Read Ten Little Wizards: A Lord Darcy Novel Online

Authors: Michael Kurland,Randall Garrett

Tags: #fantasy, #alternate history, #Lord Darcy, #Randall Garrett, #Mystery, #detective

Ten Little Wizards: A Lord Darcy Novel

BOOK: Ten Little Wizards: A Lord Darcy Novel
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Borgo Press Books by Michael Kurland

The Princes of Earth: A Science Fiction Novel

A Study in Sorcery: A Lord Darcy Novel

Ten Little Wizards: A Lord Darcy Novel

Copyright Information

Copyright © 1988, 2011 by Michael Kurland

Published by Wildside Press LLC

www.wildsidebooks.com

Dedication

For Linda Robertson,

Friend, companion, critic,

With love

INTRODUCTION

My good friend and master fictioneer Randall Garrett one spring day had a wonderful idea. “Suppose,” he said, “that, in some alternate universe, King Richard Plantagenet, Richard Cœur de Leon, survived the wound he incurred at the Siege of Chaluz and returned to England to rule wisely and well for the next twenty years. And upon his death in 1219, suppose his nephew Arthur had taken the throne instead of his brother John (King John, who as we all know was not a good man, having died two years before). And suppose Arthur had done an even better job of ruling than Richard and had gone down in history as ‘Good King Arthur,’ and was often confused in the popular mind with the earlier King Arthur of the Sixth Century.

“And further,” proposed Randall, “in this alternate universe, where the Plantagenets are still on the throne of what has grown into a mighty Empire, just suppose that
magic works!

And upon that rock Randall, in a dozen or so short stories and one novel,
Too Many Magicians
, built the Angevin Empire and introduced his readers to Lord Darcy, chief investigator for His Royal Highness Duke Richard of Normandy and Lord Darcy’s associate, Master Sean O Locklainn, Chief Forensic Sorcerer for the Duchy of Normandy.

For the reader the partnership proved—dare I say it?—magical. An editor told Randall that when a Lord Darcy story appeared in his magazine the monthly newsstand sales went up substantially. And Randall thoroughly enjoyed his creation, working out the rules and limits of Magic and discovering what, in his alternate universe, magic
couldn’t
do. (As Master Sean O Lochlainn occasionally pointed out to His Lordship of Arcy when asked to do something beyond his powers, “I’m a magician, Your Lordship,
not
a miracle worker!”) After all, if magic could do everything there’d be no mystery, there’d be no tension, there’d be no
story
. The magician would merely wave his wand and all would be revealed, the bad guys would be punished, and goodness and mercy would reign supreme.

Randall had an abiding interest in things medieval; as Lord Randall of Hightower (his house was at the top of Bernal Heights in San Francisco), he had been one of the founding members of the Society of Creative Anachronism. He put all of his knowledge and his considerable talent into the Lord Darcy stories and, just for his own pleasure, filled them with invisible puns and in-jokes. He believed that a well-crafted in-joke should be seen only by its intended audience and be invisible to all other readers. If spotted but not understood, he thought, it would annoy the reader, and Randall was too fond of his readers to ever want to discommode them even for an instant.

Randall inserted some of his real-life companions into this alternate world. Our good friend Tom Waters appeared in several stories as Sir Thomas Leseaux, master of magical symbology, and I was cast in one story as a serjeant of the guards and in another as a bottle of fine brandy. Which, considering how Randall loved fine brandy, was a compliment indeed.

I took over writing the Lord Darcy stories in the 1980s, after Randall became sickened by a mysteriously-acquired encephalitis and was unable to work. I produced two novel-length forays into the Angevin Empire,
Ten Little Wizards
and
A Study in Sorcery
, doing my best to remain faithful to the characters and the world Randall had created, and, as Randall always did, to amuse and entertain my readers.

Randall left this universe on the last day of 1987. What alternate reality is now graced with his at times overwhelming presence I cannot tell. I like to picture Lord Randall of Hightower sitting in the back room of
The Queen and Castle,
nursing a pint of the landlord’s best and discussing the finer points of the Law of Similarity with Master Sean or listening to Lord Darcy explain just how the victim came to be stabbed to death in the middle of a field with no prints in the fresh snow except his own and no weapon in evidence. And, maybe just for a few hours one last time, I’d like to join him in that pub.

Serjeant Michael Kurland

Company B, The Duke’s Own Dragoons

The Imperial Legion

San Francisco, March 2011

NOTE

The two lines of
poetry quoted at the end of page 143 are by Alexander Pope, who we will have to assume also lived and wrote in this alternate universe.

CHAPTER ONE

The agent known as Pyat tiptoed down the dark second-floor hallway, stocking feet silently moving along the margins of the polished hardwood floor. It was three o’clock of a cold, wet April morning, and throughout the Gryphon d’Or, and indeed for ten leagues in any direction from the old inn, not another soul was awake. Even the hostlers snoring in their cots above the stable had another hour before they pushed themselves into semiconsciousness and began feeding and grooming the early post mounts.

Pyat paused before one of the row of doors and felt the brass numbers with a delicate touch. A door too soon; the next room was the one he looked for. Five more steps, fingers lightly following the wall in the pitch-black corridor, and here it was.

The door was locked, of course; even here in the middle of the peaceful Duchy of Normandy, in the midst of the Angevin Empire, in the Year of Grace 1988, there were still sneak thieves and burglars. But the lock on an inn room door was no problem for a skilled picklock, and the commercial lock spell was no match for a counterspell woven by a master wizard.

Pyat crouched before the door for ten minutes, his hands moving in intricate patterns, his voice intoning precisely pronounced, harsh syllables. There was a flash of light, and then another, and the pungent smell of wormwood arose, to quickly dissipate in the cold air. Carefully he inserted a slender silver key into the keyhole and then gently rotated it clockwise. The wards cleared, the lands raised, and the lock clicked open.

Silently, Pyat pulled open the door. The room was as ink black as the corridor. He stood and listened, hearing only the regular, slightly asthmatic breathing of the man sleeping within the room and the steady drumming of the rain hitting the window. Satisfied, he stepped inside and closed the door. Feeling his way cautiously, he approached the bed. With a delicate touch, he located the great feather pillow at the head of the bed and, a moment later, the head of the man sleeping on it.

He removed a thin wire from his tunic, and in one motion had it around the sleeping man’s neck. He pulled firmly at both ends. There was a slight gargling sound, pushed through the man’s constricted windpipe; his body convulsed once, twice, kicked at the covers, and then was still.

The bedclothes on the far side of the double bed rustled; the unmistakable sound of someone sitting up. “My lord? Is something wrong?”

Pyat froze. It was a woman’s voice. His target had a female companion. Whence had she come? No time for reflection. Pyat dove across the corpse and felt the body of a woman under the coverlet on the far side. She giggled for a second as Pyat’s hands ran up her body. “Really, my lord,” she whispered, “at this time of night!”

Pyat found her throat and his fingers tightened.

“My lord!” the woman gasped, her hands grabbing Pyat’s wrists and trying to pull them away. “What are you—?” And then some horrible realization came to her, and with her last breath she screamed; a shrill, penetrating scream. And then she fell back on the bed, and she, too, was still.

Pyat lay there, over one corpse, his hands still clutching another, and tried to catch his breath. Had anyone within heard the scream? It would not have carried outside, over the rain. Would anyone rise from the comfort of their bed for a predawn investigation of the noise?

Nothing stirred.

Pyat rose and went to the door. Opening it, he stood silent and listened for the slightest sound elsewhere in the large inn. Aside from the creaks of an old house settling, there was no sound.

Pyat went about his work. Two bodies would complicate things, but not unduly. His plans were made; his preparations were in place. In half an hour of hard, wet work the bodies were disposed of, and he was in the bed they had vacated. He slept well.

CHAPTER TWO

Master Sorcerer Raimun DePlessis could not escape the feeling that something was wrong. A large man who used his great bulk to insulate himself from the world around him, Master Raimun seldom suffered from such a feeling. Now that he had it, he wasn’t sure exactly what to do about it. He sat in his corner of the compartment in the first-class railway carriage that bore him away from Tournadotte and the really excellent breakfast supplied by the Gryphon d’Or, and tried to analyze what was bothering him.

In normal times Castle Cristobel, Master Raimun’s destination, would have been about a three-hour train ride; but with the heavy rains, they had been warned it might take as much as two or three hours longer. But time was not a constraint on Master Raimun. He had several good books: two works of historical fiction and a treatise on topological magic that he had been meaning to read for some time. No—it was something else nagging at the edge of his mind.

Master Raimun tucked his powder-blue Master Sorcerer’s robes around him and leaned back farther in his seat, taking on the appearance of a round, balding, jowly head perched on the back of a blue beach ball. He surveyed his fellow compartment-mates. They had all been to breakfast at the inn with him, so presumably they had all stayed overnight at the inn as he had, although he couldn’t remember seeing any of them prior to breakfast.

Opposite him, perched like a slender bird on the very edge of the seat next to the window, was a young nobleman wearing a black traveling cape and a wide-brim black hat. He had the look about him, from the cut of his boots to the strategically placed leather patches on his breeches, of a young man who would much rather be on a horse. His light blue eyes darted about the compartment, fastening first on one thing and then another. The expression on his face suggested that he expected one of the compartment’s inanimate objects to suddenly come to life and spring at him, and he didn’t want to be surprised.

The dispatch case clutched between his legs looked to be official, which marked the youth as a courier of some sort and explained his horsey look. The train network through the Empire was not yet extensive enough, and couriers still spent much of their travel time on horseback.

To that young nobleman’s right was a short, stocky man in the garb of a commercial traveler, sitting well back in the seat, his feet together, his arms at his side. He was staring unseeingly at the wall a foot from Master Raimun’s right ear, and was obviously deep in his own thoughts. The man had a strange lack of unnecessary motion; no fidgets, no twitches, no readjusting the shoulders or hands or legs. It was as though he were waiting to be turned on.

And to his right, in the corner seat by the door to the corridor, was a small, neat man with a spade beard and piercing brown eyes. His clothes had that vaguely over-exuberant look of the southern tailor; perhaps Rome or Pisa. The luggage over his seat, Master Raimun noted, was of fine Italian leather. He noticed Master Raimun looking at him, and smiled and nodded politely before turning again to the copy of the
Paris Courier
that he was reading.

On the seat next to Master Raimun was a serious-looking young man with a round face and a well-developed bushy mustache, who was deeply engrossed in a book on fly fishing, full of color plates of dry flies that you could make yourself out of bits of twine and an occasional feather. His clothing had a well-worn look, suggestive of streams and marshes.

The only other person in the car was an elderly lady with a high-collared dark red dress, who clutched a rolled umbrella possessively. She looked as though, with the slightest encouragement, she would tell you all about each of her grandchildren. Or, possibly, her pet cats.

After observing his five compartment-mates, Master Raimun turned to stare out the window. It was a cold and rainy morning, and the window was fogged over enough that vision was restricted to a view of the trees and bushes by the edge of the roadway as they whipped past. He let his mind go blank as he stared at the repetitive scene. Somewhere, at the edge of volition, the thing bothering him was struggling to be heard. But its shrill but faint voice was too easily overpowered by the day-to-day thoughts that came unbidden.

The fog swirled and thickened, and the carriage bumped gently over the rail points. Master Raimun’s breathing steadied, and his mind slowly cleared of the minute-to-minute trivia and became receptive.

Receptive—that was it!
It wasn’t his own feeling nagging at him, it was someone else’s. Master Raimun was a healer and a sensitive, although not a priest. Most of his work was theoretical these days, and his mind was no longer accustomed to being receptive to another’s thoughts.

But here was a soul in torment. It was heavily masked, but it came through clearly now that his mind was jerked away from its own preoccupation. One of the persons in this carriage, he realized, was in great psychic pain. Was he being nosy? It was very improper and impolite for a sensitive to intrude unbidden on another’s feelings. Even though he couldn’t actually read someone else’s mind, like those mental entertainers in the music halls claimed to do, feeling someone else’s emotions could be a violation of privacy.

But such pain—

He would merely establish which of the five it was, and then privately take them aside and suggest that they see a qualified priest-healer. The sufferer might object even to that, but he felt it his duty.

He concentrated, his eyes closed, and let the feelings wash over him.

What? But that was impossible!
Master Raimun’s eyes flew open, and he felt as though he had been punched in his expansive gut. The air whooshed out of his mouth with explosive force as his stomach muscles contracted in response to his mind’s commands.

The pain—the anger that he felt—was directed at
him!
One of the five persons in this carriage with him was carrying around a load of hatred so strong that it was almost physical. It was well masked under layers of tight control, but Master Raimun could feel it like a physical blast. Aimed at him! One of the persons in this carriage hated him.

He kept staring out the window for a minute, getting his physical reactions back under control, afraid to turn around. His feelings would show on his face. He must mask them. He must find out which of his fellow passengers was this poor, warped soul. He must get him professional help. Perhaps one of the healing fathers at the Stephainite Monastery at Castle Cristobel. But he must not let it be seen that he knew. It would embarrass the person and serve no useful purpose. Especially since the emotion was directed at him. That would never do.

Slowly, casually, he turned around to face back into the compartment. None of his companions was looking at him. None of them was showing on the surface the turmoil that Master Raimun recognized underneath.

A true professional consecrated healer, a priest with the Talent, dedicated to his calling, would have been able to tell in an instant which of the five it was. But Master Raimun was not a priest, and his Talent had been trained and practiced along other lines.

He looked them over carefully; the man in black, the stocky man, the man with the spade beard, the young man with the mustache, the elderly lady—he could not recall ever having seen any of them before that day. None of them could he conceivably have injured in any way. And yet one of them hated him. It was a puzzle.

But it was also a deucedly awkward situation. He couldn’t stay in the compartment. Not with that wash of emotion around. By the time they got to Castle Cristobel, he’d be a nervous wreck.

He pushed himself to his feet, smiled blandly to the others, and waddled past the several pair of feet out into the corridor. There must be vacant space in one of the other compartments.

Ah, he was in luck! Here, two compartments down, was his old friend Master Sir Darryl Longuert, a fine sorcerer and a boon companion. Even though he had recently been appointed the Wizard Laureate of England, Master Sir Darryl still traveled alone and without fuss. Master Raimun knocked on the compartment door and entered. “Sir Darryl!” he said, relaxing into a corner seat. “How lucky to run into you here. I’ve just had the strangest experience.”

Sir Darryl, a kindly man with a smile-creased face and a healthy twinkle in his hazel eyes, sighed and closed his book. “Tell me about it,” he said.

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