Sample Chapter From:
Magical Certainty, Volume Four: In Which British Tars are Soaring Souls, as Free as Mountain Birds…
Eugenie was doing her best not to hit things, but her best clearly wasn’t good enough. The large metal trolley she was pushing had a sticky wheel at the front, it was too large and heavy for her in the first place, and the pathways through the mounds of junk that filled the barn were narrow, winding, and poorly lit. These excuses she had pre-concocted, and held at the ready for the Doctor’s inevitable criticism.
“Bring the trolley,” he had said as he’d rushed into the barn. She’d done her best to keep up, but he had been walking very quickly, stopping very often—though briefly each time—and had been constantly changing directions. He had eluded her, which was a relief as it gave her an excuse to slow down while she searched.
Her knowledge of the barn had grown over the last eleven months, sufficient to know that the two side paths branching off from this main path were both dead ends and if he’d stepped down one of these, he’d have to come back to meet her. There was a distinctive clang from her left; she turned the cart and resumed her pushing. This particular area was the most densely packed in the whole barn, with the walls of the junk piles rising so steeply that they converged above her turning the path into a tunnel. Through this, she emerged into the space she thought of as the armory, as it was here that Aldebrand kept his weapons. There were other weapons throughout the barn of course—mixed in with pots, pans, kitchen sinks, and shepherds crooks—but the weapons here were all neatly laid out and sorted.
“Remember,” he warned, as the trolley squeaked into the armory. “Don’t touch anything.” The last time she’d been here, she’d inadvertently killed the Doctor with a magic wooden sword.
Eugenie nodded. Aldebrand was sitting on the edge of a table slowly scanning weapon racks and armored mannequins.
“What are you looking for?” she asked.
Aldebrand shook his head. “I’m not looking for anything. I know exactly where everything is. I’m deciding.”
“Deciding on what?” she asked, as she pressed the trolley’s wheel brake with her foot, and leaned on the now immobile handle, panting.
“Deciding against actually. The process of choosing a gift is more a matter of what not to choose. I have, for instance, decided against any of the heavy plate armors, just as I have decided against the whole war-hammer section.” He waved his hand dismissively to the left, where the blunt-ended weapons stood in a neat line. “My reasons being noise and mess, respectively.”
Eugenie chuckled. “But you are usually so much in favor of noise and mess.”
“I’m not the one who can’t push a trolley straight.” But before she could respond, he’d hurried on. “I’m greatly drawn to the firearms. He already has the pistol that never runs short of bullets, but it’s not really a great fit, if you think about it. He, of all people, is most likely to hit his mark on the first try.”
“Oh,” she said. “You mean for Jake?”
Aldebrand nodded. “Yes, a gun seems appropriate, being that he’s an American—or am I being offensive saying that? Well, failing American, he’s human and there is nothing more human than a gun. The problem is that I don’t actually have that many magical guns. Weapons, in general, are likely receptacles for Imbuing—accidental Enchantment, you know—as life and death situations are apt to be found in war, but guns haven’t been around for that long. There’s some guns I’ve made, but…”
“And why are you choosing a gift for Jake?” she asked, her eyes suddenly widening. “It’s not his birthday is it?”
“His birthday? It could be, I suppose,” the Doctor said with a shrug. “There’s a 1 in 365 chance. Or no, less than that, because of the leap years.” He was speaking distractedly as he moved forward across the armory to the gun racks at the far end of the space. His hand was reaching up for a rifle, and once again Eugenie marveled at the unknown extent of her new knowledge. Thanks to one of Aldebrand’s teaching draughts she’d become an expert in all things “gun.” Where five months before she would have referred to the weapon simply as a “big gun,” she now recognized it instantly as a famed Winchester ’73, 44 caliber, 28-inch octagonal barrel, full magazine, with a single set trigger—a truly beautiful piece of craftsmanship. But just as the Doctor’s hand touched the rifle butt, he pulled away. “Or maybe not a weapon at all! Maybe something decorative for their cottage. Oh! They live by the sea—I’ve got a life jacket that will keep almost any weight afloat.”
Eugenie put up her hand to stop him as he made to dash out of the armory. “Doctor,” she said, “please stop for a second and explain: Why are you getting Jake a gift? That’s not like you.”
Aldebrand sighed. “It’s a peace offering of sorts,” he explained.
“Why? What have you done?”
Aldebrand laughed. “Nothing—or nothing yet, I should say. Now you will ask what I’m about to do, and I’m going to stop you right there: it’s nothing bad. It’s just awkward.”
Eugenie smiled, and took a seat on the table where Aldebrand had been sitting. “Well?”
“I need Jake to sit for a portrait,” he grumbled.
“Here I was thinking that I’d become immune to surprises,” she said. “Why…”
Aldebrand, rambling quickly now, answered: “I need to understand why he has magic, or, really I need to understand what’s letting him keep the magic he has. But in order to understand why only he can keep it, I need to make observations, and the only way to do that is… I’ve got this…” he paused. “I’ve got this technique I developed when I was studying with Titian for painting someone’s magical aura.”
“Titian? The Titian?” she asked. “The 16th-century painter?”
“Of course “The Titian,”” he snapped. “How many Titians do you think there are?”
She stared at him fiercely, but he wasn’t looking her way. “Fine, but why don’t you just ask Jake to sit for the portrait?”
“Portraits,” he corrected. “I’ll need to do quite a number.” Aldebrand sighed and came to sit down next to her. “It’s that Jake is so… He’s one of those dependable, forthright guys. It’s very intimidating. There’s no nonsense about Jake.”
Nodding, Eugenie quipped: “And you thrive on nonsense.”
“Exactly,” Aldebrand agreed. “I just can’t gain a foothold into his psyche.”
Eugenie shrugged. “He’s just a regular guy.”
Aldebrand nodded fiercely. “And it seems I’m at a loss to understand how a normal person thinks. I never know what he’s going to do. He watches sports, and drinks beer, and likes nachos, and…”
“I avoid regular people. If he didn’t have magic, I doubt I would have ever…” Aldebrand threw up his hands in frustration. “How do you ask another “dude” to sit for a painting?”
“First,” Eugenie said, “don’t ever let me hear you say the word “dude” again.”
“And second, just tell him. You dragooned him into joining the Wardens. Order him to sit for a painting.”
“I suppose,” Aldebrand sulked.
Eugenie sighed and tapped his knee. “What’s up? You never hesitate like this. What’s the real reason?”
Deflated, Aldebrand laid his arm on her shoulder, then rested his head on his arm. “It means I actually have to do work. You may not have noticed this, but I’m really kind of lazy.”
“What are you talking about, Doctor? You barely sleep. You’re in your workshop from sun up till… till… well there are days when you don’t leave at all and…”
“That’s play! That’s adventures with science! Work is… These portraits are going to take weeks of dedicated effort, months maybe. And I have to do all the work myself—by hand. I’ve tried long exposure photography, but it doesn’t work.”
“What?” he demanded.
She sighed and explained: “Doctor, do you know how long it takes me to bind a book?”
“An hour or so.”
“Yes, exactly. And do you know how many books are in your library?”
“A few,” he grunted.
“Fifteen hundred and twelve. My hands? Callused. My back? Achey. My… never mind.”
Aldebrand looked down at her. “What’s your point?”
Eugenie smiled. “I now pass on to you the wise words of my father: Suck it up, Buttercup.” She hopped off the table, and slapped her hands together in a loud clap—the way he often did. “Now, what does the Winchester do?”
“It shoots straight,” Aldebrand grumbled.
Eugenie grinned wryly. “Don’t most guns do that?”
“No, actually. With that gun you don’t need to worry about wind, or the pull of gravity, or the Coriolis effect. Or range, for that matter. The bullet just keeps going until it hits something.”
“Sounds good,” she said as she crossed to the gun rack and lifted the rifle down. “Let’s go; daylight’s burning.”
Aldebrand hopped up off his table enthusiastically. “You’re completely right. “Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday,” and yesterday was a breeze—all I did was… um… I seem to have lost the thread of my…” He paused, furrowed his brow then said: “I shouldn’t try to quote people, I just get confused. Ah! But the point is, you’re right, and you’re coming with me. It seems I might need you to keep me on task. Now,” he was rushing out of the armory, and Eugenie hurried to follow, carrying the rifle before her, “you’ll need to bring my memories and your bookbinding stuff. And we’ll need The Greenwich and some paint supplies.”
“The Greenwich? You mean the ship?” she asked. “Why do we need the Greenwich?”
He was almost racing down the aisle now, his doldrums having completely converted to enthusiasm.
“Because there’s no land where we’re going. I’ve decided to make it a bit of a working holiday—a painting holiday, like some Victorian naturalist taking his water colors on safari.”
“And where are we going that there isn’t any land?”
Aldebrand rounded on his heel and grinned manically at her. “Oh, just another planet.”
Eugenie’s eyes widened, but she narrowed them, determined to keep her cool. “Really?” she asked skeptically. “‘Cause you’ve made big promises before…”
“Yup,” he spun back around and continued through the barn. “Janus, the water world. The real blue marble. Its weather, as changeable as the God for whom I named it. It’s a single ocean, literally boundless. Three moons light the night sky, and flying pods of Cloud Whales block out the sun.”
Eugenie was finding it difficult not to giggle like a preteen being promised a trip to an amusement park, and totally impossible to not skip just a bit while she walked.
“You’ve been nagging me long enough to take you to another world, and Janus’ orbit will serve my purpose best.”
“Wait,” she said. She looked back at the twisting path through the barn. “Doctor, why did we need the trolley?”
“I didn’t know how big a gift I was going to pick for Jake,” Aldebrand said. “It’s better to have a trolley and not need it, than to need a trolley and not have it.”
“Oh, for pity’s sake,” she groaned.