Monday, May 19, 2014

The Detective of Rosewall... a partial prologue

Prologue

            The young man stood in the office of his superior, his posture containing the appropriate amount of deference without sliding into sycophancy. Gwendolyn Askew, Chairwoman of the Physicians and Healers College at Rosewall Academy, studied him as she sat down behind her desk. Benson Miles, Physician of Mental Health and Healer Prime Certificate, had been one of her best students and was still one of the best operatives the Rosewall Parliament had dealt with mental health issues of both refugees from the Plague Wars and citizens. His current assignment, however, was neither and seemed to vex him to no end.
            Four years ago there had been a rash of odd thefts in the city among the merchant nobles and the mages. Someone had deftly circumvented security measures, both arcane and mundane, to steal oddities that were then returned a few nights later. Even magic could not identify the thief other than to say someone was there. But that someone never registered as an intruder to the matrices of Weave that formed the mystical security in many of the afflicted homes. It wasn't until Mistress the Honorable Charity Jones walked into the Garden Street Guard Precinct, at the end of the second year of the thefts, and began detailing several of her exploits. Unfortunately, the thief was the sister of Earl Cygnus, Mathias Jones, which made the matter even more sensitive. Rather than prosecute her directly, Charity was turned over to the city's Board of Mental Health for evaluation, and the conclusions had been startling.
            Charity's mental state was stable but her intelligence levels rose well beyond even the brightest students at the Academy. She admitted that the thefts had been a way to keep herself sharp as the only employment a woman of her estate was expected to pursue (at least in her brother’s mind) was that of marriage. This was especially true since Charity not only no ability to manipulate the weave, thus could not succeed to her brother's dignities, but she moved through the Weave without disturbance, thus the traps’ magic never “saw” her, easily allowing her access to the secrets of the powerful. But while she was both mentally and physically agile, Charity displayed little ability with people to the point of needing something of a translator who could keep up with her intelligence. So instead of sending her to prison, the Mistress Jones was employed as an investigator for the city and one Doctor Benson Miles had been assigned as her handler. That had been six month ago, and in that time, Mistress Jones had solved some of the most serious crimes in Rosewall. However, her inability to function within normal human spheres remained, and so had Dr. Miles, much to his own frustration.
            “Please, Ben, be seated,” Askew waved to the chair on the other side of the desk. The doctor shifted his stance and sat with an economy of movement. It was easy to forget before Miles received his original training as a medic with the Steel Gauntlet, the mercenary company which held the contract for protecting Rosewall for over a century.
            “My apologies, Doctor Askew, but Mrs. Tate and Mistress Jones had a small tiff before I left.”
            “A tiff?”
            “Mrs. Tate has always been aware of Mistress Jones presumed social status, and as such believes that a well-born young woman should not leave the house in trousers, especially when she has a wardrobe full of gowns acquired for her by her brother. I swear Earl Cygnus' 'generosity' might be as bad as Charity's pigheadedness, or even the cause of it.”
            Gwen swallowed a laugh as she spoke, “Oh my,” she took a breath and managed, “Mistress Jones and my daughter would agree on that, I think.”
            Ben nodded, “Sigrun began her Journey year with the Wayfarers, hasn't she?”
            “Yes, and I don't expect I will hear from her until she's passed through White Ridge Cross. She's never traveled that far from the city before, and in winter no less, so by the time she reaches the Cross, the excitement of being on her own will most likely have worn off,” Gwen cleared her throat, “but we're not here to discuss Sigrun, Ben.”
            “Of course, ma'am, I'll begin with saying...” the frantic knock at the office door stopped Miles dead, as Gwen's face hardened.
            “Come in.”
            A guardsman diffidently made his way inside and bowed to the Chairwoman. “Apologies, Ma'am, but there's been a body found on the Academy grounds, and the Guard Captain would like one of your people to take a look.”
            Before Gwen could say a word, Miles offered, “I will fetch Mistress Jones,” slipped by the unnerved guardsman on his way out the door.
***
            The steam carriage pulled up in front of the Seven Sails tavern, a surprisingly well kept place for the Harbor Crescent of Rosewall. Miles requested the carriage driver wait, handing him a half dozen silver coins in exchange for his patience, and went inside. The owner's wife waved to him from behind the bar as he made his way down the stairs to find the tail end of a boxing match in play.
            Standing over a much larger man was a wiry young woman, whose strawberry blond hair was tired in a serviceable knot at the nape of her neck. She turned to the stairway allowing Miles to observe the rest of her condition with dismay. Her shirt was a man's cut, white, with the sleeves rolled up, and a button undone- something that must have driven Mrs. Tate to apoplexy. Her knickers were tweed, but allowed for freedom of movement, but the most distressing part of her attire was the recently acquired black bruise that ringed her right brown eye. And adding to Miles' distress was the bleeding cut above the left matching eye.

            “Ah, the good Doctor Miles has come to minister to the wounded victor in her hour of need,” she called out as she took her winnings from the owner. Counting the coins out quickly, she handed several back to him with a smile. “There's your cut, old man, but I think I must bow out of the next match as Doctor Miles looks about to have some sort of fit, which means something is afoot that needs my undivided attention.”