Whispers at the bus stop, I heard about nights out in the school yard. I found out about you. Rumors follow everywhere you go
Seryl 23rd, 1513 – Dead Man’s Alley, River Sulis, Lothianshire, Albion
A much younger Reggie would have thought by the time that he was this age, this level of success, he would have been finished having to drink in disreputable taverns in bad parts of town. That Reggie had thought that when you got old enough and successful enough, you could pay people to do it for you. And he could’ve, but if he wanted it done right, he’d have to do it himself.
Besides as his old mentor, a bent old man who could out run, out drink, out swear, out fight and out duel any man of any age, used to say “The first rule ye gotta know, Reggie me lad, ye ain’t never gonna be finished doin’ thin’s ye don’t wanna. If ye’re breathin’, ye’re gonna have something ye’re doin’ that ye don’t wanna.” And as always, the old man was right.
He shook his head and picked at the bread on the plate in front of him. It was good bread, actually every thing about the tavern was pretty good, except the location. Mistress Ollerton kept the place clean, the food was good, the ale was excellent. And if–or hopefully when–he didn’t need to spend certain long afternoons sitting in Dead Man’s Alley watching things, he’d definitely be helping her find a better locale.
It was probably a good thing that the bread was so good, as was the ale. Otherwise he’d never be able to keep it down.
As any plantsim would tell you, the earth remembered. Sometimes there was too much horror in any one place for it to forget. It called out–sometimes–to anyone with the power to hear it. Reggie could hear it. He just couldn’t help it. How did you ease the pain of all of the things that had happened here?
And the horror wasn’t helped by the reason that Reggie was here, though she certainly wasn’t the cause. Blood-soaked land tended to call to people whose stock in trade was blood in some form. Dark wizards were often drawn to make their homes in places where bad things had happened. If something was already corrupted, you didn’t have to go through all of the effort to corrupt it.
Places like this tended to be just that much more receptive to dark magic. In the case of this “Madame Bones” he was watching, she would have been drawn to the place because the easy store of magic found there would add to her power. She wasn’t that strong of a witch.
His eyes flicked over the tavern patrons. Mistress Ollerton’s teenage daughter waited for the drink order from the two people sat on the “drinking benches” by the fireplace. They were arguing about something, when the woman’s eyes flickered to Reggie, he nodded as if in agreement with her and her attention went back to her drinking companion with the smug knowledge that she was right.
Behind him were two couples sharing either a late luncheon or an early supper. Mistress Ollerton herself at the bar taking stock of the contents of the shelf. Probably preparing to send someone to the bakery to pick up more of whatever was needed for the dinner rush.
Then his eyes turned back toward the window. Now, if Reggie had been just an ordinary man, he’d have seen nothing more than the opaque window glass. But Reggie had never been what one might have termed ordinary.
With just a little bit of applied power–used very sparingly–he could see the street as if nothing, not even the walls, were in the way. He could have seen all the way into the shop he was watching if he had put a little more power into it, however the witch probably would have sensed it and Reggie had no intention of tipping his hand this early.
On his way to the tavern he had stopped and sensed where her wards covered and his probing ended about half a foot from where her protections began. However it did mean that he saw little more than a small courtyard with a well. On one side sat an herbalist’s shop, sharing the building with it was a pawnshop. Sharing with building with the bookseller was a shop that specialized in imported cheese and seemed to be doing pretty brisk business.
He’d been there for a while already and no one had gone in or out of the witch’s bookshop. She might have been open more in the evening, he supposed. And he might have been wasting his time. But it was a tiny hint of something–nothing so strong as a glimpse of the future, just the vaguest feeling, that told him that he was not wasting time, that if he stayed, he’d find something out. He trusted those feelings.
And if it seemed silly, sitting here in this tavern, making himself queasy and watching people come in and out of the courtyard carrying cheese, well–as the old man had told him “If ye ain’t asking yerself on a daily basis ‘why the fuck am I doin’ this’–ye’re probably not doin’ it right.”
Still, there was no one at home, Eve was still at school, Colby at work, and he would know if anything went so massively wrong that it wouldn’t do without him for a couple of hours.
The couple behind him had left, the man heading toward the front exit, the woman, he was too well trained to sit up and look attentive, especially as he shouldn’t have been able to see anything. But she was headed straight toward the courtyard he was watching. Then she turned and headed into the cheese shop–seriously–how good could the cheese be?
Reggie kept from sighing and shaking his head mostly by will. It was ridiculous, he was being ridiculous. There were three other shops in that square and at least two of them would probably be doing decent business for most of the afternoon.
And even if someone did come out of the bookstore that didn’t–Reggie froze in the middle of reaching for his mug of ale. Then realizing how it must look, he continued to reach for the glass and picked it up. Hoping that no one would have noticed the stop motion jerkiness of the movement.
Because someone had just come out of the bookshop–and it was someone that Reggie knew. Even across the square, blurred slightly by being at the edge of his spell, he knew them.
It was only the presence of others in the tavern that kept Reggie from snarling aloud and had nothing to do with the absolutely ridiculous outfit that his nephew was wearing–seriously–those shoes and trousers would have looked more at home on Goldie than on any little boy.
Mentally snarling and flailing, Reggie watched as Romi made her way through the sudden throng of people in the streets. He saw the faint aura of dark magic clinging to his niece and nephew.
Her attention seemed to be more on the people around her than on little Ruben toddling along as fast as his not-quite three year old legs would take him. Once out of the courtyard, Goldie seemed to shake herself and began wailing. He couldn’t quite make out what she was crying about, she wasn’t old enough to really be talking, mostly it seemed to be “No!” and “Bad!” but he had a feeling it had something to do with that magic that wreathed around her.
Ruben didn’t seem to even notice it was there–though he had his suspicions about Ruben–and about Bronx, even if he’d never have said to his brother that he doubted the boys were his.
Goldie was the most sensitive of the kids to magic–noticing when he had been working it, even if the boys didn’t. And at Goldie’s age, almost no one reacted well to black magic, even those who would go on to practice it.
Reggie tossed a few coppers on the table and headed out into the street. The smell of dark magic–coppery and blood-like seemed to linger in the air even above the smells of sim and sweat and old that his nose detected. Romi was walking faster now, probably wanting to get Goldie out of the alley before someone noticed who she was.
In her haste, however, she had forgotten something. In a practiced motion he swept his nephew up into his arms, the little boy looked startled for about half a minute, then grinned at his uncle. Reggie had to restrain a shudder at the thought of how easily someone else could have picked up the little boy. How easily he could have disappeared and no one would know what had happened to him.
Reggie wondered how long it would be, where it would be, that Romi would notice that Ruben wasn’t behind her, every step she took Reggie’s disdain grew more. He might not have had children of his own–other than with Sara-Beth he couldn’t have imagined having them with any of the women he’d been with–but he had taken care of his sister for most of her life and had been old enough to watch his brother when his brother had been no older than little Ruben.
He could not have ever imagined leaving either of them to walk after him in a busy street–especially not one as dubious as Dead Man’s Alley.
Yes, think about the leaving Ruben behind and not about the black magic that was crawling against the edge of Reggie’s protections. He’d have to figure out some way to get the kids away from Romi–to find out just what the magic was and what it was doing–and if it were something that were actually trying to hurt the kids or just something lingering from being in the witch’s shop.
He caught up to his sister in law when they were back on the sunny riverside main street. Her eyes flew wide as she saw Ruben–then even wider when she saw who was carrying him.
“R-Reggie–w-what are you doing here?” If he had the smallest hope that Romi had just been buying a book in the witch’s shop, her guilt at seeing him killed it.
“I was just getting a bite to eat in the tavern. Mistress Ollerton has a great stew on Mondays.”
“Oh–I never stop in there.” Romi told him with a faint sneer.
“Yeah, well.” Reggie shrugged. “I was just coming out of the tavern when I noticed this little guy trailing behind. I thought you might miss him.”
“Are you trying to imply I don’t pay attention to my kids?” Romi’s sneer went up several notches.
“Considering I picked him up just outside the tavern and we were all the way here before you even noticed he wasn’t still behind you, do you have any reason why I shouldn’t imply that?” Reggie asked quietly. Romi started to say something then humphed and tossed her head.
“It–it was only because Goldie was fussing. If she had been being quiet then I would have paid more attention to Ruben.” Of course shift the blame off onto the baby because Wright forbid you ever own up to doing something wrong yourself. Reggie thought at his sister in law.
“Well, as I’m headed your way anyway. There’s someone I need to talk to, why don’t I carry Ruben back to your house for you. Just in case Goldie starts fussing again.”
“Thank you, Reggie.” What could possibly have been so important that Romi, who granted has about as much brains as a dog in heat, would have come out–during the day–with her kids to go to a bookstore–when I’m not even sure she can read–owned by a dark witch?
Part of him wished he could just wash his hands of the whole thing. But they were his nieces and nephews–despite what blood they might or might not have–and there was also the words of the old man ringing in his head. “If yer gonna be a wizard, Reggie me lad, ye got three choices. Ye’ll either be cleaning up shit, walking through shit, or causing shit. And the more ye want to be able to look at yerself in the mirror when shaving, the more likely ye’ll be the one cleaning it up.” What else could he really do?