at the back of my family headstone was unusually large, and since it lay at the edge of the graveyard there wasn’t another family plot abutting it from the north. We took turns digging—again—by the light of the lantern-sized flashlights I’d snatched from my tool shed.

JB lowered the bundle of bones and hammer into the makeshift grave. We shoveled the dirt back in, a much quicker job, and the men stamped down the new patch with their boots so it wouldn’t look so raw. Maybe I’d come back tomorrow and stick a potted plant in the dirt to kind of explain the digging.

When that was done, there was an odd moment, when the night around us seemed to catch its breath.

Her dark head bowed, Quiana said, “The Lord is my shepherd . . .” and we all joined in.

“God bless this poor soul and send him on his way,” I said, when the prayer was finished.

Then the night exhaled, and the air was empty.

We trudged back to my house in silence, Quiana stumbling with exhaustion from time to time.

There was an awkward pause as everyone tried to figure out how to cap off the experience.

Finally, JB said, “Y’all gonna come help finish the closet tomorrow?”

I laughed. I couldn’t help it.

“Sure,” Sam said. “We’ll be there, and we’ll finish.”

And tomorrow, it would just be us in the house. Us living people.

Wizard Home Security


“Did the burglar hit any other rooms?”

Broahm shook his head, standing in front of the nearly empty cupboard, absently stroking his beard, which was only just now starting to form some respectable gray streaks. Clients wanted wizards with a little experience. Nothing said experience and wisdom like a bit of gray. He’d even known some journeymen spellcasters who’d used minor glamours to make themselves look older.

Broahm blinked. His mind was wandering again.

He turned to the young mage who’d asked the question. “What?”

“Anything else stolen?”

“A silver mixing bowl from my workshop and a few other minor items,” Broahm said. “Mostly it was the supply cupboard. I’ll be a year replacing those ingredients. More.”

The mage tsked, shaking his head. Broahm found him infuriatingly handsome and trendy. He was clean shaven, a fancy gold earring in one ear, hair cut short and spiky in the way that was fashionable among the young gentry. Trendy breeches and a loose shirt open at the neck. Unlike Broahm in his conservative burgundy robes, this young mage—Sulton was his name, Broahm now remembered—didn’t have to conform to conventional wizard fashions, since his clientele were other wizards and not the public at large.

Broahm had sent a message to Wizard Home Security, and Sulton had shown up the next morning.

“What security did you have on the cupboard?” Sulton asked.

Broahm shuffled his feet. “Well, I’d rather not give away any secrets.”

“Come now, sir. We need to know every detail if we’re to provide the best possible service.”

A sigh. “A rather expensive padlock,” Broahm said. “And the usual wards.”

“There’s your problem,” Sulton said. “Not good enough. Not by a long shot.”

Broahm bristled. “That’s self-evident.”

Sulton smiled in a way Broahm was sure was meant to be disarming but only irritated him. “No disrespect intended. I feel sure you took the appropriate precautions against your run-of-the-mill thieves. But if run-of-the-mill thieves were all you had to deal with, you wouldn’t have needed to consult Wizard Home Security, eh?”

“Get on with it.”

“The cupboard was full of valuable items, and any decent thief could have pawned them around the city for a nice bit of silver,” Sulton said. “But ask yourself, who needs those items the most? Don’t bother, I’ll answer for you. Other wizards, that’s who. You’re in the Wizard’s Quarter. You can’t swing a dead weasel or toss a stone over your shoulder without hitting a pointy hat. And with so many wizards in one place, all of whom are vying for the same ingredients to concoct the same spells, well, a few bad eggs are bound to resort to pilfering from their neighbors rather than paying the inflated prices.”

Broahm sighed, then pinched the bridge of his nose. That just figured. Nine years ago, when he’d finished his apprenticeship with Hemley, his old master had given him some advice. Try the edge of the Northern Waste. Ice City is the sort of place a young wizard can earn a good living. Twenty years ago this had been true. On the edge of the Great Frozen Sea, a wizard could get rich guiding ships through the seasonal storms or spelling fire stones to warm a hearth when fuel was short. But word must have gotten out, because Ice City had become simply lousy with wizards over the next two decades, all looking to score some quick silver.

Ice City—the place had some long, multisyllable name in the Old Empire tongue—was a bitter, frozen, miserable place nine months out of the year, and Broahm could not believe he’d spent nine years of his life here. And now his fellow wizards were robbing him.

It had been just three days ago that his neighbor Bortz, a fellow wizard Broahm spent time with occasionally, had complained bitterly about so much competition for wizarding business in the city. Bortz had reported at least half a dozen young mages of his acquaintance who’d tossed it in, packed up, and left the city. Bortz and Broahm had begun their commiserations over tea and had ended deep into a bottle of tawny port.

Broahm wondered idly why the robbers hadn’t hit Bortz’s house. Maybe because of the house maiden, a sort of ghostly servant who wandered about the place. She wasn’t exactly equivalent to a security system, but she could at least shout at the first signs of an intruder.

“What do you suggest?” Broahm asked.

“What I always suggest in these situations,” Sulton said. “That you completely mageproof your household.”

“What will that cost me?”

“Sixty gold.”

Broahm admired the way Sulton said Sixty gold with a completely straight face. It took a lot of nerve and a lot of self-control.

“Please leave my home,” Broahm said.

Sulton lifted his hands, palms out, and attempted a soothing, placating gesture. “Your reaction is quite understandable.”

“I think you should be flogged.”

“Now let’s not get hostile.”

If Broahm worked hard all year, not taking any days off, he might—might—be able to accumulate sixty gold. It was a minor fortune. There were kitchen workers in middle-class homes who might slave over hot stoves all their lives and never see a single gold coin.

Relatively speaking, Broahm considered himself a moderately wealthy individual. He lived in a comfortable home at the better end of the Wizard’s Quarter. Hidden within the stone wall in his top room, guarded by his most powerful spells of warding and concealment, was a small locked chest. Inside were exactly one hundred sixty-nine gold pieces—his entire savings from nine years of work in this frozen city on the edge of the wasteland. He would have to pay much of that to replace his lost wizarding supplies. Another sixty to Sulton would put him almost back at square one.

“I see by your expression that you are displeased with the price,” Sulton said.

“How observant.”

“Consider how valuable this security could be to you,” Sulton said. “The ingredients you’ve lost surely cost more than sixty gold.”

Broahm opened his mouth to spit a curse at the young mage, then paused, tugging anxiously at the end of his beard. “Go on.”

“A single wise, albeit somewhat painful, investment now would keep your valuables safe for the entire time

Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату