by Claire Buss
(Extract from her short story, Ye Olde Magick Shoppe)
Fortunately, Fred was on main gate duty so it didn’t take Ned long to find him. The young lad waved enthusiastically, which made his plumed helmet topple off his head. As he made a grab for that, he let go of his ornamental spear, and they both clattered loudly to the floor.
‘Private Petri! Pick up that spear this instant! You are meant to be a guard of the illustrious palace of our Emperor, may he live for ever and ever! Not a juggler in the circus!’
There was no person attached to the voice but Ned knew it was Corporal Hobbs from the excessive use of exclamation points and the high-pitched, nasal quality to the screech-like shout. Most likely, Hobbs was exercising his authority over Private Petri and sitting down in the small guard hut nearby. Fred’s magnificently plumed helmet rolled through a puddle and came to rest at Ned’s feet. He picked it up and gave it a little shake to try and get rid of the mud but it ended up looking even more bedraggled.
Fred took it back with a mournful look on his face.
‘Not to worry, Fred. These things happen.’ Ned tried to cheer him up.
‘This is me fourth plume this month, Mr Spinks, sir. Me mam will be so cross at me. I try real hard, you know, on account of our Brian. He’s still off sick with the collywobbles and someone’s got to pay for that expensive medicine you can only get from the apothecary down Seven Mile Avenue.’ Fred looked sideways to make sure Corporal Hobbs wasn’t paying him any attention. ‘Between you and me, Mr Spinks, sir, I don’t think our Brian will ever be back in uniform. He just doesn’t suit a plume.’ Fred smiled earnestly at Ned who couldn’t help but smile in return. ‘How can I help you today, Mr Spinks, sir? Do you need an appointment with the Emperor, may he live forever and ever, because I thought you had one of them card blanky things that got you in whenever you wanted to. Not that I’m prying but, you know, that’s what I thought.’
‘Actually, Fred, it’s you I’ve come to see.’
‘Have you seen the new Shoppe, down in Market Street?’ asked Ned, just as Jenni popped into existence at his side making Fred yelp, jump, and very nearly drop his helmet again. He needed a moment to compose himself before answering.
‘I’m not in trouble, am I? Fred’s Adam’s apple was bobbing excessively.
‘No, no. No trouble.’ Ned waited. He didn’t have to wait long. Fred was excellent at filling in a silence.
‘They’re very rare you know. Olde Magic Shoppes. They only come up once in a blue moon. Interesting fact, we had a blue moon a couple of months ago. More regular than you might think.’ Fred looked up at the sky, in case there was a moon.
‘Was there a Shoppe there, then?’ asked Jenni.
‘Ooh, I don’t know Miss Sprite. Was there?’ Fred looked down eagerly.
‘Anyway,’ Ned interjected. ‘Did you visit the Shoppe this time?’
Fred was about to answer but was forestalled by Corporal Hobbs’s screech making everyone flinch. ‘Petri!’
‘Yes, sir, Corporal Hobbs, sir!’ Fred shot an apologetic look at Ned and Jenni as he about turned and marched sharply to the nearby small guard hut.
Jenni picked at her teeth and scuffed a few pebbles with her feet while they pretended they couldn’t hear the conversation.
‘Private Petri! The Emperor, may he live for ever and ever, wants you to take a message to that layabout Thief-Catcher Spinks. Mark my words Petri, he may be in favour now but the tip of that iceberg ain’t no molehill.’
Fred had no answering comment. Few people who spoke to Corporal Hobbs did. He mixed his metaphors, badly. Fred saluted, nearly knocking his helmet off again and marched smartly back to his post. ‘He doesn’t mean it you know, Mr Spinks, sir. It’s his sandwiches. They was egg. Always puts him in a powerful bad mood does eggs.’ Fred glanced backwards to make sure Corporal Hobbs wasn’t listening. ‘He has eggs most days,’ he added in a conspiratorial tone and beamed at them, rocking a little, back and forth on his heels.
An uncomfortable silence began to brew.
‘The message?’ Ned asked finally.
‘Oh right! The message. Well, I haven’t got my trumpet on account of it being at the cleaners. There was an incident with mouse droppings. I won’t go into it but they are nothing like tiny little chocolate raisins, let me tell you! So, I can’t do you a fanfare, is that alright, Mr Spinks, sir?’
Ned nodded wearily.
‘Ahem.’ Fred unfurled the short parchment roll Corporal Hobbs had handed him. He peered at it, mouthing the words silently before giving a small nod. ‘Ahem.’
‘You already said that,’ remarked Jenni.
Ned nudged her to be quiet.
‘Ahem, ‘ said Fred. ‘The Emperor, may he live for ever and ever, wishes to discuss the appearance of an Olde Magic Shoppe on Market Street and determine how best to move it along.’ Fred finished reading. ‘Ere, that’s handy, that is. You was just asking about the shoppe and that. Small world, eh?’
‘Thanks, Fred, really. Now before I go see the Emperor, can you tell me what happened at the shoppe?’
‘May he live for ever and ever,’ Fred muttered quickly before trying to scratch his head, forgetting the helmet was in the way. The plume teetered alarmingly. ‘Right, the shoppe. Well, I was going to go in like. Just to have a look. I mean our Graeme, that’s Graeme from the harbour not Graham from the docks. You know the one, right?’
Ned nodded. He was getting to the end of his patience.
‘Well, our Graeme had dared me to go, next time one of the shoppes came along; so, when I heard it was here, I sort of went along and had a look.’
‘And?’ Ned had been hoping for a little more.
‘Oh, it was closed. Out for lunch or something.’
Ned stalked past Fred towards the main Palace courtyard.
‘Bad for business if you ask me!’ shouted Fred behind him.
Jenni scampered alongside Ned. ‘He’s a pillock, ain’t he, boss?’
‘Something like that Jenni, something like that.’ Ned rubbed his chin. He wondered who they’d be grilled by today. Just because he’d received a summons to see the Emperor didn’t mean he would actually be talking to him.
He was correct. The High Left Inquisitor and the High Right, the Honourable Lord Chamberlain, were waiting for him in the third best meeting room.
‘Spinks. That was efficient. Most unlike you.’ High Left looked down at Ned, his nose wrinkled at a bad smell. Ned wasn’t worried, it would only be Jenni.
‘How can we be of assistance?’ he asked.
‘This little shoppe needs to go. The Emperor, may he live for ever and ever, has received complaints. Complaints lead to independent thinking.’ The High Right waggled his eyebrows at Ned. Jenni watched in fascination then began trying to move her own, whilst squinting cross-eyed and sticking her tongue out as she concentrated. Ned did his best to ignore her.
‘We can’t have that, sir,’ he replied.
‘No, Spinks. We cannot.’ The two Highs watched him impassively. Ned waited to make sure there was nothing else forthcoming. There wasn’t so he took his leave. Jenni was still trying to waggle her eyebrows.
The pair walked over to Market Street. It was about time they had a word with this shoppe keeper. Sparks flitted out to meet them as they arrived.
‘Jenni, translate please,’ asked Ned. The firefly was difficult to understand at the best of times and Ned was not going back to the office for the strap on translator. It pinched.
Sparks gave a very animated light show. Jenni nodded and hummed and hahhed at the firefly which made him add a few extra flashy embellishments to his report. It wasn’t often he got to do stakeouts on account of the very likely possibility that someone would swat him.
‘Thanks, pal,’ said Jenni as she turned to Ned and Sparks buzzed off. ‘Nuffink ‘appened.’
‘That’s all he said?’ asked Ned sceptically.
‘Huh.’ Ned examined the shoppe. The closed sign was still on display, the interior still looked dark and uninviting. On a hunch, Ned extended his hand and gingerly turned the doorknob. The shoppe door swung open. Jenni pulled a magical fireball out, just in case, while Ned checked his power well. His spell casting was more miss than hit but they had no idea what they were walking into. As they passed over the threshold, Jenni’s magic winked out instantly and she shook her head at Ned.
‘I ain’t got nuffink.’
‘Well, that’s surely not the case. Someone always has something.’ An elderly voice quivered from the darkest corner of the shoppe. ‘Forgive me, where are my manners.’ Fingers snapped and the shoppe lights blazed on. ‘Mr Wisslethump, at your service, purveyor of unique items and distributor or rare artefacts. How may I assist you today?’ He glared at Jenni, who was about to touch an interesting looking box. It had blinking eyes all over it. ‘You touch it, you buy it!’ Mr Wisslethump snapped.
Jenni stuck her tongue out at him and shoved her hands very firmly into the pockets of her coat.
‘Mr Wisslethump, I’m afraid we need you to move on. You can’t continue to tether your establishment here in this street,’ said Ned, trying in vain to sound sympathetic and failing miserably.
‘Why? Where am I?’
‘You’re in Roshaven, on Market Street, a residential area,’ explained Ned.
‘Are you sure?’ asked Mr Wisslethump, his eyes glinting.
‘Yeah, we are. We just come from there and the Emperor, e’s not very ‘appy with this, alright?’ Jenni was starting to get annoyed. There was a great deal of magic here and it wasn’t fae and it wasn’t like the power her boss used. It was giving her the heebie-jeebies.
‘Then I shall move on, of course,’ replied Mr Wisslethump. He dipped his head in agreement and held an arm out towards the door.
‘Come on Jenni, let’s leave Mr Wisslethump to his shoppe.’ Ned ushered Jenni to the door. He opened it but then turned back. ‘Thank you for your understanding, Mr Wisslethump.’
‘No problem at all,’ came the reply.
Ned stepped out into a field. That was odd, they had been in the middle of a street when they entered the shoppe.
‘Er, boss? I don’t fink we’re in Roshaven anymore.’
In fact, the pair of them stood in a field in the middle of goodness knows where. Ned spun round to give the shoppe keeper a piece of his mind and there was nothing there. He looked up at the sky. Sure enough, a blue moon was already out, getting ready for later. He looked around and spied a mile marker at the far end of the field.
‘C’mon Jenni. Let’s find out where the bloody hell we are.’
The two of them tramped over the field, trying to ignore the sticky mud determined to adhere to their shoes and trousers. The mile marker read Roshaven 300 miles west. Then it shimmered and disappeared.
Ned pursed his lips. How very kind of the shopkeeper to at least leave them with a direction to travel. He squared his shoulders and headed out in the opposite one.
‘But boss, it says Roshaven is that way,’ Jenni protested.
‘Trust me. Nothing good lies that way.’
Copyright Claire Buss 2019
'They're very rare you know. Olde Magic Shoppes. They only come up once in a blue moon. Interesting fact, we had a blue moon a couple of months ago. More regular than you might think.'