Title: Richard and the Sharpster
Disclaimer: I own nothing here, no ideas, no characters.
Summary: A rather desultory attempt to retell the story of Mairelon the Magician from his perspective.
Notes: This has been sitting on my hard drive forever and a day. I finally gave in to the inevitable, that I'm not going to get it cleaned up, and I'm just posting it. I've done a certain amount of skimming, from the perspective that people reading this will have read the book and will therefore know what happened, but I would never call this my best work, either. Anyhow, I hope someone enjoys this.
He'd just reached the final climax of his evening performance when Richard felt the wards on his chest twinge. He sped up the grand finale, getting Hunch's attention in the process, and hurried inside. What he had expected to find he wasn't sure, but it most certainly wasn't the grubby child unconscious on the floor.
Hunch had followed him in and joined him in staring in surprise at their burglar. "What 'appened?" Hunch asked. "'Oo is 'e?"
"Both excellent questions Hunch," Richard replied, "And ones which I intend to find out the answers to momentarily." He quickly unlocked the chest and pulled out two lengths of rope and quickly bound the thief's hands. "And now, I think, something to awaken him." Richard had been practising magic long enough to create makeshift spells for such purposes. "Excito vacuus vulnero."
The magic swirled around the child for a moment and settled in. There was a lengthy pause during which Richard was entirely certain the boy had awakened. Although, now that he was examining the thief more closely, he felt there was something . . . off about him. "'Adn't 'e oughter be wakin'?" Hunch asked.
Richard confirmed this and then prompted the boy, who sat up and spoke. When he did, Richard's suspicions that something was not quite right were confirmed. Unfortunately, he had yet to figure out what it was that was not right. It wasn't until Hunch accused the child of being a thief that it came clear. The grubby boy on the floor wasn't a boy at all. The thief was a girl. A young woman really. One masquerading as a boy. How very curious.
The longer they talked, the more fascinated Richard became. She clearly had had some experience in housebreaking but was utterly insistent that she was not a thief. Richard felt inclined to believe her on that score. Then there was her story about why she'd broken into the wagon. A 'skinny toff' had hired her. He didn't think this 'toff' was a Bow Street Runner, they weren't that clumsy. What it did mean was that there was someone else around, aware that he had the Saltash Bowl.
That only left the question of whether this person was after the bowl or him.
Hunch's shock over this Kim turning out to be a girl turned into shock of another sort when Richard proposed to bring her with them. In fact, in some ways he was uncertain of why he was bringing the girl, but she did seem as though she might be handy, and the thought of this clearly talented and intelligent girl being forced to live out the rest of her life on the streets did not sit well with him.
And her skill at picking locks was one he would dearly love to learn. So he made the offer, much to Hunch's dismay, and she, after some due consideration (which he thought rather intriguing given what she was likely to be leaving behind) Kim agreed.
That was when he discovered that, unlike Hunch, she demanded reasons for the things he asked of her, and would not bow to his wishes merely because of his social rank. But he talked her around nonetheless. And the moment she left he was changing into something that would not get him noticed in that part of town.
"What're you doin' Master Richard?" Hunch asked.
"I'm going after her, of course," replied Richard. "While I do trust her ability to report back anything she deems important, I rather feel that Kim does not know enough to take note of things you or I would deem important."
After some moments spent convincing Hunch that, yes, he needed to do this, no, he didn't need Hunch with him, yes he had to go dressed like that and would Hunch please wait in this particular alley off Hungerford Market with a change of clothes? Richard was finally able to make his escape and barely caught up to Kim as she entered the Dog and Bull.
He slinked in, pretending to be a beggar who'd gotten himself enough money to drink away the lot that was his life. He settled into a corner, watching Kim under the pretext of getting even further foxed than he was pretending to be.
In point of fact, his primary reasons for being there had little to do with ensuring he missed nothing about the man he'd talked Kim into meeting. Partly he wanted to be sure she was not planning to sell him out, partly he simply wanted to know if he recognised the man and partly because he was quite concerned for her safety. Although he knew, intellectually, that Kim must have been able to care for herself, growing up in the streets would require that skill, sometimes there was a casual cruelty in the upper classes that came with the assurance of immunity from prosecution. That cruelty could surface if Kim was incautious.
It was almost disappointing to Richard when the man arrived. He didn't recognise him in the least. Although he was quite highly visible in the public house. What sort of a fool wore a getup like that into this part of town? White gloves, white linen cravat and a top hat?
Richard watched as Kim made the man pay up, slightly amused at the way he tried to get a petty revenge by paying Kim in pence, shillings, groats, ha'pennies and whatever small amounts he had. As though she'd be happier with five sovereigns or five one-notes. To have the money in such large amounts would no doubt bring Kim a great deal of unwanted attention.
Richard edged closer, catching a word here or there as he began to close in on the pair. He had to get in closer, otherwise he'd be unable to help the girl in the slightest should the imbecile in the top hat try to take out his anger on her. And he was going to be angry. That much was evident. Richard was close enough to catch the man muttering about how he'd been following the wrong man, and felt a small surge of satisfaction. Whoever the gentleman was, there was, once again, no connection between Mairelon the Magician and Richard Merrill.
Then the man was snarling, lunging across the table at Kim. Without thinking, Mairelon threw himself forward, throwing off the gentleman's aim and allowing Kim to escape. And then he threw himself into his character. Played the drunk and got himself tossed out of the pub moments before Kim made it out. He waited in the darkness of an alley off the main street for her to pass him, and grabbed her when she got within reach.
He was instantly glad he'd covered her mouth when she started to fight. Less so as her violent struggles made it clear she was going to get free come hell or high water. Having to leave his hand over her mouth considerably reduced his ability to hold her off. "Kim! It's alright, it's me," he almost said his real name, realising at the last moment she wouldn't recognise it. "Mairelon!"
And as he loosened his grip slightly, her hand came up and slammed into his face. Richard actually saw stars for a moment. But it seemed that her hitting him was a reflex reaction to having been freed. She stared at him, trying to judge if he was telling the truth, no doubt. So, he smiled at her and tried to look harmless. She seemed to see something reassuring, and it was just as well, since they both had to hide moments later as the gentleman from the pub had managed to get himself thrown out and was ranting where anyone could hear him about Kim getting away.
Finally the coast was clear and Richard was able to get them moving to where Hunch was waiting with his clothes. As they walked, Kim demanded to know why he'd followed her. Uncertain of how she'd take his partial lack of trust of her motives, he'd told her he'd come to protect her. This had the surprising effect of aggravating his new accomplice. She was both furious he hadn't warned her of possible danger and furious he'd come to protect her. It wasn't until she'd been grousing about how she didn't know anything about what he was doing that she abruptly stopped.
Richard looked at her quizzically, but she seemed to have given up the argument utterly, and merely settled for muttering that he shouldn't have come. It seemed like a protest more for forms' sake than anything else, and he rather wanted to know what had changed her mind. However, it seemed that would remain a mystery, so he moved on to a lighter topic. The fact that Hunch was going to scold him for getting himself hurt. And by a girl, no less. Kim solved his problem by requesting that he not tell Hunch she had hit him. Which allowed him to indicate to his servant that he hadn't, "Gone and done something awful."
Hunch seemed determined to bait Kim, although his reactions to Kim watching as Richard changed were amusingly like Andrew's reaction to the time Richard had spent a night at Renée's in order to escape one of Sally Jersey's interminable parties. The thought of his brother sparked a moment of pain, quickly suppressed by concentrating on Kim's indignation at being called a child. He had little doubt she was not a child.
It wasn't merely the usual drivel about how a child of the streets would never have a childhood, however accurate the cliché might be, it was the way she held herself. It was a maturity that could only have come with time, not suffering.
He and Hunch returned to the wagon, while Kim was off getting rid of the clothing. Hunch seemed more morose than usual, which was saying a great deal about his dour servant. "Is something wrong Hunch?"
"You 'adn't oughter be trustin' 'er," the other man informed him.
Richard sighed. There was another reason to keep Kim around. He really needed someone to speak with who was a little less of a one-note refrain. "Why not? We must dispose of that clothing, and who better than a person with no connection to either of us?"
Hunch glowered still more, and Richard took a moment to admire the ability to have such a fineness of control of degree of glower. It must have taken vast amounts of practice. He resisted the urge to smile in amusement, as he knew himself to be the cause of much of that practice. Hunch replied, "You know she knows too much," he said, and continued before Richard to gather a reply, "T'ain't just that she's a thief, she knows enough to get us both in trouble, Master Richard."
Richard had the distinct feeling Hunch had tacked on his name like that to remind him of who he was. "Well, she doesn't know enough to tell anyone anything dangerous to us, so you might as well let sleeping dogs lie Hunch." And then he smiled, "But if this bothers you so greatly, then you can check up on her background while you pick me up some supplies."
His henchman bit down hard on his moustache again, and Richard wondered, not for the first time, whether they'd find a giant ball of hair in the man's stomach one day, like in that apocryphal tale of the girl who chewed her hair. Shaking off the dismal thought, he checked his stores and began compiling a list of the herbs, oils and other random odds and ends he needed to be stocked up on should there be a need for more serious spellcasting.
When he'd finished, he handed the list to Hunch and said, "Would you collect those items for me while you're visiting Shoreham Hunch?"
Hunch gave him a dark look, "Didn't you send 'im that letter tellin' 'im you're back?" he asked.
"Of course," said Richard irritably. Why so many people felt the ongoing need to mistrust his capabilities he did not know. "But I have not heard back from him and I would appreciate some notion of the lay of the land before we attempt to retrieve the rest of the set."
"So you ain't a-goin' to do nothin' horrible," Hunch said with such satisfaction and relief that Richard didn't have the heart to explain the high odds of him having to do rather a lot of 'horrible' things by Hunch's standards. Although where he got off describing Richard's friendship with that lovely young woman in Lyons, lady of the night or no, as horrible the magician simply did not know.
He merely handed the list to Hunch and told him, "No, Hunch. I will dutifully and patiently wait here for your return." Then he repressed the desire to roll his eyes at the suspicious look Hunch sent him as he left.
Five hours later and an hour after Hunch should have returned, they were not that far from Shoreham's office or his townhouse, should the man actually have taken a break from working; Richard was quite worried and it was only compounded as Kim had returned. He had only just finished changing into something that would be unremarkable at the college when she came through the door.
As he explained what he was planning, he could tell it was a mistake. She immediately volunteered to go with him. Richard was about to explain that she would be rather out of place at Shoreham's residence, or the college, when Hunch returned. At which point he was treated to a second scolding, this time on the topic that he shouldn't be going anywhere at all.
Kim was having a very bad influence on Hunch. He hadn't been nearly this obstreperous when they'd been on the Continent.
In any event, Shoreham had left him a letter, sealed with that aggravating light lock spell he was so fond of. It was a moment's work to get the thing open, and several moments to recover from the flash of light that followed. He noticed Kim looking annoyed and blinking very hard and Hunch looking rather smug. He put it from his mind as he started reading.
I expect this letter will find you well, as Hunch seems more composed than he usually is when meeting me alone. Since you're normally in some sort of trouble when you send him I suppose this is only to be expected.
There are several things about which I need to speak with you, none of which I feel comfortable passing along by post of any sort. On top of which, Hunch tells me you have the Saltash Bowl, and I would very much like a chance to see it. I trust that you are fully capable of determining the validity of the item, it is simply that it is among the things I wish to discuss with you.
Meet me at the same place as last time, and please be careful. Things are not so different now than they were four years ago when the theft occurred that the Bow Street Runners won't snap you up on sight.
And there he went again. Honestly. Edward was immensely untrusting and immensely difficult at times. Really. The notion that Richard was incautious enough to get caught out like that was the outside of enough.
After checking that Kim was as ready as Hunch and himself to leave town, Richard hurried off, waving off Hunch's well-meaning, but very irritating tendency to mother-henning.
Grateful to at last, have a moment to himself, Richard hurried through the streets to Renée's. She had sent him an open invitation to see her at any time after receiving word he was returning to England. One of these days, Richard promised himself, he would find out who was in her little spy network. He knocked on her door and was greeted by her formidably correct butler. The one she had because the contrast between her and her butler was all the more disconcerting to those who did not know her.
"M. Merrill! It is of all things good to see you," she said with a smile. "But you must have tea and tell me of what is happening, non?"
They spoke of light topics; shared acquaintances, magical research that had been carried out while he was away and some amusing incidents that had happened in both their lives over the past several years. Richard made his requests for several magical items he could not easily acquire, even through Hunch, and eventually they both settled into Renée's parlour for tea and more serious conversation.
It was their best-kept secret that they had once been lovers. Richard had very little patience with the social mores that were merely a matter of creating certainty a woman's children were not bastards. With magic, it was entirely possible to ensure no children would come from any union and Richard was utterly uninterested in following the proprieties at the time. The only reason it was a secret at all was the difficulties it would have created for Renée and himself.
As to why it had been Renée, that was quite simple. While he could have afforded the best of the fashionable impures, a lead soprano of the opera or a prima ballerina, Richard did not want a bedmate who was there for his money. The kind of time he would be spending in a lover's presence was best spent with someone he could talk to and who understood him. Renée was perfect for that. In the short term. In the end, they had both agreed that they were better off as friends and the whole thing was set aside. Still, she was his closest friend nonetheless and Richard had missed her greatly while on the Continent.
Relieved to, at last, be with someone who understood him, Richard smiled and felt himself finally relax. "I have the bowl, Renée," he informed her. "And Shoreham is dragging me off through the countryside again." There was a long pause, during which neither said anything, and then Richard told her haltingly, "It's good to see you again, Renée."
She smiled at him again, pouring him a cup of tea just the way he had always liked it, then inquired, "How is Hunch? Are you both well?"
"Yes, Hunch is in fine form. I do believe that Kim is encouraging his tendency to feeling scandalised," Richard told her.
She raised an eyebrow. "Kim? I do not believe you have ever spoken of a person with such a name. Who is he?"
"I found a most interesting character after an attempt to break into the chest where I keep the Saltash Bowl," Richard told her.
There was a pause, then Renée fixed him with the glare that meant she felt he was being evasive. "You are being difficult again." Of course, sometimes he simply did it because she was such fun to antagonise. "M. Merrill, if you do not at once tell me what it is that you speak of, I shall do something to you that you shall find most unpleasant!"
"Madamoiselle, there is a gentleman here to see you-" The butler's introduction was cut short.
Andrew stormed into the room.
"M. Merrill?" Renée said, sounding not quite as surprised by Andrew's presence as Richard thought she ought.
"Mlle D'Aubert," Andrew said. He bowed perfunctorily. "We must speak - Richard?" He sounded shocked, Richard thought wryly.
"Andrew. You are well, I trust?" He inquired, putting his best attempt at appearing not to care forward.
"Richard . . ." It seemed that Andrew was incapable of saying anything more.
Richard abruptly stood, realising how dangerous this was. Andrew had threatened to call the Runners on him once, four years ago, when news that Richard was accused of the theft first broke. It still hurt. His brother, who had shepherded him through his first season, making sure he made no glaring errors in front of the ton, who had been stuffily and smugly reliable throughout Richard's life, was suddenly the enemy. He thrust aside the hurt and said, "I am afraid, Renée, that answering your curiosity must wait." He bowed to her, and inclined his head to his brother. "Good evening Andrew," he said, before turning and striding out of the house. It was rude, but Renée would understand and Richard trusted neither his own self-control around Andrew nor Andrew's understanding.
And then he was outside, in the night, hurrying back to the wagon. As he went, he sighed, thinking of Hunch's reaction to his visit to Renée's. More, they were going to have to leave far earlier than he'd thought. Which was as well in some ways. They were less likely to be late to meet Edward if they left now anyhow.
When he got to the wagon, he was amused to find Kim, fast asleep on top of his chest, and Hunch, glowering at her from across the room. Clearly Hunch was expecting that she was feigning sleep in order to flee. However, Kim clearly snapped awake as he shut the door behind him. A legacy of time on the streets, no doubt.
Hunch demanded where he'd been, Richard answered him and Hunch began to scold. Really, he hadn't scolded this much when Richard had been genuinely foolish in getting information from that French countess, and that had been rank foolishness. It had cost Jamie, the young man Richard had brought with him to assist in spying, his life.
But that was neither here nor there. Determined to focus on something other than the past he couldn't change, Richard was a little surprised at the alacrity with which Kim agreed to come with him. But she and Hunch left to get the horses and Richard took the moment to lose himself in contemplation.
Jamie had been an apprentice at the college, but he had seemingly idolised Richard. They had become good friends, and when he had fled under suspicion of theft and to fulfil his Grace, the Earl of Shoreham's request for information on the French, Jamie had popped up on the Colony Queen. He'd joined Richard in many of his exploits, even the foolhardy ones. Even that last one which had cost him his life. And he'd still forgiven Richard, right before he died.
And then Hunch and Kim were back, trading sniping words and glares and the whole incident was put from his mind by the needs of the moment, and they were off.
As they trundled along through the night, Richard took the opportunity to observe Kim, as much as he could in the dark, and her reactions to the twist her life had just taken. She was a fascinating character, certainly. He had wondered a little, at first, about why she was playing a boy, but a moment of thought had cleared that up. After all, men were given greater freedoms than women, especially in terms of means of financial support for themselves. The physical freedom and the societal freedom were clearly attractive enough for her to take the risk. Although he did wonder whether she had thought of what she would do once she was no longer able to pretend she was a boy.
After a couple minutes of silence, Richard gave in to a desire for something to do and because watching Kim try to maintain her seat in the dimness of the wagon wasn't particularly entertaining either. So he asked her why she wasn't trying to get a little more sleep. Her scorn in response to that question was pointed, and Richard gave himself a small mental shake. Clearly, between his own lack of sleep and the shock of seeing Andrew again, he wasn't at his best.
Then she asked him if he could 'make a spot of light' in the wagon. Richard grimaced inwardly, rather tempted to do so, if only because jouncing around was a great deal less disconcerting when one was not also sitting in the dark. But he couldn't, because it would attract too much attention. He tried to pass it off as not wanting to light a lamp in the wagon, (which he certainly would not have wanted to do) and waited for her to demand he do magic.
The demand never came, and the quality of her silence suggested that Kim might have even picked up on his subtext, something Hunch only seemed to do half the time, and was tacitly agreeing that a lit wagon on that road was too attention-getting.
To alleviate the boredom, Richard proposed the first of his lessons in becoming a stage assistant. He started teaching her proper English. He could already tell by the way she spoke that she was quite intelligent; even those times she spoke without thinking showed the quick mind at work behind the words. All he had to do was teach her pronunciation and proper grammar. Of course, he first had to work past her indignation at being told her manner of speech was less than adequate.
"First, you stop using quite so much thieves' cant. You'll have to practice all the time, until it seems natural," he began.
"Practice talkin'? Just to sound flash? I – Oh. That's what you meant, ain't it?"
She was a quick study.
Time passed quickly and Kim picked up his directions rapidly. She often slipped when she wasn't thinking about it, but when she was, her accent was no worse than some of the country bumpkin gentlemen who came into Town for the Season. Her grammar would take more time, particularly because she had no way of knowing the correct forms, but she was working on that as well. Still, he was more determined than before they had started to teach her to read. It would help her immensely to have the proper forms of phrases laid out in such a way that she could dissect them on her own.
That being said, he was going to have to teach her reading from scratch. She didn't know the names of the individual letters and the sounds they represented, let alone the basics of how to put those sounds together to form words.
When they reached the inn which would be their midway stopping point, he left Kim to Hunch's tender mercies after sending her off to change out of the rags she'd been wearing. He wanted to see if any of the messages he'd sent off to various people, including his mother, had been replied to. Richard had told them to send all answers to this inn.
His mother wrote to tell him that Andrew was going to be in Town. Which was a little late to find out, but he appreciated the thought. She also mentioned the results of several experiments that had gone on at the Royal College while he was away, various family events and various family duties he would have to perform as a result of those events and a query of whether he had retrieved the various clothing items she had asked him to buy if he was in Paris. It was just like her.
There was also a letter from his Aunt Agatha, demanding that he hand himself over to the Bow Street Runners immediately so that they could determine his innocence. Failing that, he was to flee back to France and never return in order to save the familial reputation. It was just like her as well; a firm unwavering belief in his innocence, and a firm unwavering need to fulfil the proprieties as well as possible that seemed to supersede everything else.
When he returned, Kim was dressed in her new clothes. Which, judging by the look on her face, she considered to be remarkably fine. He almost regretted the need to ask her to change again, but she couldn't be seen walking around in those clothes if they wanted to keep a low profile. He was intrigued, however, by the expression on her face when he tossed her the second set of clothes. Surprise and something else. Unease, certainly. But the source of it baffled him utterly.
Nevertheless, she changed and they set off once more. When they stopped again later, Richard asked Kim for lessons in picking locks. He was surprised at both her insistence on starting with a simple device and the degree to which she was clearly attempting to make her grammar consistently proper.
"You ain't—you aren't goin' to get nowhere—anywhere? if you start in on a fancy job like that one."
He nodded, and went to collect a less complex padlock from the wagon. When he came back, he asked, "Do we need anything else?"
"You mean, special keys and such?" she inquired with a tilt to her head.
Richard nodded, saying, "I've heard that they're useful," but she shook her head reprovingly.
"Maybe, but I just use a bit of wire." She pulled out the piece of wire from her pocket, unbending it from it's curved state into a mostly straight line. "If you lose a key, you got to get a new one, and that takes time." Richard firmly resisted the urge to correct her grammar at that point. It would not ingratiate him to her and he'd had enough different teachers over the years to know that irritating one during a lesson was a certain way to ensure the lesson was unpleasant. "A bit of wire's always easy to come by," she finished.
After that, he was promptly introduced to a highly complex art that relied as much on instinct as it did on preset forms and memorisation. Kim's temper was a little short as she taught him, but no more so than his old magic tutor, and she was an able instructor.
By the end of the afternoon, Richard had a great deal more respect for Kim's accomplishment at getting into his chest than he had before and was greatly impressed with her memory. For, while there was a great deal of instinct involved in the picking of locks, there were a great many tiny finicky details of sounds and small motions of the tumblers within the lock that had to be recalled with near-instinctive accuracy.
Kim's memory for such things was better even than Richard's, and he contemplated for a brief moment teaching her some small spells. She certainly had the memory for such work. He shook himself from that thought immediately. The odds of her having the natural talent to be worth teaching were infinitessimal.