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Wrede, Patricia C - Mairelon 01

BOOK: Wrede, Patricia C - Mairelon 01
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Mairelon the Magician

A TOM DOHERTY ASSOCIATES BOOK
NEW YORK

           
This is a
work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in
these novels are either products of the author's imagination or are used
fictitiously.

           
Mairelon
the Magician
copyright (c) 1991 by Patricia C. Wrede

           
All
rights reserved.

           
An Orb
Book

           
Published
by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC

           
175
Fifth
Avenue

           
New
York
,
NY
10010

           
www.tor-forge.com

           
ISBN
978-0-7653-2632-4

           
First
Omnibus Trade Paperback Edition: June 2010

           
Printed
in the
United States of America

           
0 9 8 7 6
5 4 3 2 1

1

           
Kim
walked slowly through the crowd, slipping in and out of the traffic almost
without thinking. She enjoyed the noise and bustle common to all the
London
markets, but Hungerford was her favorite. Though it was small by comparison to
Covent
Garden
or Leaden hall, it was very busy. Carts stood hub-to-hub
along the sides of the street, leaving only narrow aisles for the customers.
The more fortunate among the sellers had permanent stalls; others displayed
their shoes or brooms or baskets on bare strips of pavement. Still others
walked through the crowd with baskets of turnips, apples, parsnips, onions, or
cress, crying their wares in unmusical voices.

           
Kim let
the flow of traffic carry her closer to the market's most recent addition,
eyeing it with a mingling of curiosity and professional appraisal. It was a
wagon painted in sun-bleached yellow and gold, its tall red wheels half hidden
by the stalls on either side. Two large doors made up the end of the wagon that
faced the street, and they were fastened with a rusty padlock. The doors
carried a rough painting of a man in a black top hat, with a string of
incomprehensible but decorative letters just below him.

           
The
wagoneer had bagged one of the best spots in the market, right between Jamie
the Tailor and Red Sal's fish stand. Kim frowned. Sal was a good sort, but she
wouldn't take kindly to having Kim lighten a wagon next to her.
Even if "lightening" wasn't exactly what Kim planned to
do.
Jamie was more irritable but not so noticing. Kim's frown deepened.
She wondered, not for the first time, whether she'd been wise to take this job.
Toffs were trouble, no two ways, and a toff knowing enough to find Kim in the
back streets of
London
. . .

           
Firmly
Kim brought her mind back to the business at hand. The wagon was close enough
to Red Sal's to have scraped the paint off the side of the stall, had there
been any paint to scrape. Small as she was, Kim would never be able to squeeze
through. She'd have to go in past Jamie's, then, and time things so he was busy
with a customer. She looked at the wagon with misgiving.

           
A man
came around the corner of the wagon and began undoing the latches at the rear.
He was tall and thin and everything about him seemed to droop, from his baggy
trousers to his sloping shoulders to the brim of his slouch hat. Even his
mustache drooped, and as he worked he chewed absently first on one end and then
the other.

           
The doors
swung open, and Kim blinked in surprise. The entire rear end of the wagon was
occupied by a tiny stage. A faded red curtain separated the back of the stage
from the wagon's interior. Kim forgot her eventual goal and slid closer,
fascinated. The droopy man swung a small ladder down at the right side of the
stage and latched it in place, then climbed onto the stage itself. He vanished
behind the curtain, only to reappear a moment later carrying a table, which he
set carefully in the middle of the stage. Then he began hanging lanterns on
either side.

           
A crowd
began to collect around the end of the wagon, drawn by the curious spectacle of
something being set up in the market in complete silence. Some of the
bystanders offered comments as the lanterns were hung and lit--"Waste o'
good oil, that," and "Bit crooked, ain't she?" The droopy man
chewed on his mustache, but gave no sign that he had heard.

           
He
finished his work and disappeared once more behind the curtain. For a long
moment there was no further activity, and the small crowd murmured in
disappointment. Before they could begin to drift away, there was a loud crash,
and a thick cloud of white smoke enveloped the stage.

           
"Come
one, come all!" called a ringing voice from the center of the smoke.
"Prepare to be amazed and astonished by the one, the only--Mairelon the
Magician!"

           
With the
last words, the smoke dissipated.
In the center of the stage
stood a man.
His hair was dark above a rounded face, and he had a small,
neat mustache but no beard. He wore a black opera cape and a top hat, which
made it difficult to assess his height; Kim judged him middling tall. His right
hand held a silver-headed walking stick.
"Another
toff!"
Kim thought with disgust. She did not for a moment believe
that he was a real magician; if he were, he would never waste his time working
the market. Still, she felt a twinge of uneasiness.

           
The man
held his pose for a moment,
then
threw back his cape.
"I am Mairelon the Magician!" he announced. "Lend me your
attention and I will show you
wonders
. The knowledge
of the East and the West is mine, and the secrets of the mysterious cults of
Africa
and
India
!
Behold!"

           
Mairelon
pulled a silk handkerchief from his pocket and displayed both sides. "A
perfectly ordinary handkerchief--as ordinary, that is, as the finest silk may
be. Stuff of such worth should be kept close." The crowd chuckled as he
stuffed it into his closed fist and it vanished.

           
"Dear
me, I seem to have lost it in spite of my efforts," the magician went on,
opening his fist.
"Now, where . . . ah!"

           
He
reached down toward a pretty muffin-maid standing in front of the stage and
pulled the handkerchief out of her bonnet. A string of colored scarves came
with it, knotted end-to-end. Mairelon frowned. "Now, what am I to do with
all of these?" he mused. Carefully he folded them into a compact ball and
wrapped the ball in the white handkerchief. When he shook it out, the scarves
were gone.

           
The flow
of chatter continued as Mairelon borrowed a penny from a man in the crowd and
made it pass through his handkerchief, then vanish and reappear. He pulled an
egg from behind another man's ear, broke it into his hat, then reached into the
hat and removed a live dove. He covered it briefly with his cloak,
then
drew the cloak aside to reveal a large wicker cage with
the dove inside. He placed cage and dove on the floor of the stage and gestured
with his walking stick, and they vanished in a puff of smoke and flame. He
showed the crowd a shallow bowl and had one of the barrow boys fill it with
water, then dropped a sheet of paper in and pulled out ten tiny Chinese lanterns
made of folded paper.

           
Kim
watched the show with unabashed enjoyment. Near the end, the droopy man
reappeared, carrying an ancient tambourine. As Mairelon finished his
performance, his companion circulated among the crowd, collecting pennies and
shillings from the onlookers.

           
Reluctantly
Kim pulled her mind away from the fascinating sight of Mairelon the Magician
juggling eggs that, as they passed between his agile fingers, changed from
white to red to blue to yellow in rapid succession. This was the first time
both men had been outside at once, and she had to know how long the wagon would
be empty.

           
She
started singing "Darlin' Jenny" in her head to mark the time, and
scowled in irritation. Her dislike for this job was growing stronger every
minute. Nicking a purse or pocket watch from the swells in the High Street had
never bothered her, but she'd always hated working the markets. Hungerford was
the nearest she'd had to a home since old Mother Tibb dangled from the nubbing
cheat, and even if all she had to do this time was a bit of snooping, it felt
the same as nabbing a haddock from Red Sal's stand when her back was turned.
Kim contemplated conveniently forgetting to return to the public house where
the toff had arranged to meet her, but the memory of the pound notes the
stranger had offered held her like an iron chain.

           
Five
pounds was a fortune by Kim's standards; she could eat well and sleep dry for
months and still have enough left to replace the ragged jacket and boy's
breeches she wore. If she played her cards right, she might even get out of the
streets for good. It was time and past that she did so; she was, she thought,
nearing seventeen, and her long-delayed growth was finally arriving. She
wouldn't be able to play the boy much longer. A chill ran down her spine, and
she pushed the thought, and the darker knowledge of the inevitable consequences
that would follow the end of her masquerade, resolutely from her mind. Mairelon
the Magician was, for the moment at least, of far greater importance than her
own uncertain future.

           
Mairelon
finished his show in a flurry of flashing knives and whirling scarves, and
bowed deeply. "Thank you for your attention--and for your gracious
contributions." He waved at the tambourine his dour assistant carried, and
the crowd chuckled. "That concludes this performance, but soon Mairelon
the Magician will return to perform even more wondrous feats for your delight
and astonishment!
Until then, my friends!"
In a
second puff of smoke and flame, the magician vanished.

           
Kim
stopped midway through the eighth verse of "Darlin' Jenny" and
slipped away as the crowd began to disperse. She did not want Sal or Jamie
spotting her and remembering it later. Once she was safely away from Mairelon's
wagon, she breathed more easily. She couldn't do anything about the magician
until the end of his next show. She had time, now, to enjoy the market.

           
She
stopped an ancient woman in a faded kerchief and exchanged one of her carefully
hoarded pennies for a bag of roasted chestnuts. She ate them slowly as she
walked, savoring the taste. The unaccustomed warmth in her stomach made her
feel more cheerful, though she still wasn't too keen on the idea of mucking
about in Mairelon's wagon. For one thing, she didn't like the look of the
skinny toff who'd hired her.

           
Unconsciously
she flexed her fingers, making the bag rustle. Five pounds would buy a lot more
than chestnuts. The skinny toff hadn't asked her to nick anything, she reminded
herself, just to look around and tell him what she saw and whether the magician
kept a particular bowl in his wagon. The toff had claimed it was a bet. He
might even be telling the truth; swells'd bet on anything.

           
She
stepped aside to let an oyster-seller push his barrow past. It didn't feel
right. The
gentry
cove had been too keen on her
finding that bowl. He'd gotten positively excited when he started describing
it--silver, he'd said, with a lot of carvings and patterns whose details Kim
had seen no reason to bother remembering.

           
Kim
frowned. Curiosity was her besetting weakness. And five pounds was five pounds.
It wasn't as if she'd be doing any harm. She finished the last of the chestnuts
and stuffed the bag into one of her many pockets, in case she found a use for
it later. She'd do it just the way the toff had asked: go in, look around, and
slip out. Mairelon would never know anyone had been there.

           
And if
she did happen to find that bowl, maybe she'd see what was so special about it.
But she wouldn't mention it to the skinny toff. She'd collect her money and
leave. She might even come back and warn Mairelon about the swell that was
showing so much interest. Market folk should stick together, after all. She
smiled to herself; that'd serve the skinny toff a bit of his own soup!
Whistling cheerfully, she strolled off to see if the puppet show was still
stopping at the far end of the market.

           

           
Evening
found her lurking near Mairelon's wagon once more. This time she stood in the
shadows next to Jamie's stall, leaning on one of its support posts. As the
crowd grew larger, she let herself be pushed back until the open rear door of
the wagon, which formed one side of Mairelon's stage, all but hid the
performance from her sight.

           
Mairelon
was as good as his word. He did not, as far as Kim could tell, repeat any of
the tricks he had used in his earlier performance. This time, he made three
unbroken silver rings pass through each other, locking and interlocking them in
intricate patterns. He bought an apple from a passing vendor and cut it open to
reveal a shilling at its core. The apple seller was promptly surrounded by
hopeful customers, but his remaining wares proved disappointingly ordinary.

BOOK: Wrede, Patricia C - Mairelon 01
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