“You must, of course, go to Paris,” Renée airily commanded Kim as the two women waited for the dressmaker to return with the ‘perfect’ length of Brussels lace to edge the sleeves of Kim’s wedding gown.
“Go to Paris for my lace?” Kim asked warily. It was bad enough getting fitted for her wedding dress and the enormous trousseau that Lady Wendall and Renée deemed a bare minimum for a young wizard, well launched upon society. To have to travel back and forth to Paris in the two weeks remaining until her wedding day seemed the outside of enough for the former street urchin.
Renée wrinkled her nose. “Not for your lace, dear Kim, but for your, what do you English call it?, your honey month?”
It was Kim’s turn to appear confused before she puzzled through her friend’s meaning. “Oh, you mean honeymoon! Paris? Do you really think?” Kim began before Madame Chandelaine returned with an armful of lace of minutely varying styles, demanding her fellow countrywoman’s opinion as to which would do best to finish off Kim’s wedding dress. As they fell into a spirited debate in their native French, Kim obediently lifted and lowered her arms according to their emphatic gesture.
If I had to spend a month in France, trying to puzzle my way through this, I’d go mad, Kim thought glumly. Madame and Renée continued their heated discussion as one of the dressmaker’s assistants came into the room and unpinned Kim from the unfinished costume before helping her back into the street clothes she’d worn when she arrived an hour earlier for the fitting.
“Then we are in agreement, Madame?” Renée held up a length of delicate lace with a strongly defined pattern knotted into the pale fibres. “This for the edge of the sleeves and a band just so above the hem? Otherwise, utter simplicity is best for our Kim.”
The raven-haired dressmaker nodded emphatically. “She will be a radiant bride. We will deliver the dress to the Wendall’s house on Tuesday! Please tell Lady Wendall that all will be in perfect readiness for the wedding day!”
Kim resisted the urge to remind the two women that she was here and perfectly capable of managing matters herself. Because, truth be told, Kim didn’t want any more responsibility for the wedding than she was already shouldering: between the fittings, the social obligations and the menu planning. After last month’s disastrous dinner where Lady Wendall’s Indian menu had resulted in seven guests resorting to the service of the ton’s best physician to calm their roiling stomachs, Kim and Mairelon had reluctantly taken over that responsibility. But neither the prospective groom or bride had any lasting interest in society and the spectacle that their wedding appeared to become.
“Maybe we could still elope,” Kim muttered to herself as she accompanied Renée to the carriage.
“Don’t be silly,” Renée scolded as she lightly clambered into the waiting vehicle. “We have too much to do for you to speak of elopement. It would be of all things too inconvenient of you and Mairelon to run off when we have worked so hard for this wedding! Now, come, we must buy gloves.”
With a heavy sigh, Kim obediently followed.
“Paris, you say?” Mairelon commented. “I never considered that. Would you want to go to Paris, Kim?”Regarding her groom with an expression of the utmost disgust, Kim shook her head emphatically. “You’ve not taught me near enough French yet to want to spend a month in a city where they all speak French. It was bad enough at the dressmakers’ today, with the two of them going on at each other. I’d go bad as Ma Yanger if that was all I heard all day long.”
Mairelon arched an eyebrow in disbelief as he leaned back in the wing chair. “I doubt it would affect you so strongly, my dear, but, as I said, I’d not thought of taking you to Paris for our honeymoon.”
“Of course you wouldn’t, dear,” his mother commented as she swept through the library’s open doors. “You’re taking her on the Grand Tour, aren’t you?”
Mairelon blinked at Lady Wendall’s blithe pronouncement. Before he could respond, Kim intervened. “The Grand Tour? What’s that?”
Lady Wendall smiled as she assumed her customary seat on the chaise, perfectly positioned to soak in the sunshine pouring in through the south-facing window. “It’s so much more than Paris, Kim. It’s all of the continent. Why, when Lord Wendall and I were married, we travelled as far as Naples on our own honeymoon. I believe we visited at least two dozen cities and met so many very interesting people!”
Kim put one hand to her stomach, which felt as distressingly queasy now as it had two weeks earlier at the Indian dinner her prospective mother-in-law had served. She’d naively thought that marriage would be the end to all of these society obligations. Now it seemed as if there was one more hurdle to overcome.Mairelon rose from his wing chair and took a seat beside Kim, capturing her free hand to rub it gently with his own. “Actually, mother, I thought that Kim and I would stay here in England for our honeymoon, if that’s all right with you, Kim? Time enough for us to travel to France or Italy when Kim’s had more time to study the languages and decide where she would like to visit.”
Kim gulped, as much from the relief at his perfect understanding of her unease. “That’d be more than all right by me,” she breathed as she felt the tension of the day’s oppressive wedding preparations finally dissipate. One of the wonderful aspects of her relationship with Mairelon was as disinterested in the traditions of society as Kim was.
Lady Wendall seemed minutely saddened by their disinterest in a continental honeymoon. “Well, there’s always next year for Pompeii, I suppose, you will love it, Kim: all of those bodies so strangely preserved from the volcanic eruption! But, Richard, where in England shall you spend your honeymoon? The Isle of Wight is lovely at this time of year. Or perhaps Brighton?”
Mairelon raised one dark eyebrow in an elegantly dismissive gesture. “Nothing so fashionable, mother. In fact, I was just going to mention to Kim that Shoreham and Kerring have handed us a bit of a magical mystery that we might want to explore if we go to Cornwall after the wedding: there are reports of a giant loose near St. Michael’s Mount.”
“A giant?” Kim waited until the door of the carriage was closed before peppering her fiancé with questions. “A real giant? How is that possible? Are creatures such as that even magical? How could we fight it if we had to?”
Mairelon tapped the letter he held. “I know little more than you do at this point but I doubt it is truly a giant. There’s quite a legend on the island and nearabouts, of a sheep and cattle-stealing monster who was defeated centuries ago by a plucky boy named Jack. But there’s never been a shred of credible evidence. Which is why, I suspect, that this reported giant is more in the way of an illusion than an actuality.”
Their carriage rattled down the London streets, heading toward the College library. Kim put her hand on the open carriage door and glanced out the window at the crush of traffic filling up the narrow roads as they moved through some of the oldest parts of the city: not so long ago she’d have been dodging the heavy transports and posh vehicles of the well-to-do who dominated the streetscape.
Kim started as Mairelon clasped her gloved hand with his own. “Do you miss it?” He nodded toward the busy London scene.
“Not hardly,” Kim replied scornfully. “I spent too many nights with my belly empty and my body cold. Only a noddy wouldn’t appreciate all this.”“But the freedom of it all,” Mairelon suggested. “That you must miss.”
Kim nodded slightly. “Don’t get me wrong. Your mother, she tries her best, but she just doesn’t understand how all the fitting and fussing can wear on someone.”
Mairelon’s smile was whimsical. “You think not? Trust me, I can’t wait for the wedding preparations to be over. This is the longest I’ve spent under my parent’s roof since I first left for school!”
Kim grinned brightly. “We’re to have our own place then, after the wedding?”
Mairelon leaned back against the seat as the carriage made the sharp turn into the College’s entryway. “I wouldn’t survive, otherwise, and neither would you, I suspect.”
“You’re right, of course, Merrill,” Lord Kerring said affably as he sat at one of the library’s vast worktables with the visiting magicians. “We know this has to be some sort of illusion. The fact that people only report seeing the giant at night and after the livestock has been taken shows that it has to be illusion. Apparently the giant looks like an oversized version of the travelling fair’s strongman, right down to his scarlet trousers, and roars just like a lion in Astley’s circus, or so reported one of the more well-travelled witnesses.”
Kim watched both of the men chuckle. “Why’s that so important?”
Mairelon wiped a tear of laughter from one of his eyes. “Because it confirms this is an illusion. Someone’s putting together bits and pieces of what they’ve seen and heard to try and create the image of a giant to terrify the locals.”
Kerring’s laughing smile sobered up. “But that’s where Lord Shoreham and I are worried. These illusions are having a terrible effect on the local population. Baronet St. Aubyn, whose family has kept the castle for centuries, reports that the village is empty of visitors, quite unusual for this time of year!, and even many of the locals are speaking of letting their leases go.”
He sighed gustily. "This area's rife with magic and many of our best candidate for the College hail from the West, you know. It won't be a simple task to identify local magicians. Our culprit could be anyone from a gentleman's son to a roustabout. It'll be impossible to easily detect who's bearing magic on him or simply bearing magic that's woven itself into the place, you know."
Mairelon frowned thoughtfully. “We need to determine who would be profiting from this disruption. Is there a landowner who’s trying to run his neighbours out on the cheap? Some angry labourer who’s seeking revenge against an enemy? Maybe a bored gentleman’s son who wants to stir up a little trouble although I think that’s less likely given the relative remoteness of St. Michael’s Mount.”
“And check that against anyone who’s wealthy enough to have travelled to London,” Kim added. “You aren’t going to see a lion anywhere else in England, I reckon.”The two men shared a speaking glance and nodded. “Good point, Kim,” Mairelon said. “Not every farmer, tinker or tradesman will have had enough blunt to been to London and back. But a young man rusticating from Oxford certainly would!”
Kerring smiled broadly. “Good, good! And a newlywed couple can certainly travel about the area without raising any suspicion. St. Michael’s Mount used to be all the rage for holidays back in the day! Shoreham particularly want this dealt with quietly. There’ve been reports of unrest in the factory cities of the north and some damned fool was trying to free Napoleon from St. Helena again. Last thing we need is some panic over a legendary giant on the loose!”
Mairelon and Kim exchanged satisfied looks. “Trust us, Lord Kerring,” Kim responded, “this is a lot more to our taste that what Lady Wendall would have us be doing.”
“I thought as much,” the genial wizard replied. “Now, let me get back to my books. I was hot on the trail of an interesting old Roman spell when your visit was announced and I want to track it down before your wedding!”
The wedding breakfast was finally over and the sun was still high in the sky when Kim and Mairelon took their leave of family and friends. A bright June day had blessed their wedding but Kim thought that the best memory she had of the day was clambering into the travelling carriage with her new husband and closing the door on the crowds of people who’d come to wish them well. Despite all of Renée’s best efforts, the two of them had managed to head off on their honeymoon with only a few packed bags weighing down the family coach under Hunch’s dour watch.
Kim collapsed against the cushions with a gusty sigh. “Not that bad, being married to me?,” her new husband asked.
Kim started. “Oh, no. It’s just, finally!, no more talk of trousseau, dressmakers, fittings, decorations, invitations or menus. I could kiss someone!”It needed no more than that for Mairelon to lean over and cover her lips with his own. Kim was lost in the moment until their carriage lurched forward to a final shout of farewell from the onlookers. “Oh,” she said again, this time more meaningfully as she leaned her head upon her husband’s shoulder, allowing him to hold her hands close in his own.
“You didn’t think our honeymoon would be all work, now, did you?” Mairelon asked amusedly as the carriage made its way south and west amongst the heavy city traffic.
Kim rolled her eyes. “Not hardly,” she said as he efficiently stripped both their hands of the confining, formal gloves.
“Good,” was Mairelon’s smug reply.
Their arrival at St. Michael’s Mount came just a few days later. As the carriage made its way off of the Plymouth Road, Kim couldn’t help but lean out of the carriage to try and catch a view of the island castle. “Look,” she urged Mairelon as the buildings came into view, just out to sea.
Mairelon lifted his head from the book of French verbs he’d been quizzing Kim. “Scenic,” was his laconic reply.
“Nothing impresses you?” Kim asked with a bit of a huff, gesturing out at the lovely seaside village coming into view as their carriage rounded a corner.
Her husband snapped shut the book of grammar and essayed an impudent smile in her direction. “Your ability to completely butcher the passé composé?”
Kim snorted. “Time enough for jawing in French later. We’re going to start pumping the locals for information as soon as we’re at the inn, right?”
“I rather thought we would send a message to the baronet and his wife. St. Aubyn might well want us to join them for supper if the tide is willing,” Mairelon said.
“The tide?” Kim asked in some confusion.
Her husband pointed out the window as the carriage rattled into the village. “You can just see, under the water, there’s a road that leads out to the island but only at low tide. It’ll depend on the mood of the sea, I suppose.”
When they pulled up at the King’s Arm, Hunch quickly excused himself to take their letter down to the quay and across to the baronet while the innkeeper showed Kim and Mairelon up to their room. “Is everything pleasing for the missus?” he asked anxiously.
Kim took in the room unresponsively until her husband added a questioning “Kim?”
“Oh,” she managed, glancing about herself with a bright smile. “It’s quite lovely, thank you, yes, I’m sure we’re fine, aren’t we?”
With that effusive praise, the stout innkeeper smiled gratefully and excused himself. “It’s always a pleasure to serve such fine gentlefolk as yourselves,” he insisted as he closed the door to their chamber.
Kim giggled as she looked down at her dusty self. “Fine gentlefolk?”
Mairelon was already pulling off his black coat and rolling up his sleeves before going over to the basin to quickly wash his face and hands. “I don’t suppose they see too many Londoners here close to Land’s End,” he explained as he towelled off.Kim nodded in amusement as she began to shake out the wrinkled folds of her travelling dress.
They were indeed expected guests at the castle that evening. The baronet, a slim and elderly gentleman accompanied by his frail, petite wife, apologized right through their meal for interrupting their honeymoon. “Lord knows that young lovers need time alone, right, my dear?”
“Absolutely,” his spouse answered. “But we are indebted to Mr. and Mrs. Merrill for offering their services to help our little community. Heaven knows that St. Michaels doesn’t need reports of a marauding monster given how difficult it is to convince travellers to break their journey here nowadays!”
“Right, right, my dove,” the baronet agreed. “And Merrill here comes highly recommended by Lord Shoreham. Can’t hardly do better than that!”
Mairelon nodded modestly. “I believe my wife’s skills might be even more valuable in this case,” he demurred.
Kim and the others started in some surprise. “Really?” Lady St. Aubyn asked, then shot an apologetic look across the dinner table at her young guest. “Not to sound rude but you are quite young, my dear.”
“No offense taken, your ladyship,” Kim answered honestly. “To be truthful, I don’t think I’m especially qualified for any magical investigating.”
“You are too modest, Kim,” Mairelon interjected. “I was referring to your mastery of illusions. Since your come-out, you’ve continued to shine in inventing your own illusions and understanding the spellcasting of others. It’s our opinion,” Mairelon continued, with a sharp look at his host and hostess, “that this so-called giant is an illusion cast by someone attempting to throw pursuers off the real culprit’s trail.”
Sir John leaned back in his chair, regarding the ceiling thoughtfully. “You might well be right. I’ve never been much better than a hedge-wizard, for all I went to Eton and Oxford, but this smacks of magic, doesn’t it? Better that than an actual giant, I’d say, wouldn’t you?”
“Much better,” Kim agreed fervently.She shot a glance back and forth at their hosts, realizing that Sir John seemed to be waiting for something more. "My husband," she paused, how strange that phrase felt!, "my husband gives me too much credit for my magical knowledge. I've only been doing this two years, myself, but one thing I do know is that illusions, really strong illusions!, the best ones come from experience. You can put pieces together, and we think this magician's done that, paired a memory of a strongman with the sound of a lion. So we're looking for someone who'd have seen, and heard, both of these."
Lady St. Aubyn frowned slightly. "There was a strongman with the fair, here, last midsummer. The entire town and all the families for miles about came to that as most do, so I'm afraid that won't help you."
Mairelon nodded. "Probably the lion's roar would help us most as that we think had to be from Astley's."
"Capital!" Sir John said with a slap on his knee that earned him a chiding remark from his doting wife. "Well, that would narrow matters down a bit. Can't be more than a dozen or so people hereabouts who've been to London besides ourselves, here, of course. Merrill, you'll join me for cigars while the ladies natter: we'll figure out what's what."
Kim's eyebrows raised high at the last. She met her hostess's amused gaze as they rose to exit the dining room while Mairelon was already ushered around the corner by the eager Sir John. "Don't worry, my dear," Lady St. Aubyn confided, "I won't bother you for all the latest details of London fashions: I get enough of that from my nieces. But I'm absolutely thrilled to hear of a lady magician: do tell me more over tea?"
The next morning, Kim and Mairelon, having pooled their information with what Hunch had dug up from the locals, made arrangement to rent the landlord’s gig, saying they wanted to explore some of the scenic walks for which the region was renowned. The helpful innkeeper offered suggestions and packed a hamper of cold foods the newlyweds could dine on if they became hungry on their long outing.
Armed with his guidance and the kitchen’s preparations, the pair set off from the King’s Arms small yard while Hunch stayed behind to wet his whistle with the locals in hopes of scaring up further tales of the giant or likely prospects of an undiscovered magician.
“I thought we’d never get away,” Kim groaned as Mairelon slapped the reins across the back of their hired horse, stirring the stolid animal into a trot that took them up along the winding rise inland.
“It pays to be patient,” her husband advised. “Our innkeeper provided us with some useful corroboration: you noticed how he steered us away from all the farms where St. Aubyn reported sightings of the ‘giant’?”
Kim shot an admiring glance over at Mairelon. “I’d missed that, at least until you mentioned it. I suppose he didn’t want to scare away his paying customers by havin’ them think there was a marauding creature hereabouts.”
“Probably not,” Mairelon agreed placidly. “So we’ll ignore his itinerary and keep to the map that the baronet kindly provided. Six farms have been hit over the past several months since the first sighting in late March. About every two weeks or so.”
“I wonder why that long between sightings. Was the caster away, maybe?”
Mairelon shot a quick glance at his wife’s face, shining with excitement and surmise. “More likely, I suspect he, or she, was restoring energies. Think about how much magical power it would take to create such an illusion.”
Kim nodded. “I remember how tired I felt after the come-out illusion. This would likely’ve been even more draining.”
Mairelon smiled thinly as he steered their gig down a quiet country lane. “Probably our magician ended up with the devil of a headache unless he was tied into a network of other casters.”
“Oh, don’t even say that,” Kim demanded, shivering at the memory of how Mairelon had been unwillingly yoked into a madman’s control just a few months earlier. “If there’s even a whiff of such magic, we’re heading back to London faster than wings can fly!”
“It’s quite unlikely that someone else would develop that type of spell, but rest assured, my dear Kim, I will be on my guard and I trust that you will as well,” Mairelon replied with steely certainty. “Now, we’re coming up on the Draper’s farm. They were the first place where the giant was spotted so maybe they’ll have some interesting information for us!”
The dour farmer who met thembefore they’d even come to a complete stop was anything but welcoming. “Who’re you and wha’ do you wan’?” he demanded suspiciously.
“Richard Merrill of London with my wife. We’re here on the baronet’s recommendation,” Mairelon said in genial tones but Kim recognized by the tension with which he carried himself that he was ready for trouble.
She glanced back and forth between the two men and dove in, “Yes, Sir John said that since we loved nature walks we shouldn’t miss the views that can be seen from your property, Mr. Draper.”
The farmer relaxed slightly. “Name’s not Draper, ma’am, mine’s Anderson. Draper was my sister’s husband. He died afore lambing season and left me wi’ all his work. But I suppose if Sir John’s sent you, you might as well have your walk ‘ere.”
Turning to the tumbledown farmhouse, Mr. Anderson roared, “Jack!” A young boy came racing out of the home, stumbling in his haste.
“Yes, Uncle Will?” The boy appeared painfully thin in a way that Kim recognized all too well.
“Take these fine folk and guide ‘em to the cliff walk. Make sure you stay out of the west field, though,” with a cuff to the boy’s head, Will Anderson sent his nephew off to Richard and Kim’s kind care.
Mairelon, unsmilingly nodded at the farmer. “We’ll take good care of your nephew, Mr. Anderson,” he promised, giving the youngster a hand to slip into the gig beside him.
“Trot on,” he urged the quiet chestnut that obediently picked up his pace as they turned around in the farmyard.
Young Jack Draper offered up the minimum of conversation as they left the farmstead behind them. He indicated which way they were to take the gig, down a rough roadway until they came to a stile in a stone fence.
“That’s as far as you can get with a gig, sir,” the youth said. “There’s the path.”
Mairelon thanked the boy and offered him a shilling which the boy accepted with alacrity. “Would you like some of our hamper?,” Kim offered, hefting the cloth-covered basket from beneath the gig’s seat. “The innkeeper packed us far too much food.”
Young Jack stared at the food with even more intensity than he’d bestowed on the coin. “I sure would, ma’am,” he breathed, reaching out a grubby hand to accept the small bundle of food Kim quickly sorted out.
Clutching the pasties and hunk of cheese close to his chest, the youngster seemed to come to a decision. “I can show you a bit more of the ways, if you’d like, sir and ma’am.”
Mairelon shot a pleased glance over at Kim before agreeing to the boy’s proposition. “You can tell us about any of the legends or stories of the area while you’re at it. We’ve come from London and are as green as grass to the history of Cornwall.”
Kim smiled encouragingly at young Jack’s doubtful look. “We’re on a holiday, so we want to see all the sights St. Michael’s has to offer.”
Jack snorted and swallowed a hunk of cheese before explaining his obvious disbelief. “If you’re from London, nothing around here’s half so interesting. In London, you’ve got Astley’s with wild animals and riders doing tricks on horseback. There’re ascensions in the park and puppet shows every day!”
Kim and Richard shared a significant look over the youngster’s head at his mention of Astley’s circus. “Have you been to London, Jack?” Kim asked as Merrill gave her a helping hand to balance upon as she stepped nimbly over the stile in her sensible walking boots.
“With my dad, last year, before he took sick,” Jack said. His voice took on a tone of sad reminiscence. “Everything was wonderful when my dad was alive. I was going to go away to school and study. But now he’s gone and mum’s sick and Uncle Will’s taken over everything.”
The last was said with weary emphasis as the trio made their way across an empty field, following the clear but lightly used walking path that wended through the grassy pasture southwards toward the coast.
“Well, London certainly doesn’t have anything as wondrous as what we’ve heard tell of in the village, here,” Mairelon said lightly. “Have you seen the giant everyone’s talking about?”
Jack Draper froze so totally that Kim would’ve sworn magic was to blame, excepting for the sudden pale cast to his face.
He knows something, she thought to herself. But sharing a worried look with her husband, she wondered just what that knowledge was to cause the quiet country boy to react so fearfully. Perhaps the giant of St. Michael’s wasn’t nearly so simple and easy to deal with as Lord Kerring and the others expected.
“I told you it wouldn’t be a walk in the park,” Hunch grumbled as the three of them gathered to share their discoveries that evening after an excellent dinner at the King’s Arms. Hunch had been able to confirm that none of the other villagers had any knowledge of London besides one long-retired sailor who was profoundly deaf. The other names of travellers out of the farms in the region would take longer to check.
Mairelon refrained from any comment but both Hunch and Kim were vocal about their unease with the investigation. Young Jack Draper had run away as soon as Mairelon had questioned him about the giant. A few others they’d encountered in their jauntering about the countryside had offered some further details, confirming the sightings in detail. Their best evidence had come from St. Aubyn’s natural son, a bluff and well-travelled man who’d provided his father and Lord Kerring with the detailed description they’d read in the report, having sighted the giant twice in his capacity as steward for his father's estates. But, profoundly unmagical, their witness had been at a loss to explain what exactly they were up against or how they could combat it.
“We have no idea who’s behind this or why?” Kim reiterated. “We’re stumbling about, green as grass, likelier than not to stir up trouble, I say.”
“Which is,” her husband countered, “something of what we want to do here.” At Kim’s and Hunch’s astonished interruption, he raised his hand. “Hear me out: we’re trying to uncover the magician behind these illusions and bring them to justice. How better than to get the word out that someone’s investigating? Our culprit will be rattled and rushed. He’ll feel he has to produce sooner, rather than later, and we’ll be there to unmask him.”
Hunch shook his head in exasperation. “That’d be all fine and dandy if we knew where and when 'e was likely to strike next, but we don’t 'ave a clue.”
Mairelon smiled broadly and Kim glared at her spouse in annoyance. “You have an idea, don’t you?”
Mairelon shrugged offhandedly but, seeing her expression darken, decided to elaborate rather than leave his wife and faithful assistant hanging. “It stands to reason that the next appearance will come on Midsummer, in another night's time. It’s a time that’s important in local lore, especially about the giant. Add to that, I’m pretty sure that the next target has to be St. Aubyn’s own home farm.”
He tapped the map in front of him. “See how the attacks have been working their way outward from Draper’s farm? The next logical location is the baronet’s preserve, closest to town and nearest to us, here at the inn. St. Aubyn didn’t see the pattern, but it’s painfully clear.”
Kim stared suspiciously at the paper. “You may be right,” she allowed reluctantly. “But how are we going to catch this cull? It'd be a long wait on the longest night of the year!”
Hunch coughed. “I expect 'e’s thinkin’ of the Midsummer bonfire they ‘ave 'ereabouts. Been nothin’ but jabber about this all over town. It’s to cheer on the memory of ol’ Jack, the giant-killer.”
“Precisely,” Mairelon confirmed. “St. Aubyn's farm is just up the bluff from the village: any creature sighted there would be seen by everyone at the bonfire here on the beach. I’m pretty sure that no one could resist this as a way to build up the legend of the giant. Especially if I’m right about who’s behind this.”
Kim thought about asking what his suspicions were but, seeing her husband’s eyes avert from her gaze, knew that he wasn’t about to let her in on these thoughts. She nodded slowly. “All right, but how does that help us?”
Mairelon bounced up from his seat, striding to the room’s window which overlooked the Mount across the harbour. “Most of the townsfolk and farmers from the region will come to the bonfire. From there, you have a good view over to the Mount and up the hill to the home farm. I’m certain that since it’s been over two weeks from last sighting that our culprit will strike again tonight. There will be a great crowd to see the terrifying ‘giant’ and no one to witness him actually making away with livestock from the home farm, at least that’s what he thinks."
“We’ll be there to prove him wrong,” Kim finished up for her husband. “Good thing I packed my breeches and jacket so we can hunker down in a barn for most of the night. Better hope you’re right about this, though!”
Mairelon turned from the window with a wide smile on his face. “Don't worry! Hunch, I'll want you to stay with James St. Aubyn and the regulars, ready to cut off our mastermind when the illusion is cast. Kim and I will handle the magician. See, no need for doubts.”
“I’ll ‘ave doubts enough for all of us,” Hunch grumbled, but set about helping Mairelon and Kim get themselves ready for an evening’s watch.
“I don’t know how good an idea this was, Mairelon,” Kim grumbled, picking more hay out of her waistband. Every time she shifted in the meagre cover of the haypile, more of the dratted stuff worked its way against her skin. "It's been hours, hasn't it? Won't the bonfire will be over?"
“You could call me Richard more often than not,” her husband commented in an injured tone.
Kim snorted and she felt rather than saw in the dim light, Mairelon’s aggrieved expression. Before he could continue on that line of complaint, they heard footsteps at the barn door.
“’urry!,” was the only word, a harsh whisper that drove scurrying feet across the floor and over to the byre’s gate. The barn’s occupants were quickly urged, lowing, out the door to a waiting figure.
Kim half rose to shout out a challenge but Mairelon laid a warning finger over her lips. She subsided, watching carefully as the second figure returned to the barn door.
“Now, do it or it’ll be the worse for your mum,” the figure waiting outside the door growled. “Jus’ let me get this lot off and away.”
Kim tensed once more but waited as did the man beside her, while the cattle and mastermind made their way down the road. With a sigh, the figure he’d left behind exited the barn door, raised one hand and in a treble voice, proclaimed a few Latin phrases.
A lion’s roar thundered across the night sky, terrible and mighty. “That’s good,” Mairelon whispered admiringly. He lifted his finger from Kim’s lip as he did so and the two magicians rose from the hay pile while, through the open barn door, they could see the illusion of the giant form out of nothingness, drawn into being by the caster’s will.
“Now?” Kim asked urgently.
“Now,” Mairelon agreed, stepping forward to cast a spell of silencing on their unsuspecting opponent.
As the sharp-edged words flew from his mouth, Kim feinted forward toward the open barn door. She wasn’t so much interested in the caster as his rough-sounding partner who clearly held the whip hand. Would he still be close enough to interfere?
The dim moonlight gave her little help as she tried to cast her eyes down the lane while beside her, the illusionist choked off his casting, falling to his knees while the half-summoned giant dissipated into the wind. But there, up ahead, a glint of moonlight on metal. Was that a pistol?
Kim’s own spell came faster than her husband’s. Deflecting the shot wouldn’t be safe, with an incapacitated magician beside her and Mairelon just a few yards behind. Kim shouted the last words that wrenched the weapon from the assailant and sent it skittering across the farmyard to spin wildly at her feet.
“Good job, Kim,” Mairelon said admiringly as he stepped to her side. “Now, will Hunch and the regulars be here before our man gets away?”
No sooner were those words spoken than horsemen came galloping up the lane, driving surprised cattle before them. Soldiers soon had wrestled the shadowed figure into the light that spilled out of the open farmhouse door where St. Aubyn had also stood a silent watch, waiting on Mairelon's promised revelation.
“Will Anderson,” Kim breathed as she spotted the face wrenched in an angry scowl. Looking down at the smaller figure beside her that Mairelon was supporting, her voice shifted to a confused tone. “Jack Draper? He was the magician?”
Mairelon nodded as he knelt beside the boy. “Jack? Kim and I are here to help you. We’re magicians, too, and we won’t let your uncle hurt you or your mother any more, as long as you agree not to send any giants after us or the soldiers. Deal?”
The boy nodded emphatically and Mairelon smiled approvingly, ruffling the youngster’s thatch of hair. “Good!”
“You’ll send my uncle to the king’s justice for what he’s done?” Jack smiled as the baronet promised to do just that. “After my dad died, Uncle Will came to the farm and said he was in charge. Mum’s sickly and can’t do anything against her big brother. I tried to, I called up the giant with the magic my father said I had, hoping he’d smash him, but all Uncle Will did was laugh when the giant couldn’t touch him. Then he told me I had to use my magic for him. He’s been making me help him steal cattle and sheep from our neighbours for weeks and hiding 'em all in the west field.!”
Sir John gestured to the captain who roughly bound up the prisoner’s arms. “Good job! Off to gaol with you, Will Anderson! We’ll hold sessions tomorrow morning and you might well hang for all you’ve done. You’d best pray for mercy!”
Kim glared with equal ferocity at their attacker. As Mairelon looped an arm over her shoulder, she glanced up at her husband. “He could’ve killed you,” she exclaimed.
“He couldn’t have killed any of us with that sorry excuse for a pistol,” Mairelon corrected, kicking the rusty firearm with one boot-clad foot. “But thank you for the rescue, on my behalf and for young Jack here.”
The youngster smiled up at both of them before a jovial call from the baronet had him stumbling over to speak to the local lord.
“You knew it was him, didn’t you?” Kim asked.
Mairelon admitted, “I had my suspicions. You saw it, too, he was a boy whipped and starved. His loving uncle was no such thing and it was a small step from that realization to think on how a young boy, trapped with such an uncaring guardian, might react.”
“But so young to do such magic?” Kim commented. “That illusion was more convincing than any I’ve seen at the College.”
“You remember what Kerring said,” Mairelon reminded his wife. “There’s a strong strain of wild magic hereabouts. I expect that young Jack’s London trip with his father might have included a preliminary interview at the College or at a school. We’ll check with his mother but maybe both of the Drapers might want to relocate to London and leave the farm life behind for a few years.”
Kim grinned broadly. “Are you thinking there might be an opening for a new apprentice?”
“Shh,” Mairelon urged. “Hunch’ll kill me if he thinks I’m about to foist another troublesome urchin upon him.”
“Wha’?” Hunch demanded, hearing his name but little else. He stood in bemusement as Kim punched her husband sharply in the stomach and then the two of them bent over in gales of wheezing laughter.
“Magicians,” he snorted, before returning to the more reasonable conversation of the soldiers and the St. Aubyns.