Sunday 3 February 2019

Ye Olde Magick Shoppe

Ye Olde Magick Shoppe - a Ned and Jenni short story

'It's not good enough, Spinks. It's encroaching on my potential business.' The exceptionally squat dwarf, his yard-long beard bristling with indignation, glared up at Ned Spinks, Chief Thief-Catcher.
'You don't have a business, Crocket.'
'It's pronounced Croquet. And that's Mr Croquet to you. And with a shop like that in the middle of my home street, I'm never going to. It's not ethical. It's... it's...' The dwarf spluttered, trying to find the right words.
'Ism?' Jenni, Ned's second in command and a rather ripe smelling sprite, grinned at her boss as she egged on the angry dwarf.
'Exactly! Ism! That's what it is. And it isn't right. I bet it's a tall person what runs the shoppe. Total ism, right there, on my doorstep.' Crocket was getting red with indignation.
Ned stood up and began making conciliatory gestures toward the door. 'I'll send my best Catchers to investigate.'
'You make sure you do.' Crocket wagged a finger at Ned then stomped past him. He glared at Jenni as he walked out of the room. She stuck her tongue out at him.
Ned sighed as the door slammed shut. 'How many complaints is that now?'
'Er,' Jenni cocked her head to one side, thinking. 'Six I fink, boss. There was the greengrocers wot started complaining when the shoppe first showed up and then... then it were the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker.' She grinned triumphantly.
'That's only four, Jenni. And I'm fairly sure you made the last three up.'
The sprite sniggered. 'It's a shoppe boss. There's nuffink you can do 'bout it. They shows up when they likes and they goes when they likes. It's wot they is.'
'Yeah, I know. But we're still going to have to go have a word.'
'Good luck wiv that, boss.'
'C'mon Jenni, you too.' Ned ignored his second in command's complaints and put his jacket on as they walked out the door and down the stairs. Reg, the barman of The Noose, gave Ned a brief nod of acknowledgement that they were leaving. He was a man of few words but he did stop drunk patrons from going upstairs and trashing the Thief-Catcher's office. Usually.
The streets of Roshaven were quiet as Ned and Jenni walked over to Market Street. It wasn't actually the street where the market was held, that was Residential Row. A place where no-one lived and there were stalls for every single thing you could possibly want to buy.
'Boss? Do you fink the shoppe knows it ain't in the marketplace?' asked Jenni.
'Could be, could be. It's unusual for them to pop up where there aren't any shops. Makes them harder to blend in.'
They found the shoppe easily enough. It had a simple double-take charm on it. You walked past, something caught the corner of your eye hence the double-take and voila. One shoppe. Only it had a closed sign on the door.
Ned rapped his knuckles on the door just in case but the shoppe remained resolutely dark, no sign of life.
'Jenni? Can you do anything?'
'Nah, boss, I ain't even trying. Your power'do more than I could. It's fing ain't it. Natural 'pellence or summink. 'Ere look.' She reached out with a silvery glow and the moment her fae magic touched the doorknob of the shoppe there was a wicked arc backwards, like the biggest static shock you'd ever seen, accompanied with a loud bang and even a whiff of smoke.
Ned pursed his lips and decided against testing his magic on the door. He didn't hold any fae magic himself but didn't fancy being on the other end of a repellent like that. 'Jenni, pop back to HQ and get Sparks to co-ordinate a stakeout for me. I want to know the minute this shoppe is back open for business.'
Jenni winked and popped out of view. Ned peered into the dingy window, careful not to get too close to the frame. There wasn't much of anything to see apart from a seriously impressive collection of dust. He couldn't think of any reason why anyone would want to go into a shoppe like that. Except for a severe case of curiosity. The type of curiosity a young palace guard might have. Smiling, Ned started whistling as he walked away from Market Street towards the Palace. It was time to have a chat with his pal, Fred.
Fortunately, Fred was on main gate duty so it didn't take Ned long to find him. The young lad waved enthusiastically, which made his plumed helmet topple off his head. As he made a grab for that, he let go of his ornamental spear, and they both clattered loudly to the floor.
'Private Petri! Pick up that spear this instant! You are meant to be a guard of the illustrious palace of our Emperor, may he live for ever and ever! Not a juggler in the circus!'
There was no person attached to the voice but Ned knew it was Corporal Hobbs from the excessive use of exclamation points and the high-pitched, nasal quality to the screech-like shout. Most likely, Hobbs was exercising his authority over Private Petri and sitting down in the small guard hut nearby. Fred's magnificently plumed helmet rolled through a puddle and came to rest at Ned's feet. He picked it up and gave it a little shake to try and get rid of the mud but it ended up looking even more bedraggled.
Fred took it back with a mournful look on his face.
'Not to worry, Fred. These things happen.' Ned tried to cheer him up.
'This is me fourth plume this month, Mr Spinks, sir. Me mam will be so cross at me. I try real hard, you know, on account of our Brian. He's still off sick with the collywobbles and someone's got to pay for that expensive medicine you can only get from the apothecary down Seven Mile Avenue.' Fred looked sideways to make sure Corporal Hobbs wasn't paying him any attention. 'Between you and me, Mr Spinks, sir, I don't think our Brian will ever be back in uniform. He just doesn't suit a plume.' Fred smiled earnestly at Ned who couldn't help but smile in return. 'How can I help you today, Mr Spinks, sir? Do you need an appointment with the Emperor, may he live forever and ever, because I thought you had one of them card blanky things that got you in whenever you wanted to. Not that I'm prying but, you know, that's what I thought.'
'Actually, Fred, it's you I've come to see.'
'Have you seen the new Shoppe, down in Market Street?' asked Ned, just as Jenni popped into existence at his side making Fred yelp, jump, and very nearly drop his helmet again. He needed a moment to compose himself before answering.
'I'm not in trouble, am I? Fred's Adam's apple was bobbing excessively.
'No, no. No trouble.' Ned waited. He didn't have to wait long. Fred was excellent at filling in a silence.
'They're very rare you know. Olde Magic Shoppes. They only come up once in a blue moon. Interesting fact, we had a blue moon a couple of months ago. More regular than you might think.' Fred looked up at the sky, in case there was a moon.
'Was there a Shoppe then then?' asked Jenni.
'Ooh, I don't know Miss Sprite. Was there?' Fred looked down eagerly.
'Anyway,' Ned interjected. 'Did you visit the Shoppe this time?'
Fred was about to answer but was forestalled by Corporal Hobbs's screech making everyone flinch. 'Petri!'
'Yes, sir, Corporal Hobbs, sir!' Fred shot an apologetic look at Ned and Jenni as he about turned and marched sharply to the nearby small guard hut.
Jenni picked at her teeth and scuffed a few pebbles with her feet while they pretended they couldn't hear the conversation.
'Private Petri! The Emperor, may he live for ever and ever, wants you to take a message to that layabout Thief-Catcher Spinks. Mark my words Petri, he may be in favour now but the tip of that iceberg ain't no molehill.'
Fred had no answering comment. Few people who spoke to Corporal Hobbs did. He mixed his metaphors, badly. Fred saluted, nearly knocking his helmet off again and marched smartly back to his post. 'He doesn't mean it you know, Mr Spinks, sir. It's his sandwiches. They was egg. Always puts him in a powerful bad mood does eggs.' Fred glanced backwards to make sure Corporal Hobbs wasn't listening. 'He has eggs most days,' he added in a conspiratorial tone and beamed at them, rocking a little, back and forth on his heels.
An uncomfortable silence began to brew.
'The message?' Ned asked finally.
'Oh right! The message. Well, I haven't got my trumpet on account of it being at the cleaners. There was an incident with mouse droppings. I won't go into it but they are nothing like tiny little chocolate raisins, let me tell you! So, I can't do you a fanfare, is that alright, Mr Spinks, sir?'
Ned nodded wearily.
'Ahem.' Fred unfurled the short parchment roll Corporal Hobbs had handed him. He peered at it, mouthing the words silently before giving a small nod. 'Ahem.'
'You already said that,' remarked Jenni.
Ned nudged her to be quiet.
'Ahem, ' said Fred. 'The Emperor, may he live for ever and ever, wishes to discuss the appearance of an Olde Magic Shoppe on Market Street and determine how best to move it along.' Fred finished reading. 'Ere, that's handy, that is. You was just asking about the shoppe and that. Small world, eh?'
'Thanks, Fred, really. Now before I go see the Emperor, can you tell me what happened at the shoppe?'
'May he live for ever and ever,' Fred muttered quickly before trying to scratch his head, forgetting the helmet was in the way. The plume teetered alarmingly. 'Right, the shoppe. Well, I was going to go in like. Just to have a look. I mean our Graeme, that's Graeme from the harbour not Graham from the docks. You know the one, right?'
Ned nodded. He was getting to the end of his patience.
'Well, our Graeme had dared me to go, next time one of the shoppes came along so when I heard it was here I sort of went along and had a look.'
'And?' Ned had been hoping for a little more.
'Oh, it was closed. Out for lunch or something.'
Ned stalked past Fred towards the main Palace courtyard.
'Bad for business if you ask me!' shouted Fred behind him.
Jenni scampered alongside Ned. 'He's a pillock ain't he, boss?'
'Something like that Jenni, something like that.' Ned rubbed his chin. He wondered who they'd be grilled by today. Just because he'd received a summons to see the Emperor didn't mean he would actually be talking to him.
He was correct. The High Left Inquisitor and the High Right, the Honourable Lord Chamberlain, were waiting for him in the third best meeting room.
'Spinks. That was efficient. Most unlike you.' High Left looked down at Ned, his nose wrinkled at a bad smell. Ned wasn't worried, it would only be Jenni.
'How can we be of assistance?' he asked.
'This little shoppe needs to go. The Emperor, may he live for ever and ever, has received complaints. Complaints lead to independent thinking.' The High Right waggled his eyebrows at Ned. Jenni watched in fascination then began trying to move her own, whilst squinting cross-eyed and sticking her tongue out as she concentrated. Ned did his best to ignore her.
'We can't have that, sir,' he replied.
'No, Spinks. We cannot.' The two Highs watched him impassively. Ned waited to make sure there was nothing else forthcoming. There wasn't so he took his leave. Jenni was still trying to waggle her eyebrows.
The pair walked over to Market Street. It was about time they had a word with this shoppe keeper. Sparks flitted out to meet them as they arrived.
'Jenni, translate please,' asked Ned. The firefly was difficult to understand at the best of times and Ned was not going back to the office for the strap on translator. It pinched.
Sparks gave a very animated light show. Jenni nodded and hummed and hahhed at the firefly which made him add a few extra flashy embellishments to his report. It wasn't often he got to do stakeouts on account of the very likely possibility that someone would swat him.
'Thanks, pal,' said Jenni as she turned to Ned and Sparks buzzed off. 'Nuffink 'appened.'
'That's all he said?' asked Ned sceptically.
'Huh.' Ned examined the shoppe. The closed sign was still on display, the interior still looked dark and uninviting. On a hunch, Ned extended his hand and gingerly turned the doorknob. The shoppe door swung open. Jenni pulled a magical fireball out, just in case, while Ned checked his power well. His spell casting was more miss than hit but they had no idea what they were walking into. As they passed over the threshold, Jenni's magic winked out instantly and she shook her head at Ned.
'I ain't got nuffink.'
'Well, that's surely not the case. Someone always has something.' An elderly voice quivered from the darkest corner of the shoppe. 'Forgive me, where are my manners.' Fingers snapped and the shoppe lights blazed on. 'Mr Wisslethump at your service, purveyor of unique items and distributor or rare artefacts. How may I assist you today?' He glared at Jenni, who was about to touch an interesting looking box. It had blinking eyes all over it. 'You touch it, you buy it!' Mr Wisslethump snapped.
Jenni stuck her tongue out at him and shoved her hands very firmly into the pockets of her coat.
'Mr Wisslethump, I'm afraid we need you to move on. You can't continue to tether your establishment here in this street,' said Ned, trying in vain to sound sympathetic and failing miserably.
'Why? Where am I?'
'You're in Roshaven, on Market Street, a residential area,' explained Ned.
'Are you sure?' asked Mr Wisslethump, his eyes glinting.
'Yeah, we are. We just come from there and the Emperor, e's not very 'appy with this, alright?' Jenni was starting to get annoyed. There was a great deal of magic here and it wasn't fae and it wasn't like the power her boss used. It was giving her the heebie-jeebies.
'Then I shall move on, of course,' replied Mr Wisslethump. He dipped his head in agreement and held an arm out towards the door.
'Come on Jenni, let's leave Mr Wisslethump to his shoppe.' Ned ushered Jenni to the door. He opened it but then turned back. 'Thank you for your understanding, Mr Wisslethump.'
'No problem at all,' came the reply.
Ned stepped out into a field. That was odd, they had been in the middle of a street when they entered the shoppe.
'Er, boss? I don't fink we're in Roshaven anymore.'
In fact, the pair of them stood in a field in the middle of goodness knows where. Ned spun round to give the shoppe keeper a piece of his mind and there was nothing there. He looked up at the sky. Sure enough, a blue moon was already out, getting ready for later. He looked around and spied a mile marker at the far end of the field.
'C'mon Jenni. Let's find out where the bloody hell we are.'
The two of them tramped over the field, trying to ignore the sticky mud determined to adhere to their shoes and trousers. The mile marker read Roshaven 300 miles west. Then it shimmered and disappeared.
Ned pursed his lips. How very kind of the shopkeeper to at least leave them with a direction to travel. He squared his shoulders and headed out in the opposite one.
'But boss, it says Roshaven is that way,' Jenni protested.
'Trust me. Nothing good lies that way.' And he was right. If indeed they had gone that way they would've entered an infinity loop, returning back to the muddy field and the disappearing sign over and over again.
'Jenni? Can you pop us back, please?'
Ned turned to stare at the sprite. 'What do you mean nope?'
'I ain't got no juice.' She looked up and down the road. 'You sure it's this way?'
'Yes, I'm sure. Why haven't you got any juice?'
'Cos, why?' Ned was started to get annoyed.
'Well, I could but Mr Woowah sniffed me out. He puffed me.'
'Puffed you?'
Jenni was looking uncomfortable and began kicking a loose stone in the path. 'You know, like a candle. So I need a bit to come back, right?'
'You will get your power back, won't you?' Ned was concerned. He'd never known Jenni to lose her magic before, ever.
'Yeah, should do. I can feel a flicker 'ere and there. It'll be alright, boss. C'mon, let's get going if we're going.' And she began stomping down the path.
They walked for about half an hour before it became apparent that something was following them, alongside the path, in the bushes.
'Jenni? Anything?'
'Nah, boss. It's all you.'
Ned reached into his power well to see what he had. It was mostly full but that wasn't the problem, the problem was whether or not he'd be able to do anything with it if he managed to get hold of it. Taking a firm grip on his magic, he pulled out a stun spell. It wobbled but he thought it would do the trick.
'Who's there? Show yourself,' called Ned. The rustling in the bushes grew louder. 'Or you can stay in there, if you like.'
Foliage shuddered violently. A snout with smoke curling out of its nostrils protruded. It was followed by emerald eyes, framed with an impressive tufty green monobrow, a pair of horns and two long green ears.
'A dragon!' breathed Jenni in delight.
'Bloody hell, Jenni. I can't do anything to a dragon! What do we do now?'
But Jenni had gone closer to investigate. Her unique stench wafted into the dragon's nostrils which flared impressively.
'Jenni, I don't think that's the best idea,' warned Ned, trying to keep hold of his stun spell which kept slipping away from him.
The dragon edged closer to the sprite who had a hand outstretched. It nuzzled her gently. Jenni turned to look at Ned with a huge grin on her face. 'I fink he likes me!'
'Do you think this is a good idea though, Jenni?'
'Aww boss, I ain't never 'ad a dragon afore. 'e can keep us safe on the road. Please?'
Ned eyed the dragon suspiciously but before he had the chance to reply someone else spoke.
'Stand and deliver!'
'No, it's not stand and deliver, it's give us all yer money!'
'I thought you just waved a knife in their face.'
'We could just do it all?' There was murmured agreement from the three bandits who stood in the road in front of Ned, Jenni and the dragon.
'Unbelievable,' said Ned. 'Boris, what are you doing here? And why are you trying to rob me?'
Boris, the lead highwayman, bobbed his head guiltily. 'Ah, Spinks. Didn't see you there. Can we forget that other thing? Yeah?'
'Sure, if you tell me how you got here.'
Jenni was tickling the dragon's chin. The dragon was making happy crooning noises and the attempted highwaymen were looking at the beast nervously.
'Well, I mean, it's like this, right.' Boris scratched his head. 'You know that new shoppe on Market Street?'
'We thought we'd have a go, like.' Boris shuffled his feet while the rest of his crew tried to avoid Ned's gaze.
'And youse got sent 'ere, yeah?' Jenni asked.
The attempted highwaymen all nodded.
'We're walking back, you can come wiv us if you like.' She grinned widely and began walking on the path, the dragon waddling behind her. The men gave her as wide a berth as possible while Ned hurried to catch up.
'Do you really think bringing that dragon with us is a good idea?' he asked.
'Yeah! Can I flame 'em yet?' Jenni jerked her head backwards.
'No! No flaming.' Ned eyed the dragon. 'Can you even stop him? Her? It?'
'Oh yeah, he's my mate now. He'll flame if I ask 'im to.' Jenni looked at her boss hopefully. 'So, whenever you're ready.'
Ned shook his head and carried on walking, casting sideways glances now and then at the fire-breathing monster trotting alongside happily.
As they turned the corner, a small group of chattering boy scouts were sat on the side of the path.  When they saw Ned they leapt to their feet.
'Do you need any help, sir? Want to cross the road, sir? Can we interest you in a box of cookies, sir?'
Jenni's ears pricked. 'Cookies?'
It was all the boy scouts needed. Out came seven different boxes of cookies ranging from the traditional chocolate chip and the lemon drizzle to the more daring Festive Surprise, which no-one knew what was inside.
'Only $5 for half a box, mostly uneaten,' piped up the cutest young boy, flashing an endearing smile.
'How did you get here? Where are your parents?' asked Ned, glancing up and down the road.
The boys looked at each other, whispering before they pushed forwards another young man with an unfortunate set of ears like saucers sticking out on the side of his head.
'Um...' The lad looked terrified.
'It's okay, you're not in trouble.' Ned crouched down a little, so he wasn't towering over the boys so much.
'Wewentintotheshoppeandthenwegothere,' he whispered, then yelped and pressed backwards as Jenni came closer, followed by the dragon.
There was a mixed response from the boys, some gasps of amazement but mostly they were trying to hide behind each other.
'Shoppe?' asked Jenni, one hand casually petting the dragon which was rumbling gently next to her.
Some of the boys nodded.
'C'mon we're going back to the city. 'E won't flame ya till I tell 'im too.' Jenni winked. 'E might let yer stroke 'im.'
The boy with the ears came forward, terrified yet fascinated, one hand extended towards the dragon. A forked tongue whipped out of the scaly snout and delicately touched the child's fingertips making him giggle. That was all it took for the rest of the boys to come forward which startled the dragon who let out a huge puff of steam. Delighted screams filled the air.
'Alright, alright, settle down you lot.' Ned tried to take charge of the situation. 'Boris, you can keep these boys moving, can't you?'
Boris scratched his nose and nodded. He was eyeing up the biscuits.
'Excellent. Let's keep moving, shall we? Jenni?' He gestured for her to go first, feeling rather nervous at the thought of a dragon at his back. He let her get a fair way in front of the rest of them. Some of the boys were too interested in the fire-breather for his liking and despite Jenni's confidence that she had control of the beast, he wasn't convinced.
There was a high-pitched scream and a familiar clatter.
'Ere, boss. You'll never guess wot,' Jenni called over, waving a plumed helmet in her hand. 'It's Fred.'
Ned jogged to catch up with her and saw Fred, the palace guard, sprawled on the floor, quivering in terror as the dragon sniffed his ear.
'Jenni, pull it back.' He leant forward and held a hand out. 'Come on, Fred. Let me help you up.'
As the dragon bounded away, Fred let himself be pulled up to standing.
'Oh, Mr Spinks, sir! I don't know what happened, sir. I was just looking for you to tell you that I was planning to visit the shoppe for you because you wanted to know about it, like, and I didn't want to let you down.' He took a huge breath. 'And so I went in and there was nothing there really, just a lot of dust so it was a good job our Malcolm wasn't with me. On account of the sneezing and wotnot.' He stopped and grinned.
'And then you ended up here,' said Ned. 'Jenni, are you refilled yet?'
'Lemme check.' She splayed her fingers and silvery lightning arched from fingertip to fingertip. 'Yep.' She eyed the crowd of people. 'I don't fink I can do you all at once.'
'Take Fred and the children first, Jenni. Then come back for me and this lot.' He jerked his head back towards Boris.
'Where shall I dump 'em?'
'Take them to the main square. Fred, you're in charge of getting the boys back to their scout leader.'
'Yes, Mr Spinks, sir. I know who that is. It's Mr Farquhar. He looks after the boys and his wife Mrs Rainbow, looks after the girls.'
Ned decided not to question the reason why Mr Farquhar's wife was called Mrs Rainbow. 'Okay, lads, gather round.'
'What about the dragon?' piped up one of the boys.
'E can stay 'ere. Can't you, boy?' Jenni crooned over him and scratched him vigorously behind the ears. The dragon responded by thumping his tail on the floor.
Ned eyed the beast nervously, he wasn't too sure about that arrangement but he was keen to get all these people back home. Then he would be able to tackle the shoppe. He herded the boys round Jenni and spent a good five minutes trying to get them to all hold hands so that Jenni could pop them back home. Fred was dithering.
'Are you sure I shouldn't stay, Mr Spinks, sir? Don't you think there ought to be a representative from the palace here? Making sure everything gets sorted out. Not that you can't manage it all, Mr Spinks, sir. I just mean, you know, an official person.' Fred petered out, his Adams apple bobbing dangerously.
'I think I fulfil official capacity, Fred. Hold Jenni's hand now, there's a good lad.'
Fred took it with some relief, glad to be getting away from the dragon. There was a greasy pop as Jenni took the children and Fred back to Roshaven. Boris edged closer to Ned.
'What you gonna do with that, then? Skin it?' He nodded towards the dragon.
'Me? No.' Ned scratched his head. 'Haven't really thought about it.'
'Well, you can't take a beast like that back to the big smoke. The Emperor, may he live for ever and ever, isn't gonna like it.'
The two men regarded the steaming lizard. One estimating how much he could get for scale and claw, the other wondering how he was going to convince Jenni to leave the dragon behind.
A loud pop announced her return.
'All sorted?' asked Ned.
'Yep. The kids is safe and Fred's having a cuppa wiv Willow. On account of his collywobbles.' Jenni picked her nose, regarded it then flicked it away. 'I fawt it was 'is bruvver what got 'em.'
'Mmm.' Ned wasn't really listening. 'Now look, Jenni, we can't take this with us. It has to stay here.'
'Nah it don't. I got a plan. Don't you worry, boss.' She beamed at him. 'You lot ready, then?'
Boris and his mates shuffled closer to Jenni keeping Ned between them and the dragon.
'Jenni. I'm not happy about this. What about the Emperor?'
Jenni cackled manically then got some phlegm stuck in her throat and started coughing wildly. She got red in the face and had to be patted on the back seven times before she caught her breath properly. 'Honestly, boss. Don't worry about it,' she wheezed.
Jenni put one arm around the dragon and held the other out to Boris who clutched it immediately, thrusting his hand out to his mate. Everyone else linked together, Ned was left with the prospect of one grimy, failed highwayman hand or a dragon paw. He went for the highwayman. Instantly his stomach swirled and he felt the distant remains of breakfast threatening to come back. The next moment he was stood on Market Street outside Ye Olde Magick Shoppe. Boris and his cohorts made a sharp exit. Ned wasn't worried, he always knew where to find them.
'Can I flame 'im now, boss?' Jenni was hopping from foot to foot while the dragon was whiffling in excitement.
Ned looked at the dingy little shop.
'Flame it!'

If you enjoyed reading Ye Olde Magick Shoppe and haven't yet read The Rose Thief, you can pick up a copy on Amazon, just click here.

I'm currently working on another Ned and Jenni story, The Interspecies Poker Tournament. You can support my writing by buying me tea and cake.

Claire Buss is a multi-genre author and poet, completely addicted to cake. Find all her books on Amazon. Join the discussion in her Facebook group Buss's Book Stop