I’ve had two chapters posted up here (for years!) that were originally the first in the book. They have been substantially changed and now come in around chapter 5 or so. I’ve taken out the idea of dead bodies being found around the place, although there are still some mysterious disappearances. Victor is still trying to be an independent business guru, although he’s busy looking after the Inn of the Seventh Happiness for his father, who is getting old.
Here’s a little taster for you from early in the story.
By Jemima Pett (c) 2014 Princelings Publications
Chapter 4: A Blackbird Sings
In which Victor finds a label unbelievable
“Good evening, sir,” I say to the dishevelled vagabond leaning against my bar, newly arrived on the stage from Humber or Wash.
“A dreenk, a meel, an’ a rhoom, pliz,” he replies in a very funny accent.
“Certainly sir. I have a nice single at the back, or a small room with two beds, below. Half price if you share – of course, you don’t have to.”
“No share, seengle at back, pliz.”
“What would you like to drink, sir, and here’s our menu.” Customers are customers. Despite the accent, he seems to understand me well enough. He points at a celery spritzer on the shelf, and at the Melange du Jour on the menu.
“Right away sir. Cash or credit?” Just being careful. I learnt that from my dad.
He produces a gold coin. “Eez zis okee?”
I pass my hand over the coin; give him two silver coins change in a move that would please even my dad. “Of course sir, that’ll do nicely.”
“Can I open a leen of credit heer?”
“A line of credit, yes sir. You can open an account here at the inn, or more formally with the trade accounts over there in the kiosk in the cliff.”
“I see. Sank you.”
He doesn’t open a line of credit with me. Somehow it reminds me of something that happened when I was very little. I know I was too young to remember the first time another wanderer walked into the bar with much the same patter, but I always watched my dad open lines of credit for customers because it fascinated me. We got gold, the customer could go anywhere they wanted and we sorted out his bills as long as he kept in credit. And they always reminded me of Hugo. I rather miss having him around. He was fun. And Willow. I never did find out what happened to Willow.
I keep thinking about the old days, when I was a real kid, for the rest of the day. It is a busy one. Lots of people wanting to stay over. A party of young ladies going further north for some reunion of school friends. Lucky, I think. I didn’t go to school, I learned everything right here. Lady Nimrod had been behind that. Made sure that I and a few other young people in isolated places got our education regardless. A wonderful lady.
The foreign chap sits in a corner and watches everyone. I watch him watching everyone. I can’t tell you why I am so suspicious of him. I mean, usually people don’t attract attention to themselves. There is nothing he does to attract my attention, he just does.
The young ladies retire to their rooms at a decorous hour, as they should. Gertrude and a few of the other stallholders nip in for their evening meals once the stages leave and they’ve given the arrivals time to shop. Things quieten down for a bit.
“Do yu sell Wozna?”
Of all the questions he might ask, that is the least expected.
I manage to bend down to sweep something off the floor to hide my face as I think through a few different answers:
“Wozna? What’s that?” would be an interesting line.
“Not any more, sir. Where did you hear of it?” is more direct.
“No.” Would get me nowhere.
“Yes, but we haven’t any in stock,” has the benefit of being accurate, since if I had some, I’d sell it.
It is over five years since we sold Wozna. When the time tunnel closed, the stocks of Wozna dried up. If we manage to find a way to export cold drinks to the great metropolis of Hattan, across the Great Western Ocean, we will be doing so, and reimporting Wozna Cola, sometime after July 2021. In the meantime, Wozna is strictly off-limits. It is the price of closing the time tunnel and solving the problem of the Great Energy Drain. We don’t want to go back to those days. Most people in the realms have forgotten about it.
Who is this chap?
I straighten up and say, “Wozna, sir? Haven’t had it for years now.” True. “Where did you hear of it?”
He reaches into a small bag he’d kept at his feet the entire evening.
“Zees iz Kingfeesher. Tests az good.”
He places a bottle the same size and shape as a Wozna bottle on the bar between us. I look at the picture of a kingfisher on the front, turn it round, and stare at the label on the back.
A picture of Hugo stares back at me.
I test it of course. I mean, you have to, really: check it is the real thing, or at least a carbon copy. I give it my full palate swilling, slurping the air over the tongue, rattling it to the back of the mouth tasting procedure. If it isn’t Wozna it is made with the same recipe.
I hand the bottle back, saying, “very nice, tastes just like the original.”
He says it is the original, brewed under licence, entirely legitimate.
I mutter something about agreements with the original licensee, but then fall back on the old, “well, there’s no call for it nowadays.”
I think for a moment he’ll call my bluff and see if anyone else wants some, or else say, “well, I called for it,” but he just shrugs and leaves the bottle on the bar, and says goodnight. I snap the top back onto it, good and quick, hoping to keep it as fresh as possible, and put it in the safe.
I think for a couple of hours. What to do? Eventually I laugh at myself and go over to the message exchange, and send off two identical letters, one to Buckmore, the other to Marsh. Between us, I am sure Fred, George, Lupin, Baden and I will work out what to do.
I am late for breakfast the next morning. Not like me at all. Fortunately, it’s not my shift, so nobody notices. But I miss the departure of our foreign friend.
Gandy saw him out and got him on the Deeping-White Horse stage, from which we got a name. “Ticket for Mr Blackbird,” Gandy says. Did Gandy see him arrive the previous day? Yes, on the Wash-Humber stage. So we know where he came from and was going to. Something to tell the people that matter.
Blackbird. Have I heard that name before? I can’t remember.
A message from Prince Lupin asks me to check where he came from. A message from King Fred says to come over any time I fancy. And another message says “Meet me at the Cheeky Parrot as soon as possible, Charlie.”
I have no idea who Charlie is. I know a few Charlies, though, so I think I’ll go and check. It is on the way to Castle Marsh, after all.
That’s it for now. I hope you enjoyed it. What do you think of Victor rabbiting on? All comments welcome!