Rogue Magic, Free Novel, Chapter 6

*This is the new free novel I’m posting here a chapter at a time.  For previous chapters, page back to previous weeks.  This is pre-first-draft, as it comes out.  It is a sequel to Witchfinder which will soon be taken down (once edited) and put for sale on Amazon.  Meanwhile, if you donate $6 or more, I’ll get you a copy of Rogue Magic, once finished and edited, in your favored ebook format.  Of course, if you’re already subscribing to the blog at a level at which you get whichever books come out that year, you don’t need to worry.   Until I give this a tab, you can find older chapters by paging back to Friday (or the first, I think Sat/Sun or simply searching Rogue Magic.*



Twisted Magic


Jonathan Blythe, The Earl Of Savage:


The door to my study opened, and one of the upstairs maids came pelting in.  The sight was more startling than if she had flown in, or perhaps came in doing a perfect ballet step, because the thing is, no way to hide it, maids don’t pelter.  At least maids who have been trained under papa’s aegis and mama’s watching eye don’t.

I half rose from my chair, not quite sure what I meant to do, but ready to either ward off an attack, or catch the girl should she be under the impulse of a magical compulsion.  Not that either was likely, but both have happened, if one is to believe history books and newspaper accounts.  Not that I ever do, because every time I’ve been present at either of these–  But that’s a story for another time.

At that time, what I was faced with was this young woman running straight for me, and she was wearing the uniform of an upstairs maid, all starched black frills and white lace.

Fortunately for me, the chair in which Merritt sat was square in her path.  This made her stop, and I could confirm that besides the uniform, her face was familiar too, a peaked little face with straggles of blond hair escaping from the cap.  I’d be cursed if I had the slightest idea what her name was, but I had seen her go in and out of rooms with warmed bricks for the beds, and the like.

Two things were of concern, besides her running in.  First, she was very pale, and her eyes were red rimmed as though she’d been crying.  This meant you couldn’t trust her.  You never know what a woman will do when she’s been crying.  Why, once, when I tried to give one of my peculiars her conge she started crying and…  If my skull weren’t as thick as it is, you wouldn’t be reading this.

The other thing was that she was clutching a piece of paper in her hand.  I had the odd idea that mama had sacked her, and she was coming to argue the point with me, but that was of course stupid.  After all, why would mama tell her she was fired in writing.  For one, Mama don’t like putting pen to paper above half and used to get Honoria to write everything for her.

Before I could sort through all this and speak, the girl was bobbing up and down like a jack in box, in repeated curtseys and murmuring something like “Forgive me your lordship,” which was daft enough, but not as daft as Wolfe Merritt standing up and looking for all the world like he expected to ask her for a dance.  I mean, I realize she was a woman of his condition and all, but all the same—

“Stop with the bobbing, woman,” I heard myself say, somewhat shocked at how much my voice sounded curt and disdainful, just like Papa’s used to.  “You’re making me seasick.  What do you mean by pelting in here without knocking, and don’t tell me you weren’t pelting.  I know pelting when I see it, and that was pelting.”

The gone, probably more than the inane words stopped her.  After all, she had been trained in papa’s household.  She stopped bobbing and stood, turning even paler though I’d have sworn that was impossible, and swallowing convulsively. I thought she wouldn’t be able to speak, and I was reaching for the bell to call the butler to come and remove her or something, when Merritt gave me the slightest shake of the head, that signified I shouldn’t do that, and then crossed over to the tray with the brandy, poured a bare finger into my used glass, and took it to the girl.  And damme if he didn’t hold her head and put the glass to her lips, and make her drink the whole thing.

We were going to have a drunk housemaid on our hands, not that it wouldn’t perhaps be an improvement on a housemaid who had decided to imitate a jack in box, but all the same, it seemed like it would cause mama of accusing us of trying to debauch this chit and perhaps fire the girl anyway.

But she swallowed, and either because the taste of brandy was a shock or perhaps because it worked fast, she looked towards Merritt and said, “Thank you, sir, I—”

“That’s better,” I said.  “What is your name?”

“Annabelle,” she said. And then, catching the slightest of widening in my eyes, because I was sure no maid in the house could be called Annabelle, she smiled a little.  “Your mama told me I am to be addressed as Mary while I work here.”

I nodded.  Her speech was above her class, too, and I wondered if mama had ordered her to use a lower class of speech while working for us.  Thing is, I know mama.  Devil of a woman mama.  Quite likely to do that sort of thing, she was.

“Well then Mar–  Annabelle,” I said.  Might as well establish I was neither Mama nor under Mama’s thumb.  “What do you mean by coming running in here, without even knocking?”

She started to bend at the knees, but I quelled her with a look.  I had the oddest feeling that the corners of her mouth shook just a little at my look.  “Yes, sir,” she said.  “No bobbing,” she said, managing to convey the impression that under different circumstances, she would be laughing.  “But sir, we found this… we found this… in Miss Blythe’s room.”

The “this” she handed me was a sheet of paper, close written in my sister Helen’s sprawling handwriting.

It started very primly if highly improperly with “Dear Jon,” but it went down from there very fast.  Or at least I couldn’t in rational calm consider its contents anything but the sheerest lunacy.  I read it through three times before the first words stopped all my ability to relate the rest of the letter.

The very first words were, “I’ve decided to run away and become a Pirate Queen.”  I blinked at it, in utter horror, and read through the rest of the letter, seeing nothing but disjointed words, three times solid, then looked up at the maid, Annabel, “Is my sister–  That is—”

“Both your sister,” she said.  “And her maid, Betsy, are gone from the premises, and there were the remains of a transport spell upon her table.

I closed my eyes to make the room stop swaying, surely a side effect of all the bobbing the maid had done.  I took two deep breaths and read the letter again, this time making myself pay attention.  “I’ve bought a spell which should take us to Portsmouth, where I expect to seek employment aboard a ship and to advance to the post of captain by either my just deserts or, if absolutely needed, mutiny.”  Mutiny was underlined.  “You need not worry, since both Betsy and I have taken the precaution of cutting our hair and dressing as boys, so our honor shall never be threatened.”  I closed my eyes and breathed deep three times.  I should have shared with the impudent chit a thing or two I’d heard from my friends who were at sea.  “I know you will be very shocked by my taking this step, but once you think about it, I’m sure you’ll know it’s for the best.  I’ve been watching you, my dear, dear Jon.  Of all the family, you must know you’ve always been my favorite, well, at least since that time when I was very little and you helped me dress the cat as though she were a baby and then laughed with me when she tore through all the clothes and ran off into the bushes cursing.  And then you told me a story about some girl called Kitty, and I knew for sure you were not half as starched up as the rest of them, and you had a sense of humor and a heart, Jonathan.”  The fact that I had no memory whatsoever of the moment also meant I had had far more alcohol then I should have, but of course, she wouldn’t know it.  “And I’ve been watching you since Papa died, and how all of them – every one, from Mama to the prince consort expect you to do your duty, and how you stopped laughing and funning anymore.” Partly because I had cut drastically back on the consumption of alcohol, but what could a delicately reared young lady know of that? “And I know you’ve been in low spirits.”  Well, she could say that.  Low to none.  “And I know, too, that part of it is having to provide dowries for all of us, and having to find us a proper man to marry and all that.  I would like you to be sure that I do not intend to marry any man, proper or otherwise, because I saw what happened with poor Honoria, and it’s all very well for mama to say that the proper way for a woman to live is to have children, but if children make you die, I’d rather not.  So I hit upon this capital scheme.  I always wanted adventure, as you know, because I told you many times how much I wished to sail the ocean.”  I must – MUST – make sure when my sisters poured their unwise confidences upon my ears I was not more than three sheets to the wind.  “And so, this will do it.  Do not fear for me.  You know I’m resourceful and intelligent.”  And wholly uninformed about the world.  Even with all the snooping she did of my papers and all the listening behind doors.  I was aware of both of her abominable habits, and I’d kept her in the dark as much as possible, by making sure my important or shocking papers were kept at my club, and that I never spoke in terms she could plainly understand.  Now I wondered if perhaps I’d been unwise.  “I promise never to sack any ships that belong to you or the family.  And if I sack any very great treasure, I’ll be glad to let you have it for the other girls’ dowries, as I suppose they’ll want to marry and even risk having children.”  It finished with, “Your affectionate sister, Helen.”

I looked up at Annabel, “You read this?” I asked

Her face had become grave again.  “Yes, milord.  You see, she didn’t address it, and as it was upon her mantel…”

“I see.  Who else read it?  You said you and someone else had found it, at least you said “we” – who is we?”

“Oh, only Jane, the other maid, sir.  She was making the bed and she found a quantity of hair, both your sister’s and Betsy’s, by the look of it, shoved under the mattress, and sir, she called me in, because I have some knowledge of magic.  I saw this letter on the mantel and I read it.”

I might as well face it I couldn’t scotch the scandal.  “Jane read it too?”

Annabel gave me the oddest of looks.  “She doesn’t know how to read.  Just like she doesn’t know how to do magic.”

“I see,” I said.  “And you did magic?”

“Not really, sir, as that would have called too much attention, but I did set my hand on the pile of hair, and try to locate where they might be.”

“Apparently Portsmouth,” I said.  “I must go there right away and—”

“No, sir.”  Annabel looked at me.  “I looked at the remains of the transport spell and I could tell something had gone very wrong with it.  The magic had twisted, though how it’s beyond me to explain.  Putting my hand on the hair confirmed it.  Your sister is not as close as Portsmouth.  In fact—”  She paused, then sighed, as though resigning herself to the inevitable.  “In fact, I’d say she’s not in this world.”

28 thoughts on “Rogue Magic, Free Novel, Chapter 6

  1. Now if Annabel can read and do magic, why is she working as a maid? Of course, she’s loyal enough to bring Jon the letter instead of making/letting the other maid bring it as well as telling Jon about where the spell took Helen.

    On the gripping hand, I may be reading too much into her knowledge of magic.

      1. I wonder who she’s spying for?

        That is, once I worked back through the Mama told me paragraph and made sure that it was Jon’s Mama, not Anabella’s. That “Devil of a woman mama. Quite likely to do that sort of thing, she was.” had me wondering if one of Jon’s very early particulars hadn’t had a daughter . . .

          1. Hmm… Well, Ginny was supposed an Elfborn, and Wolfe’s was an Elf, or perhaps an Elfborn. Suppose that Annabelle Elfborn was Wolfe’s wife, involve with Ginny in an intelligence op…

            I think I’m drawing unwarranted conclusions here, again. Ah well, the whole point of making many models is to chuck the ones that aren’t useful.

        1. The Mama knows about it, so I figure it must be something she is informed about.

          That she did something to break her cover, and that the Mama and the other maid knew something, suggests to me that if she was gathering intelligence, she wasn’t going to do a very good job of it.

          1. I doubt that “Mama” knows anything. Making Annabel use the name “Mary” could have other explanations and I suspect that the shock of where the magic took Helen may have caused Annabel to lose her “protective covering” concerning her actual social standings.

            Also, the only thing the other maid appears to have known is that Helen is gone. It is possible that the other maid was also fooled by Annabel.

            As for who Annabel is working for, I suspect that it might be as simple as a newspaper. A “gossip editor” might have wanted some juicy gossip concerning Jon’s family. If so, Annabel could have decided the safety of Helen is more important than such a story.

            1. ooooo I like that explanation too… who says she is not spying for a lot of people– In one of Terry Pratchett’s novel (the one on the movable type I think) there was a guy who was writing notes to several different nobles and countries. 😉

              1. It works, and yet, the panic feels too great for calculated decisions. Her instinct seems to be to ‘go to the boss’, and she either seems to fear greatly for Helen, or she fears greatly for the consequences of being embroiled in things, by way of finding the letter. Supposing the latter, either she doesn’t have other employment options, odd if she knows magic, or she has concerns about being silenced, and didn’t run away immediately for some reason. I’m wondering if some of Helen’s plans put her in the way of capital charges, and if the letter, and what it contains, put Jon at the risk of same. Given dear ethical Papa, confessing to knowing such might give Annabelle reason to fear for her own life.

                I have no clue. I am sure that Sarah will have an interesting explanation for us.

                1. I’m a bit confused, wasn’t Papa killed?
                  “until three weeks ago, when I’d arranged for Papa’s death and, inevitably, ascended to his dignities.”

                  1. Pops was, along with ‘died of marriage’ older sister, involved in some very bad stuff last book, Witchfinder. (Note that the index to Witchfinder is borked, and doesn’t include the last portions of the story, which were still on the blog, when I checked some weeks back.) Both are dead, as a result. However, supposing the staff knew that crossing Pops could get them dead, it might not be clear to them yet that Jon is any different.

                    1. There’s a tab at the top that will get you started. I very strongly recommend it, and not just because this is horrible, horrible spoilers.

        2. Does she have to be spying for someone? Can’t she just have taken a job far below her social status because her father ruined himself and made the family all social pariahs? Spying is really cool, of course, but if she was a spy would she have let her cover slip by admitting she knew that Helen wasn’t in Portsmouth?

          1. Because she thought telling Jon that his sister had been transported to another world was more important than her spying job? My guess is that her spying job is for a newspaper wanting gossip.

          2. I’ve got something. Wasn’t there a secret police last book? Couldn’t Mama have been involved to some degree? Or maybe it doesn’t need even that. The group had a trainee/junior member, and used their connections with Papa to get her stored their as part of her training.

            1. I had thought she might be an agent for the king, planted in the household because he was suspicious of Blythe the senior. But if she was simply after information it would be easier to befriend and perhaps bribe some of the domestic staff, and if she were an active agent she surely would have found some openings to hinder the plot against the king.

              Of course, she might not be an agent of the king.

  2. MUST – make sure when my sisters poured their unwise confidences upon my ears I was not more than three sheets to the wind.

    Thankfully I had put my coffee cup down before I read these line. 😉

  3. a) Per earlier comments, Helen scares me.
    b) I’m also scared for Helen.
    c) I suspect Ginny’s circumstances have contaminated Jon, and from there to Helen, and the rest of the Blythe stuff.
    d) I like that the drunkenness has had adverse consequences. I am amused at some of the side effects of sobriety.
    e) I’m beginning to think that the rest are right about something more than the obvious being off about Annabelle. Speaking such of other worlds may be a matter of expertise. Probably nothing to do with the, triggered by the spelling Annabel, notion that it is something like in an Atlus game.
    f) This is great comedy.

  4. There really aren’t a lot of employment prospects for middle-class or minor gentry girls in most versions of Regency England, and Annabelle’s a bit young to be a governess. (And to be fair, once it became safe to be in service and servant labor became a bit harder to find, a lot of people thought being in service was good training for marriage and permitted a girl to earn some dowry money. Though that mostly came a hundred years later than this.)

    I suspect Mama just grabbed some labor that didn’t need too much training to be a maid, being desperate after servants left in the wake of all the scandal and dangerous magic. Or something.

  5. Talk about being on the horns of a trilemma. Our noble (well, noble-ish) hero can either track down a deluded family member who thinks adventure stories are goram travelogues, fix the business which puts food on the table and dresses on the backs for the rest of the family, or he can hunt down a beautiful woman who fits into his Gauch window (smart enough to be interesting, dumb enough to put up with his crap). What were you saying about meeting obligations?

    Of course, knowing our intrepid hostess as I do (i.e. not at all) I’m sure that the pursuit of one will inexorably result in the resolution of all. Except maybe the last one. A man needs something to strive for (and an author needs fodder for a sequel).

    1. Don’t forget that he is expected to visit an official shortly. With said official having some expertise, and jurisdiction, and, OOC, there is some indication that all three problems are related.

      1. Rick Steves’ Fantasy Adventures. We need a bluescreen and a few artists.

        “Ankh-Morpork is a pretty nice place to visit, as long as you stay away from the native cuisine, the dangerously landscaped parks, the University, any tavern called the Mended Drum, and most of the city neighborhoods…..”

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