Chapter Eleven: There are more frightening things than wyrms
Copyright © 2016 by Brian Bixby
Geoffrey MacAlpine had long rued his “fame,” such as it was. But it had given him ample practice in getting out of the way of trouble. So when Marcus charged at him, Geoff quickly stepped left, away from Jackie, while trying to think of a way to stop Marcus and de-escalate the situation. Calpurnia, having less reserve about dealing with Marcus, simply sprung up herself and tackled him from the rear, catching his legs and causing him to fall down. He managed to thrust his arms out, so he didn’t quite land on his face.
This would not normally have stopped Marcus. No, the credit for that went to Jacintha. Her training took over, she whipped out a magic wand, and struck Marcus with a spell of sleep. Only then did Marcus land flat on his face. Fortunately, it wasn’t much of a drop.
Calpurnia and Geoff were both astounded that something so simple would bring Marcus down. And then Geoff broke out laughing, and pointed at Jackie’s hand. Jackie glanced down, and realized to her horror that what she had used as a wand was actually a slim flashlight. And the expression on her face caused Calpurnia to start laughing. And that got Jacintha laughing as well.
Once their bout of laughter ended, Geoff turned to Jacintha and said, “Well done, Jackie, although,” and he couldn’t keep in one more chuckle, “you’d best let me take credit for downing him. It’ll go smoother all around.” Calpurnia nodded.
Jacintha was confused. “What’s the problem?”
Calpurnia chimed in. “That’s my ex-husband, Marcus Satterthwaite. Apart from being a sadist and holding grudges forever, he wasn’t a bad husband. But you don’t want him after you, Jackie. Trust me on this, I know.” She turned to Geoff. “And what’s his beef with you?”
Geoff shook his head in puzzlement. “I don’t know. I’ve never met the man before, and counted myself fortunate. It’s not like I was . . .”
Click. Geoff connected Samantha’s comment about “La Belle Dame sans Merci” with a few facts about Marcus, and realized he really was. And Marcus must know. And yet the look in Calpurnia’s eyes indicated she did not know. All I need, a domestic melodrama on top of a real crisis, Geoff thought.
There were a few magicians in Britain attached to the Royal Household who, by ancient privilege, were not subject to the jurisdiction of the English Council, nor the Scots Council, either. Regular magicians left them alone, because while some were harmless, a few were both dangerous and unpredictable.
Geoffrey MacAlpine would agree on both counts, but in his case it was from personal experience. He’d gone sneaking into Balmoral Castle on one occasion to pursue some of his scholarly researches, and run into one of the Royal Magicians. It had been a near thing, and Geoff had been forced to use all his charm, wit, and intelligence to extricate himself. One of the conditions imposed by the Royal Magician was that they stay in touch, in case the Royal Magician wanted to give Geoff orders, or if Geoff had wanted to request any favors. Geoff counted himself lucky that neither situation had actually occurred until now.
But now . . . Geoff wasn’t interested in killing Marcus Satterthwaite, but he couldn’t think of anything else that would keep Marcus from trying to kill him. Anything else but a Royal Magician, that is. So, despite all his misgivings about doing so, he placed a phone call.
The other end picked up. “Hello. This is Kate the Great.”
Geoff nervously chuckled. “You’re not the Duchess of Cambridge.”
The Royal Magician sniffled, as if such a notion were beneath her. “She’s Kate the Lesser. Who’s this?”
Pause. “Hills and streams?”
“Hills and streams.” It was a line from an old saying about Geoff’s family.
The Royal Magician’s voice turned soft, seductive, and magical. “Well, hi, Geoff. Coming for a visit?”
Geoff had to bite down on his tongue for a moment to keep from saying “yes.” Instead, he replied, “I need to ask a favor, Kate.”
Realizing her first gambit had been spurned, the Royal Magician got a bit huffy. “Well, it’s not as if I’ve got nothing to do here, what with keeping Lizzie alive and all. If it weren’t for me, the old gal would have toddled off long ago. And it’s not like the old days. I have to pretend to be a nurse to get access to her all the time without using magic on half the palace staff.”
Geoff decided he would need to lead up to his request. “Kate, you ever hear of a magician on the English Council named Marcus Satterthwaite?”
Another pause. “Yorkshire gent? Bad manners? Tried to kill his daughter not too long ago? Could have used him during the War of the Roses.”
“That’s him. I need to have you stop him from trying to kill me. It’d be nice to have his help in taking care of the Breydon Water wyrm, too.”
“That’s two favors, Geoff. Going to cost you. Though why you wouldn’t be willing to fulfill my every wish, I don’t know.”
And this is why dealing with the more powerful Royal Magicians is a really, really bad idea, Geoff thought to himself. “All right, two favors. Done.”
The Royal Magician’s voice changed again, to a wheedling tone. “Just why is this Satterthwaite fellow wanting to kill you, Geoff?”
Knowing she could order him to tell her, Geoff tried to forestall further inquiry. “I’m in a room with other people and can’t go into it right now, Kate. We’re trying to deal with the Breydon Water wyrm, as I’ve told you.”
There was a long pause. And then the Royal Magician’s voice turned both biting and humorous at the same time. “Oh, you don’t need to tell me. I know. I know now. That’s going to be three favors you owe me, Geoff. And I can guarantee you won’t enjoy one of them.”
“Three favors then, Kate. Agreed.” Geoff wasn’t sure if he was getting off lightly or being set up for a truly miserable and dangerous job. He suspected the latter.
And then he found out. The Royal Magician’s voice turned soft and seductive again, with the full force of her magic behind it. “And you’ll come see me before you go back to Scotland, won’t you, Geoff?”
Helpless, Geoff could only answer, “Yes.” He could hear Kate laughing as she disconnected the call.
Geoff didn’t put away his phone immediately. He needed to buy a few moments to get his thoughts in order. So Kate would take care of Marcus. Good. How she would do it, Geoff neither knew or cared, just that Kate was absolutely reliable when she agreed to anything. On the other hand, three favors, and he’d have to go to Buck House to see Kate. Maybe he could claim that was one of the favors!
With that much reasoned out, Geoff put away his phone and looked up at Calpurnia and Jacintha. “It’s taken care of. Marcus will help us, never fear.”
Jacintha and Calpurnia had naturally heard only Geoff’s side of the conversation. They both wondered just who he had been talking to. Jackie was the first to speak. “Who’s Kate?”
Geoff answered evasively, “One of the Royal Magicians. As a good subject of the Queen, Marcus will naturally agree to follow her orders.”
Calpurnia knew a bit more about the Royal Magicians than Geoff anticipated. Although she had never dealt with them herself (and never wanted to), she knew how risky it was, and what sort of price one might have to pay. Suppressing a curse on her ex-husband for making such measures necessary, she gave Geoff a sharp look making it clear she expected no nonsense as she asked, “Just which one of the Royal Magicians was that, Geoff?”
Geoff figured there was no point in concealment anymore and surrendered. “Katherine de Roet.” When he realized Calpurnia didn’t recognize the name, he explained, “You’d know her as Katherine Swynford.”
Calpurnia was aghast, both from realizing whom Geoff was talking about and what that meant. Jacintha, having studied European history in college and not since, was not so knowledgeable and asked, “Who’s Katherine Swynford?”
“Oh, the mistress and eventually last wife of John of Gaunt,” Geoff tried to make light of the fact, “back in the 14th century. Also a genuine witch in her day. Ever since she killed off her predecessor, Lady Godiva, she’s been watching over the Royal Family. Kin, you know.”
And in truth, the Royal Family is indeed descended from “Kate” by way of the Lancastrian/Tudor inheritance. Of course, Geoff could counter that the MacAlpines are descended from the first king to permanently unify Scots and Picts, which dates them a long way before the Lancastrians, but he wants to avoid trouble, not court it. So with Marcus presumably on board, will our team of valiant magicians come up with a plan to lay the wyrm before Kate’s descendants arrive in Great Yarmouth? And if they don’t, will Kate be mad at Geoff? Some revelations are definitely coming, in next week’s chapter!
“He could HEAR Kate laughing…”
Typo noted and corrected. Thank you! (And just how did I make such a stupid mistake?)
Two thoughts arising here . . . like those wyrms (BTW when are you going to explain of the second wyrm?) . . . 1: have I missed something or am I meant to be scratching my head about why, exactly, Marcus doesn’t much like Geoff? Is it that I haven’t been paying attention in all the right places? 2: While it’s true that our royal family are descended from Kate Swynford, it might be discreetly whispered that since her offspring were deemed illegitimate, and (William of Normandy excepted) the English won’t have Bastards upon their throne, the current royal family, in fact, aren’t (royal, I mean). The correct and legitimate heir to the English throne has been traced to the Outback in Australia. Not that I’m trying to stir up a rebellion or anything cos, well, William the Bastard wasn’t the rightful heir either, yet once he’d plonked his personage upon the throne he couldn’t be budged. So why should our Lizzie be any different. 🙂 Merry Christmas.
OK, so I’m very late getting to comments from just before Christmas. Excuse me; I didn’t want to try to answer these on my phone.
1. The second wyrm will be explained.
2. I’ve only hinted at why Marcus is so ticked at Geoff, although the odd sentence construction of Geoff’s “dime dropped” moment would give the game away to a reader some decades ago. And no, I’m not talking about pay phones. Still, there’s a mystery there which at this point I don’t expect to explain until the epilog.
3. I thought all royals are bastards. Ooops, wait, that’s my superpatriotic American republicanism kicking in, overwhelming Americans’ well-documented but poorly explain main for the Royal family, particularly when the male members marry someone young and cute, bringing back hope that the Windsors will one day look attractive. (Though, to be fair, Lizzie actually did look cute in her late teens and early 20s.)
[Editorial observation: the owner of this blog is clearly in a grumpy and argumentative mood this morning. Smart comments about how this is no different than normal will not be appreciated, though they could be quite entertaining.]
Happy Post-Christmas, Brian. Explanations accepted. BTW, is the dime-dropping the American equivalent to the British penny-dropping? Not that that helps cos I’m not sure if that comes from the public phone boxes or the penny to pay for a pee.
I suspect the idiom comes from the idea of an informant dropping a dime into a pay phone to tell the police who committed a crime. It has come to mean that some small additional piece of information has made someone suddenly realize something they’d not known before (but maybe should have).
Ditto UK. Phone box, then, not public toilets 🙂