine was nothing if not persistent.
Meg’s plan had been to hit the magistrate’s house. Surely there would be silver or gold there that would get them on their way. Jamine felt it was too risky without properly casing the place and acquiring all the tools they needed. But without money there would be no tools.
‘Fine! But we need to figure out how to get the amulet. We can’t stay here forever. I should have been able to lift that thing days ago.’
‘That is how it goes sometimes.’
Meg paused and stared at her sister with narrowed eyes. “That is how IT GOES SOMETIMES!”
“You’re yelling again.”
‘I’m sorry. I just can’t believe you said that,’ Meg seethed, returning to mind speak as she resumed pacing. ‘You act as if you don’t care about getting out of here.’
Jamine made a point of focusing on her work.
‘I should have listened to Darby. By now I would be a master bard making an honest living. He was so close to finishing my training.’
Jamine did not respond. She concentrated on the pearl and the feather she was testing for magical power.
Meg came to a realization. She stopped pacing, put her hands on her hips, and stared at Jamine, waiting for her to speak. Jamine set the feather aside and moved on to the conch shell next to it. Her eyes caught Meg’s but she looked away quickly to avoid her stern look. Meg shook her head. “You’re starting to act like you did in Nerovia.”
Jamine questioned her with her eyes.
“You know, when you gave that nice lady all her jewelry back.”
Jamine pressed her lips together and glared at her.
“Jamine, we can’t afford to care.”
Jamine set the shell down and took a deep breath before she spoke. “It is so important to him. It will break his heart…”
Meg could feel the sympathy oozing from Jamine. She tried not to explode. Her words came out terse. “Look, Jamine, this is strictly business. For years we’ve had this argument, and you never seem to get it.” She whispered a word and a knife appeared in her hand. She turned and flung it at the corner.
Jamine rolled her eyes.
Meg retrieved the knife and held up the newly dead mouse skewered on it. “We either take the advantage or someone takes advantage of us.” She dropped the mouse on the floor.
“But Lameel… He took us in and has been good to us. He loves that amulet.”
“Lameel is the mark,” Meg replied. “It was our job to get him to take us in and his job, as the mark, to open his door and let us take advantage of him. He’s doing his part and we must do ours.”
“No buts!” Meg yelled. “There are never any buts. If we make exceptions, we starve or end up in a cell somewhere. Is that what you want?”
Jamine did not respond.
“Fine,” Jamine raised her hands in surrender. “You are right. We are obligated to take the amulet and everything else of any value.” She picked up the comb next to the shell. “That doesn’t settle how we’re going to get it, though. I have used every spell that I can. One of them should have worked.”
“You have plenty more spells.”
“I have used all the subtle ones. All my other spells require quite a bit of conjuring, conjuring that is sure to wake him, and if he wakes, then what?”
“So we help him stay asleep,” Meg suggested.
“I know you think he is just a doddering old man but he does have some training. Enough to be able to tell when someone has charmed him to sleep. If we fail to get the amulet, then when he wakes up, who knows what will happen?”
“What about—” Meg stopped. ‘Someone’s coming!’
Jamine quickly used Lameel’s wand and replaced the protection spell on the shelves. Boots clomped on the boardwalk outside. Meg disposed of the mouse under a nearby throw rug. She muttered a word to make the knife disappear as she grabbed her lute from the counter. Sunlight found its way in as the door’s bell jingled.
At first, all they could see was a silhouette dominated by an outlandishly plumed hat. Behind the figure, a wooden sign swung back and forth in the breeze. The sign read, “Lameel’s Simply Amazing Magic Shoppe.” The figure stepped inside. It was Lord Simule, the magistrate for Rilen’s Crossing. He was dressed foppishly, all in yellow from his hat down to his silk gloves and ornate riding boots. He had chosen a shade of yellow that accented his brown skin. He considered Jamine, leaning on the glass case, and Meg as she sat on a stool softly playing, “The Ballad of the Cobbler of Horan.”
“Judging by the lack of production, I see that your master is not in.” He removed his feather-bedecked hat and placed it on the counter. He spoke with what he must have believed was a proper Vendian accent, but was clear to Meg that he had never lived in Korish’s commercial center and primary trade city.
“We would be glad to pass any message you might have for him, Lord Magistrate.” Jamine politely blew his hat feathers out of her face, and stepped back from the counter.
“Actually, I am here to speak to the two of you. It won’t take long, I assure you.”
Meg looked at him suspiciously. He had never said a word to them the entire time they had been stuck in Rilen’s Crossing.
Jamine inclined her head. “We are at your service, My Lord.”
Simule made a show of examining the riding crop he held. “How long has it been now since you arrived in our fair township? A couple of weeks?”
Meg almost snorted. ‘Fair township? What is he talking about? Flea-ridden hole.’
Jamine blinked and ignored her. “It has been closer to a month, sir.” They had learned long ago that Jamine should do the talking with officials. Meg’s sassy tongue and quick temper had landed them in trouble too often.
“A month? Ah.” Lord Simule paused as he removed his gloves and tucked them into his belt. “And in that month, have you on occasion wandered about the city? Perhaps at night, when everyone else was asleep?”
“We would not think of venturing out on our own after dark, much less after everyone else was asleep.”
‘Much smarter to thieve in broad daylight,’ Meg quipped.
“Really?” Simule stroked his rather long mustache. “Was it not your sister who entertained my off duty guardsmen last night at the Old Maid’s Cauldron?”
Jamine raised an eyebrow, and considered the man before her. “Yes, she was there. Master Radjin escorted her to the inn. He thought her playing might be a nice addition to his performance. Master Lameel said it would be all right.”
‘It didn’t help. Radjin’s magic show is the worst I have seen anywhere,’ Meg offered.
“So Radjin was with you the whole time?” Simule asked Meg, striking his palm with his riding crop.
Meg looked shyly at him, then at the floor. “You know that, My Lord; you kissed my hand as we left.”
The magistrate cleared his throat. “Yes, well, and when you left with Radjin, you went straight home?”
“I tried to get Master Radjin to go to another inn, but he refused to keep me out past midnight,” Meg whispered. She did her best to seem like a mousy little woman who wouldn’t ever dare to go anywhere unescorted.
Jamine crossed her arms. “Master Simule, why are you asking my sister these questions?”
Simule glanced at her. “It is my duty to keep the peace.”
This time she raised both eyebrows. “Are you accusing my sister of some kind of a crime?” Jamine heightened the pitch in her voice just enough to convey that she was insulted.
“Accusing?” He waved the words away with his crop as if it were a magic wand making them disappear. “No, there is not enough evidence…”
“Evidence?” Jamine scowled. “This sounds like a legal matter. I think we should seek council from a proleaf.”
Simule pursed his lips. “There is no need for that.”
“Why are you accusing my sister?” Jamine pressed. “If you lack evidence, then what do you have? A witness, perhaps?”
Simule chuckled nervously, trying to make light of the situation. “I beg your pardon, young ladies. No one is accused of anything. I was merely asking questions.” He smiled falsely.
“Fine, sir, but now it is my turn to ask you questions.” Jamine stepped around the counter and stood up to him as if she were a noblewoman. Even though she was a foot shorter than he was, he looked smaller just then. “What are you investigating?”
He considered her for a moment. “Very well. It seems that since about a week after you arrived in Rilen’s Crossing, there has been a series of thefts.”
‘I will kill you!’ Jamine shouted in Meg’s head.
‘I didn’t do anything.’
Simule continued. “The thief has done quite well. Just last night he—or she—made off with pieces from my personal collection.”
Jamine was seething. ‘You don’t fool me, Meg. You said all along how we should have gone to the magistrate’s mansion.’
‘But I wouldn’t go in by myself. We’re a team. I promised you I wouldn’t work alone anymore.’
“So you are assuming that since the thefts started after our arrival that we are involved?” Jamine shook her head. “That is pretty thin conjecture, based only on coincidence.”
‘If it wasn’t you, then who?’ Jamine asked Meg.
‘I am not the only thief on Adonia. There are dozens of thieves’ guilds at work in this country alone.’
‘Worse luck that one should choose to come here now, though,’ Jamine’s mental voice was a dark mutter.
Meg nodded glumly.
“You are correct, but it is a coincidence I cannot overlook. A servant thought she saw a woman in the shadows last night. This morning, the jewels were discovered missing.” Simule watched them carefully, observing their reaction.
“My dear Lord,” Jamine spoke through slightly gritted teeth. “I will forget that you have mistakenly accused us of such a grievous crime.”
He pulled something from his sleeve and held it up for them. It was a stem of small purple star-shaped flowers with five petals and bright yellow stamens. Meg recognized it immediately. Once again Simule watched them for their reaction.
‘Nightshade,’ Jamine thought to Meg.
‘She does love leaving a calling card. I told you it wasn’t me.’
“Do you know what this is?” Simule waved the stem under Jamine’s nose.
Jamine nodded. “It is a flower. But it’s a little too wilted to serve as an apology for falsely accusing someone of a crime.”
He set it on the counter. “It was left in place of the jewels, as is the habit of the notorious thief known as Nightshade.”
‘Notorious? Oh, please,’ Meg scoffed. ‘I can run circles around her.’
“There is a rather sizeable reward for the capture of Nightshade,” he said with a slimy smile.
“Well then, you should go and find them so you can collect your reward,” Jamine said curtly. “I think you should take any further inquiries up with our master.”
“Your master is not here.”
“He’ll be back shortly.” Meg made sure to sound as young and eager to please as she could manage. “He’s on his daily walk to the widow Girilidan’s.”
The magistrate shifted his weight. Meg knew he would rather die than be seen in that part of town. “Just tell your master I was here when he gets back.”
“He is back.” A kindly voice floated through the doorway. Lameel tottered in and closed the door Simule had left open. It bothered Meg that Lameel was the only person she had ever met that she could not sense when he came near.
He was Jamine’s height and his pale blue cloak was in need of mending. Yellow-white hair flowed out from beneath a tall blue pointed hat of the sort that one thinks of a wizard as wearing, though one could hardly call him a wizard. Jamine was far more powerful than Lameel “The Simply Amazing,” as he preferred to be called. He leaned on his staff. It was nothing more than an amateurishly carved oak walking stick with no magical capabilities. Around his neck he wore a thick silver chain with a pendant, an amulet with some power.
The pendant was a round milky moonstone wrapped several times with a silver chain. A fine but detailed etching of a man’s face could be seen in the moonstone when held at the right angle. Meg had held the amulet several times in her efforts to free it from her master. Each time the amulet instantly reappeared around Lameel’s neck.
Lameel crossed behind the counter. “How may my humble shop be of service to you?”
“Master, the good magistrate has some questions for us regarding recent thefts in the area.” Jamine had an edge in her voice.
Lameel’s response was sly. “Really? You came to ask questions, Magistrate? Or did you simply come to admire the exquisite beauty of my two apprentices?”
Jamine blushed on cue. Meg had always admired the ability in her. “Master, you embarrass me.”
‘Nice touch,’ Meg thought to Jamine.
‘It’s a gift,’ Jamine thought back.
Simule blinked. “They are quite lovely, however—”
“Of course, I could not blame you,” Lameel interrupted. “They are so beautiful. One with hair of fire and a flame behind her golden eyes, who plays the lute like an elfin queen.” Lameel bowed to Meg and this time she blushed, though she did not mean to.
‘That one almost looked real,’ Jamine giggled in her head.
Lameel turned back to Jamine. “And the other, with midnight hair, a complexion like a bronze goddess and violet eyes to pierce the heart. I daresay any mere mortal would fall prey to their graces.”
Simule’s smile was brittle. “As you say, they are exquisite.”
“Yet beauty often hides darker things.” Lameel leaned over the counter and whispered to Simule. “Perhaps they are blinding us with their charms. Maybe they are here just to steal their way into my confidence so they can make off with my prize.” He lightly touched the amulet he wore as if to satisfy himself that it was still there.
Meg fought the urge to gape at him. Did he truly suspect them? Had they been so transparent?
‘I don’t like the sound of this.’ Jamine glanced at Meg.
‘Don’t panic!’ Meg realized she had stopped playing.
The silence was broken by Lameel’s wheezy laughter. “Can you imagine anything as foolish as that?” He slapped the glass case with his hand and Simule’s hat fell off. “Look closely, my dear magistrate. I tell you that you will not find two finer maids in all the Twelve Kingdoms, in both charm and innocence. I consider myself quite fortunate that I found them huddled cold and wet in the alley behind my shop.” Again he leaned forward. “I’m half tempted to leave the shop to them and go out and explore the known world. Or the unknown world, for that matter.”
Simule laughed falsely with Lameel. The sisters joined in shyly.
Lord Simule said, “I was simply seeking information regarding some recent thefts. Everything must be set in order by the week’s end.”
Lameel stroked his flowing yellow-white beard. “Hmm, out to impress the duke, I suspect.”
Jamine shot a look of concern to Meg.
‘Which duke?’ Meg questioned in her mind and with her brows.
Simule bent to pick up his hat. “Well, he will be passing through next week.”
‘NEXT WEEK!’ Jamine’s complexion drained before Meg’s eyes.
Meg instinctively tried to calm her. ‘It’s all right.’
‘How could it be?’
Simule’s tone was haughty as he dusted off the brim of his hat. “It is my duty to keep the peace for the duke.”
“The duke, like the king, is just a puppet. The real power is with the Conclave.” Lameel sniffed dismissively.
Meg felt a chill and quelled the urge to call a knife into her hand.
“SHUT UP, you old fool!” Simule whispered loudly, his face aflame as he crumpled the brim of his hat. “They have ears and eyes everywhere!”
“Bah,” Lameel brushed him off. “They have power, but they are not gods.”
Meg looked apprehensively at the door.
“Master Lameel,” Jamine interrupted. “My sister and I have some free time coming to us. Perhaps now?”
“Hmm,” Lameel seemed far off in thought. “Yes, yes, my dear. The rest of the day is yours.”
“Thank you, Master.” The old man patted her on the head like a father sending a child out to play. Meg could not help feel some warmth toward him. He truly had been kind to them.
As they fetched their cloaks, Meg felt her sister’s tension. ‘Don’t panic, Jamine. I’m sure that no one heard him mention the Conclave.’ Even in her mind, she said the name barely in a whisper. ‘Why did he have to go and mention them?’
‘We have to get out of here,’ Jamine stressed to Meg.
The two sisters curtsied to the men. Meg was starting to feel cornered. Talk of the Conclave sped her heart. Old fears from childhood took over her rational thoughts. She pictured a group of evil wizards in black robes dripping with the blood of all who opposed them. Jamine opened the door. The bell jingled merrily, as if mocking her dark thoughts.
Just then, Meg sensed someone coming up to the shop. Her fears had shaken her, otherwise she would have noticed him earlier. Now that she had, however, she was overwhelmed with his thoughts. Meg paused and shook her head. In all her life the only thoughts she had ever been able to sense were her sister’s. One clear thought at the forefront of his mind came through. He was looking for Meg!
‘Wait!’ she mind shouted, too late to stop her sister.
(Continued Next Week in Chapter 3)