It’s not long to wait until Rag and Bone is out – a full length novel set in the Magpie world and featuring brand new protagonists but as a lovely little taster, here is A Queer Trade, introducing Ned and Crispin and a brand new type of magic.
Author:K J Charles
Pages: approx 50
Apprentice magician Crispin Tredarloe returns to London to find his master dead, and his papers sold. Papers with secrets that could spell death. Crispin needs to get them back before anyone finds out what he’s been doing, or what his magic can do.
Crispin tracks his quarry down to waste paper dealer Ned Hall. He needs help, and Ned can’t resist Crispin’s pleading—and appealing—looks. But can the waste-man and the magician prevent a disaster and save Crispin’s skin?
A 16,000 word story set in the Charm of Magpies world, and a prequel to the novel Rag and Bone (March 2016). This story was first published as part of the Charmed & Dangerous anthology.
Ned Hall, waste-man, was not enjoying his day.
He was generally happy in his work. It wasn’t a job for the weak, heaving waste down narrow stairs and hauling the handcart over cobbled or rutted streets, and after a while you could never get the paper dust out of your skin, but he liked it. Liked dickering over ha’pennies, liked seeing the odds and sods that came up in the piles, and mostly liked being his own master, a very long way from the docks.
It was a good life. A queer trade, to be sure, selling on psalters to wrap pork in, or dead men’s love letters to go round an ounce of baccy, but it suited him. So it was impossible to say just what was wrong now.
Ned pulled at his ear, scratched inside it with a finger. He’d done that so often it was beginning to feel sore, but he couldn’t stop, because he couldn’t shift the feeling that he could almost, not quite, but maybe, if he could just turn his head the right way, hear something.
Except there was nothing there to hear, and it was driving him to Bedlam.
He clapped both palms to his ears, gave them a rub so vigorous that he felt they might come clean off, and was engaged in that undignified act when a knock came from behind.
“Mr. Neddy Hall?”
Ned turned to look, and blinked. A gentleman, of sorts, stood in the doorway, in a tentative sort of way, like he was trying not to be there. A flash sort, dandyish clothes. Slim, no great height, or age either: about twenty, Ned reckoned. A narrow, nervy sort of face, and a head of hay-coloured hair, that yellow-brown shade.
“That’s Ned, if you don’t mind. Something I can do for you, sir?” The ‘sir’ was for the clothes, mostly: there was something about the way the visitor stood, hip tilted and weight on one foot, that didn’t say authority.
“Um, I’m trying to find some waste paper. Can you help me?”
Ned spread his arms wide, an invitation to look around that the young man took up, reddening as he grasped the silent point. The small room was paper from floor to ceiling, great piles and drifts of it, mounds of the stuff, white and yellow and browning, plain and printed and scrawled upon, a few bundles bound with string, most loose.
“You want waste, I’ve got it. How many hundredweight?”
“I mean, some specific paper,” the young man said, a little reproachfully, as if Ned should have known that. He had a trace of one of those country accents that sounded like a stage pirate talking, so you could hear the r in ‘paper’. “My ma— My, uh, teacher died and the house was cleared while I was away. They sold a lot of papers they shouldn’t have and they wouldn’t tell me where they sold them, and I have to find them. It’s terribly important.”
His eyes were wide and pleading, Ned observed, but the greater part of his brain was taken up with the observation that the toff talked like a molly. Not like the Cleveland Street boys, or anything. Just, a light voice that danced a bit and put a lot of stress on a few words, the sort of voice that made you think, I know your sort.
And the molly knew he knew, because the colour swept across his pale skin. “Can you help?” he asked, and there was an obvious effort to go a bit more manly there.
“What name?” Ned asked.
“Uh, Tredarloe. Crispin Tredarloe.” The young man did something Ned would never have predicted: he stepped forward and put out his hand. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Hall.”
I’m a writer of romance, mostly m/m, often historical or fantasy or both.
I’m also a freelance editor, and I blog about writing and editing at kjcharleswriter.com.
I live in London, UK, with two kids, a tolerant husband and an even more tolerant cat.
Follow me on Twitter @kj_charles or friend me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/kj.charles.9