Chapter Eighteen: Trouble Magnet
Louise knew that something was wrong the moment that she woke up. For the first time in months it was the sound of birdsong that broke the hold of Morpheus over her instead of a comforting tenor. A cursory glance around the small inn room revealed that neither her familiar nor his coat was present but both of his swords remained where he had set them the night before. For the time being she decided to take that as a good sign that he at least intended to return eventually.
She once again donned the simple city clothes they had bought for her disguise and made her way down to the tavern. Therum was likely to be found nearby, and if not she could at least find out what kind of meager rations these commoners passed off as breakfast. She would make Therum pay for a proper meal later a penance for not waking her up.
The sight that greeted her at the bottom of the stairs was in complete contrast to the worn but otherwise spotless interior of the night before. Several people lay passed out in various positions throughout the bar, and several of the tables and chairs were either broken or visibly damaged in one way or another. There was no doubt in her mind that her familiar was in some way responsible for the chaos before her. Unfortunately he was nowhere to be located in the mix of sleeping bar patrons. She even checked the back area of the tavern where the kitchen was located to no avail. Aggravated that her breakfast was going to be further delayed, Louise helped herself to an apple from an open barrel before going back to her room. That good for nothing would have much to answer for when he finally did show his face again. She would make sure of that.
In a neighboring room to the one that the pink haired mage was plotting in, the man she sought was waking up from the best dream he could remember in recent history. Or at least he thought it was a dream until he felt something warm and soft bump against him. Looking behind him he was greeted by the sight of one of the fairies who apparently lived at the inn she works at. Desperately he tried to recall any details from the night before but only could remember hazy bits and pieces after he and Scarron started drinking.
He shifted his weight around to better look at the girl trying to put a name with a face. He vaguely remembered the girl interrupting his shots with the older man to deal with a particularly drunk patron. After that things get foggy again until waking up to a head of unfamiliar chestnut hair.
"Good morning." She sleepily greeted when his movements woke her up.
"Um, good morning to you too." he answered awkwardly. "I'm terribly sorry, but for the life of me I can't seem to remember anything about last night. I didn't do anything improper last night did I?"
"That would depend on what you consider improper," she giggled. "You single handedly stopped three fights last night even though you started two of them while breaking a lot of furniture in the process. You got into an arm wrestling match with Mademoiselle Scarron, which you lost by the way, over the broken furniture. And finally you were taken advantage of by a much more sober unmarried young woman."
"Good thing I wasn't drinking tequila then. I don't think the building would have survived if that had been the case." He halfheartedly laughed.
"My name's Jeanne by the way."
"Therum Magnus at your service, pleasure to make your acquaintance." The two awkwardly shook hands, causing the sheets to fall leaving little to the imagination.
"I'm pretty sure that we have already been acquainted, but it is nice to do so again now that we will both remember it."
"Oh wait I am pretty damn sure I didn't use any protection in the state that I was in. What if something comes up after I'm gone?"
"Don't worry about it. I have my ways around such trivial matters. As a matter of fact I don't have to work until this evening, so we could spend some time getting to know each a little more intimately." She ran a couple of fingers down his exposed chest.
"As much as I would really like to take you up on that offer Jeanne. I have to check on my companion before she becomes even more irate than she probably already is."
"OH I am so sorry! I didn't realize that you were traveling with your lover. You must think I am a terrible person." The girl went scarlet and tried to hide he face with the edge of her sheets.
"It's nothing like that trust me. Louise and I are not romantically involved in any way, but I am responsible for her safety."
"Thank the Founder, that's a relief. I would hate to come between two people over one night of drunken fun. I'm such a terrible person."
"Think nothing of it." He put his hand on the girl's head. "Just next time try to make sure I am lucid enough to do my part, or at least tell you my relationship status. Now I sadly have to be going. I'll probably see you later this evening." He quickly gathered up his scattered garments dressed and exited the pouting girl's room stopping only to steal a chase kiss.
'I am going to have to move fast if I want to seal my claim on him before one of the other girls do. It wouldn't be the first time that Jessica has stolen a man from one of us just because of her stupid udders.' She thought as she watched the man leave. After all any guy who would walk out on a naked willing girl to attend to someone he wasn't in a relationship with was either insanely loyal or preferred a different kind of company. She highly doubted it to be the latter.
"Louise, are you awake yet?" Therum asked while barely cracking the door to the room he should have slept in last night. Maybe she would be in a better mood this morning.
"Yes I am. I think that you may have some explaining to do Therum." Or not. Being the brave man he is, he went ahead and entered the room.
"Would you care to explain why the inn downstairs looks like a traveling group of orcs passed through? Or more importantly, why did some big breasted commoner just stop by here with that outfit saying that I start my first day at five tonight?" The outfit in question was a white maid costume similar to the ones worn by the rest of the fairies.
"The outfit is the uniform worn by the girls who work here. I convinced the manager to give you a job to help us pay for the rent on this room. As for the tavern, I'm told that several of the patrons got a little too much liquor in them last night and started a fight or three amongst them."
"You actually expect me to wear that embarrassing costume and wait on commoners?" Already in a bad mood from hunger, Louise's face quickly reddened to match her hair in a mix of rage and embarrassment.
"That's about the gist of it. Unfortunately you don't have all that many skills to fall back on. You are getting pretty good at wielding Derflinger, and your magic is improving steadily now that you know what to work on, but next to nothing in the way of domestic skills. Being a waitress is about the best mundane job you are going to find."
"I am the Daughter of a Duke. I am above such menial tasks."
"Louise," Therum sighed, "if you are afraid that you can't do this job you can tell me. Some people just aren't cut out to take care of themselves."
"I am more than capable of doing such a simple job. I have been trained in the social arts by the best instructors money can buy. I will show these simple commoners charm like they have never seen." She threw her hair over her shoulder in a display of haughty self assurance.
"That's more like it Louise. The main thing you need to remember is to keep your temper under control. For the time being, you are not a daughter of Duke Vallière. You are a poor refugee who took this job so that you won't starve. The men you serve are likely to be insulting and vulgar to the humblest of people let alone a proud noble like you. Just try to think of them as one of your father's less savory business associates. Do your business, treat them better than they deserve, and if necessary plot their painful death in a less public place."
"If I am going to be doing this for the whole time we are on this mission, what are you going to be doing? I don't think that they would hire someone like you to work here."
"I am going to look around town for odd jobs that fit my skill set. There is a war going on; someone has to have need of a decent metallurgist. I figure we can worry about the details later."
"Whatever. Since you were off doing founder knows what, I have missed breakfast. As my familiar it is your job to rectify this folly."
"With this job I shouldn't have to worry about our finances quite as much. Why don't I treat you to brunch before you have to get back here to start your new job?"
"I hate you sometimes." Obviously she was still not overly fond of the idea of acting like a common waitress.
"And I love you too Louise. Now come on we are wasting daylight."
The duo quietly crept down the stairs and out the front door. Therum really didn't want to have to get caught up cleaning up a mess he couldn't remember making. That and if Scarron had half the headache he had, he doesn't need the added stress of dealing with Louise's temper. Definitely better for everyone that they disappear for the rest of the morning.
Therum briefly stopped by the slightly neglected stable behind the inn to check on his horse. The stallion was found to have broken down the wall separating his stall from an adjacent one where the sun was shining brightly. Apparently he wanted to do some sun bathing and couldn't be bothered to wait for one of the bipeds .Not wanting to deal with the temperamental animal at such an early hour, Therum threw a little hay into the now enlarged stall and made his way with Louise to one of the small local cafes to grab a bite to eat.
"Why do you put up with that stupid horse Therum? You could buy a much more obedient animal for less than it costs to pay for all the damages he causes."
"I told you when I first got him. He reminds me of a horse from one of the cultural stories of my home country. Besides he is a perfectly fine horse if you know how to deal with him. I think what he really needs is a nice filly to calm him down."
"I must have scrambled your brains a bit when I summoned you."
"Speaking of scrambled, move your butt Louise. I would like to get breakfast out of the way as soon as possible. You have to get back to the inn and get ready for your first night of work, and I still have to find some kind of work for myself."
"In that case, let's eat at the same café that we ate at when I first brought you here. I know you have the coin to afford it and you still owe me an apology for making me wait this morning. Besides, we are supposed to be investigating all the people of the city; we can't do that if we only associate with drunken peasants."
"I somehow think this has more to do with you wanting to eat like a noble than information gathering."
"I have a very complicated stomach. If I don't eat the right foods my brain doesn't work right." Therum silently arched an eyebrow questioningly at his young charge.
"Whatever you say Louise," he chuckled to himself at her antics.
"Louise this is Jeanne. She has agreed to show you the ropes around here for a couple nights. Please do as she asks and otherwise just follow her lead. And Jeanne, please go easy on Louise she is new to this line of work."
"Alright, but remember you owe me one for this. We normally don't have to teach people how to act around the customers. If she loses me any tips they are coming out of your pocket not mine."
"You women must think that I'm just made of money." He grumbled to himself. "If you two need me for anything I should be back this evening around the time the tavern opens up for business or a little after."
"And where do you think that you are going to be while I am stuck here doing this?"
"I am going to try and find some sort of work for myself. I'm also trying to avoid Scarron at the moment. I don't know how upset he is over what happened last night but I would rather not have to deal with that right now."
Jeanne was going to comment on how she doubted that Scarron would be overly mad over a few broken chairs, considering how much business they did last night, but got distracted by a noise coming from the back room of the tavern. The store owner in question came in from the back carrying an armful of new chairs to replace the one that had been broken the night before. When she turned back around to address Therum, the man was nowhere to be found.
"Has your companion always been this odd or is it a recent development of the war?" She asked Louise.
"He's been different as long as I've known him. If anything he has gotten a bit more serious recently." The pinkette responded with a slightly pensive look.
"If today is him being serious I should probably tell Scarron to keep a closer eye on that man if he starts drinking here again."
"What are you talking about? And how do you know Therum anyway? I don't remember seeing you around before.
"I really only met him last night. He spent a while talking quietly with Scarron before announcing that he had talked his way into free drinks for the whole place. After that he got into a drinking contest with Scarron. With both of them visibly distracted some of the customers got a little bit overly grabby and forceful with us waitresses. One guy in particular was really drunk and tried to make me leave with him if you know what I mean..."
Jeanne thought for a moment that the new girl was impossibly sheltered until she started going pink followed quickly by reddening with anger at how despicable some peasants could be. Unbeknownst to the senior waitress, her story just served as another nail in the coffin for the argument that the commoners need the nobles to keep them in check.
"If Therum hadn't stepped in and knocked him out I would probably be serving as a mistress for that dirty baron right now." Louise sputtered at hearing the latter half of the slightly older girl's comment.
"Therum knocked out a noble for trying to take you to his manor? Why would he do something like that? Surely you would have a more comfortable life at a noble's house than working in this establishment."
"I think I would rather work on my feet than on my back. How would you like to be taken away from your home by a complete stranger and forced to service him with your body at his whim against your will. Sure you may have a nice room and food if the noble feels like it but I have heard stories from other girls who have lived in such a situation and most of them are treated little better than slaves."
"I don't know exactly what your relationship is with Therum but he told me that you are not lovers. I can't imagine why you wouldn't want to be with such a noble man but if you are waiting to make a move you had better move fast. In the city girls will do anything in their power to get someone like him, especially when he is willing to fight nobles for our honor."
"Why should I care about what some girls think of that idiot? If he wants to see other girls what should I care? He can't leave anywhere without me anyway so I have nothing to worry about. If he keeps fighting nobles he is going to wind up in more trouble than even he can handle. Then it won't matter how many common girls love him because it will take a more powerful noble to dig him out." Unknown to Jeanne Louise was thinking of her position as a daughter of Vallière when talking about more connected nobles.
Nearby the town bell tower sounded twice times telling the assorted Fairies that they had only three hours till opening so they had to start getting ready to open.
"You can delude yourself Louise. Right now we need to get you ready to start tonight. Let's go talk to Jessica and see if we can find you a uniform that fits." Not bothering to listen to any complaints from the other girl the veteran waitress dragged her charge to the back of the tavern. Far away a certain redhead felt a great disturbance in the force, and the word traitor came to mind.
Had Louise not been struggling so hard to escape the surprisingly strong grip of the senior fairy, she might have noticed the patch of distorted air move from the front door to the main stairway before quickly disappearing upwards. At the top of the stairs the haze solidified into the recognizable form of Louise's "traitorous" familiar. He chuckled to himself as he pocketed a small silver ring.
He had been given the ring by one of his magic tutors after proving to be absolutely useless at any form of illusion spells. His problem lay in a particularly poor alignment for the particular branch of thaumaturgy. For him it was easier to either conjure or vaporize what needed to appear or disappear than it was to project an image otherwise. As an act of pity the instructor had given Therum the ring to help make up for his shortcoming. The enchantment is fickle anyway. The ring will give you thirty minutes of invisibility if you are standing still or fifteen if you are moving unless you make contact with another person. If you bump into someone the enchantment tries to cover both people and overloads. Therum found out about the defect shortly after getting the ring. One does not sneak around the women's wing of the Venenatus manor at night unless they want to be magically stuck to the ceiling without any clothes.
Once done reminiscing Therum did his best to make himself look like a presentable merchant for his next outing. He decided to forgo wearing the long coat or either sword so as to draw less attention to his self while walking through the town. Louise should be kept busy enough with her new job to be alright for a few hours while he socialized, make that investigated, the rest of the town. As a last minute thought he grabbed his money pouch from one pocket on his coat and his glasses from another before exiting the room via the window to keep from being spotted by Scarron.
Not knowing much else to do while investigating people Therum started walking in the direction of the casino that Louise found the day before. The bad guys always either ran the casinos in the movies or had someone watching them for some reason or another. It really is a shame that his favorite suit got destroyed by that band of zombie nobles, secret agents are always supposed to wear black tailored suits.
As he turned down one of the narrower connecting streets that lead to the casino Therum's musings were cut short by a heavy gust of wind that knocked him into a conveniently placed fruit vender's cart. The proprietor of the cart took in the scene with less shock than one would expect from having a full grown man fly into his cart and destroying his merchandise. Shaking his head he walked away mumbling something about "third time this month" and outrageous insurance rates.
From the direction that Therum had come from, four men with wands approached the temporarily stunned man. The lead man was portly and sporting a blackened eye that had nearly swollen shut.
"Did you really think that a commoner like you would get away with assaulting someone of my stature without consequence?" asked the fat man.
"I think you have the wrong guy my friend. I have barely been in this city twenty four hours so I could not have had the time to wrong you yet. Why don't we meet again in a couple weeks and I am sure that I can be much more deserving of your ire." Therum made a show of wiping off the sticky fruit mess that now stained his clothing as he extracted himself from the remains of the fruit cart.
"Why you insolent peasant! I am Barron Chulenne the tax collector for Her Majesty Queen Henrietta. I could ruin you in an instant for what you have done and nobody would be able to stop me." The portly man pointed to his visible black eye as he ranted.
"Wait, did I give you that nasty looking shiner? I'm sorry about that I drank a lot more last night than I have in years. I think I got a little out of control. If you want I'll give you the coin to have a water mage patch up your eye."
"I think that handing over your entire purse would be a good start. Depending on how much you have on you I may not have to have my friends here beet you too badly." Chulenne sneered greedily while eying Therum's fat looking purse.
"Counter offer. I give you 20G to get your eye healed and you leave me alone be before I do the same to the rest of your fat face."
"I am a triangle wind mage and my guards here are at least line level fire and earth mages. Do you really think that there is anything a commoner like you can do without attacking me from behind again like a coward." The large man's face was steadily gaining a heavy purple color as he spoke.
"But isn't that exactly what you just did to me when you blew me into that guy's fruit stand?" he gestured over his shoulder.
"There is no law forbidding a noble from punishing a commoner who has wronged him in whatever manner they see fit. There is however a lot of laws forbidding a lowly commoner like you from laying hands on someone as important to the crown as I. I could kill you here and now and nobody would say a word about it."
Swifter than the fat man thought possible without magic, Therum crossed the distance between him and Chulenne and decked him with a left hook. The large man landed unconscious with a thud. As one of the Barron's three companions started to pull out his wand, Therum impaled the man's hand with one of the knives he kept concealed up his sleeves. The man screamed looking at the bloody mess that was his hand. Therum twirled his remaining knife while looking at the remaining two mages expectantly. These two seemed to have more sense than their employer because they promptly turned and ran back down the street the way they had come, the bleeding man shortly followed.
Once the underlings were well out of sight Therum turned his attention to Chulenne. Therum casually searched the man's pockets and bag for anything worth having. The man's wallet contained several thousand écus worth of bank drafts, which were pilfered by right of conquest, as well as some sort of official looking identification card. He went ahead and left that alone not seeing any real need for such a thing considering he already had his own official papers if things got really troublesome. Finally there came the man's briefcase. In it were several more bank drafts as well as a number of carefully bundled scrolls.
Therum unrolled one of the scrolls and worked his way through the looping writing and numbers. Apparently it was one of the tax lists for businesses in the city. Therum casually worked through each of the seven scrolls in the bag for no other reason than having nothing else to do. He did note that the Charming Fairies Inn was supposed to be paying 800 écus a quarter for their liquor license but the tax collector had been taking 1200 écus from Scarron since he started the position three years ago. As he continued to read the scrolls he found that nearly every business run by a non-noble paid much higher taxes than they were supposed to, while many nobles pay little to no taxes.
Therum had no real problem with paying taxes seeing as they were essential to the functioning of any government but corruption was something that he could not stand for on any level. He resolved to deliver this information to Henrietta personally as soon as he got a little payback of his own on the man.
He had only done what he was about to attempt a couple of times, but he was confident that it was just like riding a bicycle. The familiar settled into a mild meditative trance as he reached down into the section of his spirit where his magical core lay. He was told that a person's magical core took on a different experience during this exercise for each individual. His looked like a large ball of blue lightning for instance while Alex had described hers as a calming moonlit pond, and Alexander once told Therum that his core resembled what most people imagine hell would look like.
As he looked over his core he noticed a few spots that were darker than they should be from all the recent black magic he had used but they were small and should clear up on their own. Doing the mental equivalent of a few heavy breaths, Therum dove into the center of his core to forcefully reestablish a full connection with his magic instead of waiting weeks for things to sort themselves out on their own.
A natural born magician has such a connection from birth that is all but impossible to sever while awakened mages like Therum had to force the connection making it weaker by definition. For whatever reason, Therum had an especially weak bond with his own core that would break from time to time if he overexerted it. Essentially he had to reset a giant metaphorical circuit breaker if he managed to trip it. Unfortunately for him his raw magic had extreme similarities to pure electricity so establishing the connection has a similar feeling to licking a live outlet. (This shock is what caused Alexander to lose concentration and give Therum the info dump the first time the connection was made.) With the connection reestablished, Therum jolted back to consciousness in the dark little side street.
"I really hate doing that." He said to himself. "I swear it never gets any less painful."
The now repowered mage looked down at the still unconscious form of the fat tax collector. Concentrating for a moment on exactly what he wanted to do Therum banished the man's clothing, save for his undergarments, and started to weave a spell over the man. It was a rather simple spell, more of a cures actually, if you knew how to do it but almost impossible to undo otherwise. Simply put if the fat man lied at all while the spell was active he would be violently electrocuted. Not enough to permanently harm the man but more than enough to get the point across. Therum tied the spell into the man's own core to provide power and set it to dispel itself after three years unless otherwise removed. Therum then scribbled a note on a scrap of paper and left it magically stuck to the man's forehead. His job here done, Therum left a thousand écus on the poor man's fruit stand and merrily teleported away to the room he had used while staying in the palace.
Appearing with a light crack, Therum looked around the comfortable room to make sure that nobody had seen his entrance. Satisfied that his ability to enter the palace undetected remained safe, he happily made his way to the throne room. When he got there he heard voices from the other side talking about finical plans and war planning so he decided to avoid barging in for the time being. Instead he opted for leaving the bundle of scrolls along with a note explaining their contents on the bed. For safety he spelled it with an SEP field keyed to keep everyone but Henrietta away from it. He laughed to himself as he imagined the reaction on her face when she read his note. He teleported away just moments before Agnes, Kistna, and a trio of mage guards burst into the room looking to see who had tripped the intruder wards. Two hours later they concluded that it must have been a glitch and would have to have the whole set redone, though for some reason the whole room smelled of fresh fruit.
Back at the Charming Fairies Inn Jeanne and Jessica had managed to alter the pure white uniform to fit Louise's diminutive frame while helping to accentuate what little bust line she had. Despite the pink haired noble's protests the two older girls greatly enjoyed getting to dress up such a 'cute little girl' like Louise. They decided that Louise would just shadow Jeanne for the first half of the evening to learn how things are done and if she felt confident she could start handling her own tables later in the night.
Right as the bell tolled five people started pouring into the tavern. Louise tailed Jeanne as she went from table to table taking orders. She was shy and bashful to the old men who gave her assurances and praise at a job well done. She became flirty with the young men who bought expensive wine that they tried to give her to win he favor, and was always somewhere in between with the middle aged workers who just wanted a drink after a long day's labor.
Louise almost called out a number of times when one of the more insistent men would try to touch the other girl in an inappropriate place, but every time she was quieted as the girl would steer them somewhere less offensive. She would let them hold her hand or touch her back or shoulder but would not allow more than a few moments to pass with each touch. Louise shivered at some of the men that the girl let touch her but resolved to put up with what she must in the name of her queen. After a couple of hours, Jeanne pulled Louise back into the kitchen to have a glass of water and see how the younger girl was fairing.
"What do you think Louise? Do you think that you are ready to go out there on your own and make some tips of your own?"
"I'm not sure. You let all of those disgusting men touch you without even trying to tell them to stop. And you are able to remember all of their orders and who ordered them without making a mistake. What if I forget something?"
"I've been doing this for nearly two years Louise. Nobody expects you to get everything right from the very beginning. I can tell you from when I started that Scarron is not going to be upset if you make a mistake as long as you do your best."
"But what if they touch me in an unforgivable place? I won't allow anyone unworthy to lay hands on me."
"Most of the men who come to this place are good people who just want some pleasant conversation before going home to their families. The only ones that you really have to watch out for are the nobles. We can't fight back against them because they can have us arrested or worse if we don't do as they ask. Most of the time Scarron is able to kill enough of their interest that they just leave but twice a noble has become infatuated with one of the girls and steals them away. One eventually came back and was never the same again and the other was never seen around these parts after that. I like to think that she did get a happy ending."
"I can't believe that the princess, I mean Queen would allow something like that to happen. Nobles are supposed to lead and protect the commoners. My Da… Duke from where I come from would never treat the people that work for him poorly unless they commit a crime."
"Things work differently out in the country Louise. Most of the nobles in the city have no problem taking advantage of us pretty young girls, or even some boys, if they are given much of a reason. As far as the Queen is concerned, I doubt that she even knows how bad things in the city are. She is so concerned with appearing perfect and fighting this stupid war that she is clueless to what is going on in the capital city of her own country!"
The chestnut haired young woman stopper her rant to take a drink of water and calm herself before turning her attention back to her strawberry haired trainee.
"That's not really any worry or ours though. Commoners like us just need to keep our heads down and do our jobs. Why don't you just continue to follow along with me for the rest of the night and try to pay close attention to how me and the other girls do things."
"Whatever you think is best Miss Jeanne." Together the two girls went back out into the noisy activity of the tavern. Louise moved on auto pilot as she followed the other girl. She had been given a lot of information to work through that really conflicted with her world view.
After five hours of dashing to and fro from one table to another Louise was really starting to think that she had underestimated the level of fitness required to be a server. If not for all the training she had received from Therum, she seriously doubted that she would be able to move by this point. It really surprised the Louise that none of the other girls seemed to be any less energetic than they had been at the start of the business.
By this time of night the worst of the crowd had cleared out for the evening leaving mostly a handful of drunks and several regulars who had friendly relationships with one or more of the fairies. More time was spent at each of the tables visited and Louise was introduced to several people that Jeanne regularly waited on. One older man by the name of Reed Jamison spent a fair amount of time reading excerpts from the letters his son had been sending him from boot camp. Apparently his primary instructors happened to be two of the scariest women on the planet. The elder Jamison broke into an especially loud bout laughter when he read about an event that had taken place just a couple days ago. Apparently the Queen herself made an appearance with a number of guests on the training fields. One of her guests said something offensive to the darker haired instructor and had to run for his life crying when the woman decided to attack him.
"He wasn't crying. He was laughing like an idiot with a death wish. He doesn't know how else to act." Louise commented absent mindedly.
"And how might you have come to such a conclusion little miss?" The old man asked as he set the letter down.
"I… I don't know for sure." The pinkette stammered "I would just assume that anybody that would play a joke on someone the queen trusts to train her soldiers would have to be either very brave or an absolute idiot."
"Or maybe the man in question is a brilliant strategist and was working to keep the instructor on her toes through unorthodox tactics," came a familiar tenor from behind Louise.
"I'm afraid that I would have to agree with the little lady on this one son. If the woman in question is half as terrible as these letters say the man must be a fool to rile her up."
"She's probably not nearly as ferocious as she wants people to think she is. I bet if you look really deep down you would find that the woman is a great big softie."
"Or you could find yourself with three feet of steel in your gut." Quipped Jeanne helpfully.
'More like thirty nine and a quarter inches to be exact but who's counting?' Therum thought to his self.
"Well it's all just speculation anyway. The only way to know for sure would be to talk to this supposed harpy and find out for our self what she is like."
"You get right on that youngin. I for one am going to stay right here where I am less likely to have a limb violently removed and finish my pint."
"That sounds like a much better course of action. Excuse me miss, would you please fetch me two pints of the finest ale this place has to offer?" Therum deliberately looked passed Jeanne to Louise as he spoke.
"Of course sir; as you wish." Louise left the small group to fetch the requested drinks. She felt it would have been an easier task if it weren't for the mild twitch she had suddenly developed.
"You really shouldn't tease the lass like that son. From what I can tell the girl is a bit out of her depth." Reed chastised the strange young man who had randomly taken a seat at his table once the small girl was out of earshot.
"She's a lot tougher than anyone gives her credit. She even cuts herself short most of the time. By the way, the name's Therum Magnus. Louise and I are new to town and I appreciate you being friendly with her from what I have seen."
"I didn't realize you knew the lass. Though, that does make you propping yourself up in my corner make more sense what with all the empty chairs and all. Names Reed Jamison I'm the local blacksmith in this part of the city."
"It is my pleasure goo sir. Speaking of Louise, how has she been holding up so far tonight Jeanne? She hasn't assaulted anyone or anything has she?"
"Nothing of the sort Therum. She has been a model worker for someone so obviously out of her depth." Chuckled the cheery chestnut fairy.
Louise barely had time to accept payment from Therum before being drug away to another table by Jeanne. Jeanne promised to come back and chat more with the man after they closed for the night.
"You do realize that anyone with a brain is going to catch on pretty quick that that girl is no commoner right?" The older man stated once the girls were out of earshot. "Her whole demeanor and the way she carries herself are too polished to be a farmer's daughter, but she doesn't have the skill set to have been raised as a servant in a noble's manor. If I had to guess I'd place her as the daughter of some very recently fallen noble. Unless there is something more to your relationship with that girl than you let on." He gave Therum a sly wink.
"I can assure you that Louise and I are friends and traveling companions and nothing more. We have been forced to move from our previous place of residence into this city because of the war. All we want to do is do our jobs and stay out of trouble." Which for the most part was true, it's not their fault if people come to incorrect conclusions.
Reed didn't seem so sure of the validity of Therum's story but it wasn't really his problem. As long as the man didn't cause any trouble for his business Reed really didn't care what his real story was.
"What exactly is it that you do mister Therum? From the look and smell of you I would hazard that you are some kind of produce merchant." Therum took a moment to figure out what the man was talking about before remembering the scuffle from earlier. He never got around to washing all of the fruit stains off of his clothes.
"No not really. I'm actually a metallurgist by trade. The fruit stains are from a misunderstanding I had with a man earlier today. Fortunately we were able to come to an agreement of sorts by the end of our interaction."
"And this agreement took you until this late in the evening to reach? I imagine that those must have been some kind of talks."
"No not really. The actual incident only took a little over an hour to work through from beginning to end. I spent most of the rest of the day trying to get my affairs in order while trying to find some kind of work. Apparently my accent is too similar to someone from Albion so they all assumed that I was some sort of spy or something. The absurdity of such accusations, everyone knows that spies all run around in evening wear."
"They would have a point lad. If I were to have guessed I would assume that you were from that island myself."
"Where I come from is a fair bit further away than the coast of the floating country. Far enough away in fact that I doubt I shall see it again in this lifetime. As such I have little interest in either side of this war save to protect those I have become fond of in my time in this country."
"I like the way you think boy." The older man clapped Therum on the back. "I'll make a deal with you. Come by my shop tomorrow around nine and we'll see if you have any worth to me. I may not care much about the intricacies of war but I do know that they are good for business. With my son being drafted I could use an extra set of hands to keep up with orders."
"That is very kind of you Mr. Jamison. I will see you in the morning then. I believe that you will be more than happy with my work." Therum got up from the table and made his way up to the room that he shared with Louise.
As soon as he got back into the room he collapsed on the bed with a pained grunt. In retrospect he should have waited a couple more weeks before reconnecting with his core. His magic was still far too turbulent to be using yet and he was paying the price. Never the less, he considered the discomfort to be worth ruining someone as corrupt as Chulenne. Henrietta should have found his note by now and the man should be out of power within the next few days.
Putting politics aside, Therum was rather happy with how things were playing out. Louise was doing far better than expected at her new job and he had found something to keep himself busy while he prepared for the coming storm. He still needed time to get back up to full strength before diving back into the thick of things. As it stood he didn't have enough power at the moment to undo the lockdown on his workshop, despite trying every way of entry short of explosives, let alone recall all of his possessions from limbo while forcing a new connection to his pocket dimension.
Working at the old blacksmith's forge would provide the perfect cover to subtly use small bits of magic and build back up his power without Louise finding out. He dreaded the day that the tiny girl found out that he had somewhat lied to her about losing his magic. Then again she would never have agreed to get a job if she knew that her servant was still capable of transmuting gold and diamonds out of essentially nothing. Hopefully she would understand by the end of their time here that this was all for her own good.
At some point the man must have dozed off because the next thing he knew the door to the room slammed open to reveal a rather weary looking Louise de la Vallière. She didn't even bother to spare her familiar a word before retrieving her wand from where she had hidden it under her uniform and swept him off the bed with a flourish. Then she promptly collapsed onto the bed still fully dressed.
"I take it you had a good day at work then?" Therum deadpanned from his new spot on the floor.
"So tired. How do you commoners do this on a daily basis?"
"You get used to it after a while I assure you. Now why don't you get yourself cleaned up while I go fetch you something to eat?"
"I'll take that as an affirmation then. I'll be back shortly." He quietly made his way back down to the kitchen where the rest of the wait staff was gathered to have their evening meal and otherwise unwind after a long night's work. As soon as he stepped into the kitchen he was immediately latched onto by Jeanne.
"This is the guy that I was telling you all about earlier. He's the one traveling with the new girl and broke up that nasty fight last night." The chestnut haired beauty yelled while dragging the man into the group of girls, which immediately set off a whirlwind of gossip.
"Wasn't he the one that was arm wrestling with Mi Mademoiselle?"
"No I thought he was the one that started that fight in the first place."
"No he is the guy that punched that nasty fish faced Barron out the door last night."
"I think you're right. He knocked out that nasty man and spent the next couple hours buying her drinks and flirting. If memory serves they disappeared upstairs sometime after midnight."
They all looked at the girl in question who turned a bright shade of scarlet and failed to meet any of their gazes head on. Therum who had been ignoring the gossip while dishing out a serving of stew for Louise and himself decided to make a strategic withdrawal while the girls were distracted. By the time they discovered his disappearance he had long since made it to the safety of the stairs.
"See what you did now Jessica! You scared him off before I could even introduce him properly." Jeanne frowned at the owner's daughter.
"You have told us all night long how brave and kind he is. How was I supposed to know that a little teasing would send him running like that?" The surprisingly attractive young woman shot back.
"I think he's just a bit shy when sober. But that isn't what is important. I found out this morning that he is indeed traveling with Louise but according to him they are not romantically involved. That means that he is fair game for any of us who want to try and snag such a desirable guy." Jeanne's eyes burned with the fire of moe.
"They're probably not together because he is her servant or something. If you listen to that girl talk there is no way that she isn't a noble. There's no way that he would want to leave her just to be with a common bar girl." A blonde girl by the name of Marlene commented.
"Maybe, and maybe not, if he were so attached to her he would not have left for the entire day without checking in on her. He probably would have taken a job here as the dish washer or something. I think that all he needs is someone to show him some actual affection and he would eventually return it a dozen fold."
"Well next week is the annual tip contest. We could always make it a tip and affection contest. The first prize will still be the enchanted family bustier which will be sure to cement the winner in his heart. But there will have to be some ground rules, the first of which being no getting him drunk and taking advantage of him." The dark haired girl glanced at Jeanne who blushed. "After that the rest are pretty simple…"
Therum shivered as a sense of foreboding washed over him almost making him spill the soup he was spooning to the now clean Louise. Fortunately he managed to steady himself enough to avoid staining his last remaining Earth made dress shirt. The girl had claimed it to sleep in citing that she could not sleep with the course materials of the bedding against her skin. Besides, it made her look like a younger sibling playing dress up and the man had always wanted a little sister.
After both finished their "commoner" meal, Therum made sure the girl was as comfortable as possible before slumping down on the floor. His last thought before finally falling asleep was of his missing memory foam mattress.
Several miles away another figure was preparing for bed when she noticed a stack of scrolls sitting at the foot of her bed. Apparently her work never ends. As tired as she was she decided to set aside what just looked like another set of tax reports to be dealt with tomorrow. What difference would a few hours possibly make for such a trivial matter?
A/N: I hope that this chapter cleared up some confusion from earlier chapters without adding too much more. Louise has taken her first real steps to realization that not all commoners are worthless and many nobles are more corrupt than she previously thought. If anybody has any thoughts, questions, suggestions, or concerns, feel free to drop a PM or review and I will do my best to accommodate you.