Thordric has been told his whole life that his magic – that of a simple half-wizard – is dangerous and he must never use it. All over Dinia, half-wizards are treated the same, their magic labelled as dangerous and uncontrollable, but deep down Thordric knows that’s not true. When Inspector Jimmson reluctantly calls upon him to help out with the investigation into High Wizard Kalljard’s murder, Thordric realises that the old wizard’s life was taken by magic. However, in order to prove his theory, Thordric has to learn how to control his own powers to find the evidence needed.
‘I’m telling you, Inspector, he’s a sensible young man.’
Thordric heard Inspector Jimmson sigh. His mother had been in the Inspector’s office for over an hour, trying to negotiate with him to get Thordric a job at the station. ‘I don’t doubt it, Maggie, but there’s no denying what he is.’ The Inspector lowered his voice, so that Thordric had to strain to hear. ‘He’s a half-wizard, for Spell’s sake. If it ever got out that one of his kind was working here—‘
‘His kind? Inspector, I assure you that particular part of him is completely under control,’ his mother retorted.
‘Maggie, Maggie. Think of what you’re asking me to do here. You know you’re the best pathologist I could possibly hope for, and I wouldn’t want to do anything to upset you, but the reputation of the stationhouse…’ There was silence for a moment. ‘I just can’t let the boy work here.’
Thordric heard one of the chairs scrape back. ‘Then you’re not the man I thought you were,’ his mother said. The door to the office opened and she walked out, holding her head high and clacking her high heels with proud deliberation. ‘Come on Thordric, let’s go home.’
Thordric got up, a mix of relief and disappointment filling his stomach. They turned to go, but then the office door opened again. The Inspector walked out, eyeing Thordric up with a twitch of his bushy moustache. Thordric tried not to gulp under the Inspector’s scrutinising gaze.
‘He’s hired,’ the Inspector said abruptly. ‘Starts work tomorrow morning, seven thirty on the dot. Don’t let him be late, Maggie.’
‘Thank you, Inspector,’ his mother said. Thordric thought he saw a smile flicker across her lips.
Later that day, she took him to the tailor to get his uniform measured. As he was only to be the Inspector’s runner, he didn’t need the full constabulary uniform.
‘Good thing too,’ the tailor said, lifting a measuring tape up to Thordric’s chest. ‘I don’t believe I have any small enough. No, indeed, it will have to be a plain jacket, though in a boy’s size, I think.’
He took the measurement, scribbling the number down in his leather bound notebook. Thordric craned his neck to try and see what it was, but the tailor held his hand up. ‘Please, sir, you shouldn’t trouble yourself with the details. Leave that to me.’ He turned to Thordric’s mother then, and dropped his voice slightly. ‘Are you sure he’s fourteen? He looks to be no more than twelve at the most, if I am honest, Ma’am.’
‘I’m fourteen and a half,’ Thordric said indignantly. The tailor smiled faintly and carried on taking measurements.
A few hours later, Thordric came out with his new uniform in hand, ready to head home, but his mother caught his arm and took him to the barber shop instead. ‘What are we doing here?’ he said, standing in front of the entrance, looking at the red and white pole spinning around and around on the wall.
‘You’ll want to look smart tomorrow, won’t you dear?’ she said mildly.
The barber found fault with him too, complaining that Thordric’s hair was in such bad condition that he couldn’t possibly cut it into any of the regular constabulary styles (though it was not for lack of trying). After three hours, growing increasingly hot and flustered, he had declared that the only thing he could do in an attempt to make Thordric look smart was to shave it all off.
‘Oh, do stop fussing, Thordric,’ his mother said after the deed had been done. ‘If that’s what the good barber thought best to do, then it was best.’
‘But…but, it’s so short. All I have is stubble. Everyone is going to laugh at me.’
‘Nonsense,’ she chided. ‘It looks very smart. I’m sure that no-one will say anything bad.’
Unfortunately for Thordric, she couldn’t have been more wrong.
At seven thirty sharp she dropped him at the front desk, and there he stood in his new clothes with his bald head reflecting the morning light. The constable at the desk took one look at him and threw his head back; laughing so much that it brought all the other constables out to have a look. Some of them sniggered or tried to stifle their snorts; but most laughed just as hard as the desk constable.
‘Look at him,’ Thordric heard one of them whisper. ‘He’s nothing more than a string bean. What possessed the Inspector to hire him?’
All the commotion brought the Inspector looming around the corner, with his face resembling the very storm cloud that had drenched the whole town the night before. All the constables took one look at him and quailed, fleeing back to their desks and burying their heads in paperwork.
‘There you are, er, Thorbid,’ he said, his eyes marking every detail of Thordric’s clothes and physique. ‘Hardly constabulary material, but I suppose you’ll do. Come along.’
‘Inspector?’ Thordric said with a squeak. ‘It’s Thordric, not Thorbid.’
‘Quiet now, Throbay. Follow me.’
Thordric followed meekly, past the constables’ desks and into the Inspector’s office. It was a neat room, furnished with dark wooden bookcases and a wooden desk. There wasn’t a single speck of dust to be seen. ‘Now,’ the Inspector said, sitting down in his vast leather chair. ‘I’m sure your mother has explained your duties to you already. Still, I see no reason not to remind you again. Your role here is to be my runner. You will do as I say, fetch things and bring them back at my command, post any letters that need to be posted and make tea whenever I feel the need for it. You will not, I repeat: NOT, speak to any of the constables, and are absolutely forbidden to assist them with any policing duties. And if anyone finds out that you’re a you know what; then you’ll be out of here faster than your own feet can carry you. Understand?’ he said, stroking his thick bushy moustache.
‘Yes sir,’ Thordric said, his voice breaking awkwardly.
‘Inspector,’ the Inspector said.
‘You say “Yes, Inspector”.’
‘Oh, of course,’ Thordric mumbled. ‘Yes, Inspector.’
‘Good,’ the Inspector said cheerfully. ‘Go make me a cup of tea and fetch me some Jaffa cakes.’
Thordric spent the rest of the morning bringing the Inspector large cups of tea (‘No, no, Thorble, two sugars and not so much milk!’), passing messages back and forth throughout the station house and pretending not to be there whenever one of the constables walked passed. He barely had time to visit his mother when she broke for lunch, and when he did he found she had no sympathy for him.
‘I don’t know what you expected, Thordric. You knew life at the station was going to be hard.’
‘Yes, but not this hard.’
‘Oh Thordric. You’re not a baby anymore, you’re almost fifteen.’
‘I know,’ he said, hanging his head. ‘But why couldn’t I have gone to the academy like all my friends?’
His mother breathed out slowly. ‘You know perfectly well why. This is the only way I could guarantee you a future.’ She took a sip of her coffee, a special blend developed by the Wizard Council to help re-energize and focus the mind. ‘You ought to be getting back now, the Inspector will be asking for you.’
‘But I haven’t even had anything to eat yet!’
‘You should have thought of that before you came running to me. You shouldn’t come here while you’re working. I’m perfectly fine.’
‘Yes mother,’ Thordric said, slinking off back to the station.
The Inspector was waiting for him when he got there, his moustache curling up into his nostrils as he glared at Thordric. ‘Thormble! Where were you? I’ve been looking all over for you! Go and fetch me a copy of the local newspaper.’
‘Yes, Inspector,’ he said, walking as quickly as possible without making it look as though he was running away.
It was raining when he got outside; the new rainbow colours that were now so popular with other adolescents his age. He looked up and saw them sprinkling the powder into the rain from the rooftop of the library, and as it mixed, the drops turned into bright reds, oranges and pinks.
He would have loved to have joined them, to have a go as they did, but he was forbidden to touch anything that the Wizard Council had produced. His mother told him that if he did it would be incredibly dangerous. Anything could happen if it mixed with his rogue half-wizard magic. His mother had made sure that he’d grown up knowing the risk, telling him stories of half-wizards who had tried to experiment and had ended up losing various limbs, or turning themselves into animals, or in the case of a particularly unfortunate one, a pumpkin.
It had scared him when he was younger, but now he wished that he could prove everyone wrong about it. He wanted to show them that half-wizard magic wasn’t always harmful, that his magic wasn’t harmful, but his mother would never forgive him if he tried. She had wanted to bring him up as a respectable young man, and to ignore his wizard side, forget it was there. But he couldn’t. It took over his dreams, willing him to try things out, and once or twice had even taken control of his body.
He remembered one time when he had been at junior school; one of the older boys had found out what he was and decided to tell everyone. Thordric had been so upset that he’d clapped his hands together and made everyone, including his teachers, forget all about it. Unfortunately, the boy who had started it was hit by Thordric’s powers directly, resulting in him losing his entire memory.
The school wrote it off as a freak accident, but Thordric’s mother had known better. She had sat him down and asked, kindly, what really happened. He told her, knowing that it had been wrong, but that he simply hadn’t been able to control it. She had comforted him, but said that if anything like it happened again, he was to tell her straight away.
Sadly, despite his good intentions, she had been the victim of his power’s next attack, while she had been telling him off for making a mess of her study. Unbidden, he had stamped his foot and sent her off on a completely different train of thought, and since she hadn’t seemed to notice, he thought it better to simply let her carry on and not tell her what had happened.
He sighed, thinking back to those days when he was younger, ruefully wondering how different it would have been had he been born normal. One of the coloured raindrops landed on his nose, and with a shake of his head he remembered that he was supposed to be on his way to the newspaper stand to get the Inspector a copy of the Jard Town Gazette.
He quickened his pace, but when he got there he found that they had sold out. The vendor told him that he might try the stand across the town, and so he had to race over there to fetch one. The vendor there was on his last copy, and sold it to Thordric for double what it was worth, seeing how much of a hurry he was in.
‘Oi, you’re not the Inspector’s usual fry, are you?’
‘No, sir,’ Thordric said, making to dash away.
‘When did you start then?’ the vendor continued.
‘Er, today, actually,’ Thordric said, and disappeared before he could be asked anything else.
He ran back to the station, making record time, and was so impressed with himself that he didn’t see the Inspector standing in the doorway of his office. The resulting crash echoed throughout the building, and once again all the constables dashed to have a look. They found the Inspector lying on the floor with his head in the waste paper basket. Thordric had bounced off the Inspector’s considerable bulk to land over by the bookcase, with a copy of The Detective’s Handbook open on his head. His eyes were vacant as the constables rushed past him to see to the Inspector.
‘Inspector?’ one said, daring to shake him slightly. ‘Inspector Jimmson, can you hear me?’
The Inspector mumbled something incoherent. The constable rounded on Thordric. ‘Look at what you’ve done, small fry! Didn’t anyone tell you not to run in the station?
Thordric didn’t hear him. The constable slapped him hard. ‘I’m talking to you, small fry.’
‘Wh-what?’ Thordric said, his eyes just starting to focus. He saw the Inspector, still semi-conscious and unmoving. ‘Blimey, what happened to the Inspector?’ he said. The constable hit him again.
‘Ouch,’ he said. ‘What was that for?’
‘Oh, never mind,’ the constable said, giving up. He turned to one of the other constables. ‘Fred, see if you can get this twit home. He won’t be any use to anyone for the rest of today. I’ll deal with the Inspector.’
The constable known as Fred grabbed Thordric and dragged him out of the station to the morgue, where the constable felt it was his duty to inform his mother of what had happened. She was less than impressed.
‘Thordric Manfred Smallchance! How could you? And on your first day, too!’ She threw her hands up in the air, quite forgetting that they were covered with blood from the latest poor soul she was performing a post mortem on. ‘Take him home, constable, and lock the door so that he can’t cause anymore trouble.’
Thordric woke to the sound of his mother rapping on his bedroom door. ‘Thordric. Thordric! It’s time to get up!’
He furrowed his brow, his eyes still too heavy to open.
‘Thordric, get up,’ his mother continued, still knocking on the door. ‘You must go and apologise to the Inspector.’ He heard her sigh and turn away.
At first it didn’t register with him what she had said, but then he remembered. He had fallen into the Inspector and left him barely conscious. Swallowing the sudden lump in his throat, he scrambled out of bed and fumbled on his clothes before bolting downstairs.
His mother was waiting for him when he got there. He thought she looked especially pretty today. Her dark, wavy hair was loose about her shoulders and she wearing her crimson heels; but he knew that if he told her she would see it as buttering her up. That was one thing she hated.
‘I hope you realise the seriousness of the damage you did yesterday,’ she said crisply. ‘When the poor Inspector finally got his wits back I had to plead with him for hours to give you another chance.’
‘I…’ Thordric began, but found he had no words.
‘I expect you never to make a mistake or cause trouble like that again. Had the Inspector not been the type to demonstrate perfect chivalry, then it may have well cost my job as well as yours. As it is, he values my friendship very deeply and has agreed to overlook the matter. But only this once.’
‘I understand, mother. I won’t do it again, I promise.’
‘Well, then,’ she said. ‘Off you go, and don’t forget to make his tea exactly how he likes it. And don’t complain about the constables, you deserve their crude remarks at the moment.’ Thordric had to agree. How could he have messed up his first day so badly? Not even the other half-wizards he had read about had that much bad luck.
He sped to the station, arriving even before the Inspector, and had a steaming mug of tea and a plate of Jaffa cakes ready for him. When the Inspector finally walked in he said nothing, choosing to ignore Thordric completely. Halfway through his fifth Jaffa cake, however, he decided to speak up. ‘I never want to speak of what happened yesterday. It was a normal day like any other. Understood?’
‘Yes, Inspector,’ Thordric said, bowing his head.
The Inspector wiped the crumbs off his moustache. ‘Here,’ he said, thrusting a piece of paper at Thordric. ‘Go to the dry cleaners on Warn Street and show them that. They will give you my sister’s dry cleaning, which you will then proceed to drop off at her house. Here is her address.’ He scribbled on another bit of paper and handed it to Thordric. ‘You are then to ask her if any chores need attending to, and if she so wishes, you shall do them for her.’
‘But…’ Thordric protested, but stopped at the Inspector’s glare.
‘You are then to go to the bank and give them this,’ he continued, giving Thordric yet another piece of paper. ‘And then you are to get the Jard Town Gazette. Make sure it is today’s copy, and not a leftover from yesterday. Is that clear?’
‘Yes, Inspector,’ Thordric said, trying to keep his voice sounding positive.
‘Remember Thormble, no mistakes.’
Thordric left the office with as much grace as he could muster. He looked at the notes in his hand, trying to remember which was which. The Inspector’s sister’s address was easy to recognise, but the notes for the dry cleaners and bank were both numbers. Each had been written in a great long line with no breaks, and there was nothing to differentiate between them. He gulped.
He reached the dry cleaners quickly, sweating slightly from the heat of the shop. ‘Yes, sir?’ the woman at the desk said without even looking at him. She was reading a magazine; intent on an article about using the Wizard Council’s new spell powder to get rid of fleas and bugs from the home. She nodded as she read, and Thordric grumbled under his breath. He hated the Wizard Council. True, they did make a lot of fun things, like their new Rainbow range, but that was only the lower part of the Council. High Wizard Kalljard would never have had anything to do with them, he was far too important for that trivial stuff. He was the one that Thordric really disliked, for it was he who had spread such hate for half-wizards, despite the rumours that he had fathered a half-wizard himself.
Before Kalljard had come to power, half-wizards had been trusted just as much as everyone else, and people had often gone to them for help when they couldn’t afford the prices of a full wizard. But that had been over a thousand years ago now, for it was Kalljard’s discovery of everlasting youth that had allowed him to form the Council and take charge of it. No-one had successfully got him to share his secrets of everlasting youth, but he had developed a potion that allowed the elderly to look and feel young in the last days of their lives.
Full wizards were actually quite rare, only a handful were born each year. Each full wizard was born into a family with no previous magic in it and it was said that the powers they had came from all the potential magic that the family had within their bloodline. To keep their powers pure, full wizards were not allowed to marry. Of course, if they all obeyed that rule then there wouldn’t be any half-wizards.
The woman finished her article and looked up; frowning slightly as she saw his stubbly head. ‘I have to pick up the Inspector’s sister’s dry cleaning,’ he said, the words tripping out of his mouth.
She raised her eyebrows at him. ‘Do you have the Inspector’s pass code?’
He looked at the two notes and frowned again. It was impossible to tell which one it was. Shrugging, he chose one at random and handed it to her. She looked at it and checked it against her list. ‘That is indeed the Inspector’s pass code,’ she said, the surprise showing in her voice. ‘One moment, sir.’
She went into the backroom, and appeared a moment later with a huge stack of clothes. ‘Here you are, sir. Tell the Inspector that we thank him for his custom.’ She handed them to him, making his knees buckle slightly. Easing a smile on his face, he thanked her and inched out the door. How could anyone own so many clothes?
Once out in the street, he found a post box to lean against while he fished the address out of his pocket. He read it and cursed: 52, Rosemary Lane. That was on the other side of town. He could almost feel the ache in his muscles at the very idea of it.
By the time he reached the cherry red front door, surrounded by honeysuckle, his feet felt like they were covered in blisters and he was sweating profusely. Not wanting to offend the lady, he quickly straightened his uniform, shifting the pile of clothes to one arm. The door opened before he could even knock, and a woman stood just inches from his nose. Her hair was in a bun so tight that it gave her a slight face lift. Thordric felt his knees begin to buckle again.
‘And who might you be?’ she said.
‘I’m Thordric, ma’am. The Inspector sent me to deliver your dry cleaning.’
She pursed her lips. ‘Very well, then. Bring it in and leave it on the banister. Quickly, boy!’
He did as he was told, feeling her eyes bore into his back.
‘Well, why are you still here?’ she said.
‘The Inspector asked me to ask you if you had any chores that need doing, ma’am, and if so to do them for you.’
‘It seems that my brother has finally developed some manners then. Come along, boy, and let us see what you can do.’ Thordric thought he saw a smile flicker across her lips, but it was gone too quickly for him to be sure.
She led him to the kitchen. It was a large room, with a dark stove at its heart, and Thordric caught the most wonderful smell coming from it. It was roast chicken and potatoes, and his stomach groaned audibly. The Inspector’s sister took no notice. Instead she dove into one of the oversized cupboards and produced a battered old copper kettle.
‘I want you to fix this kettle,’ she said, handing it to him.
He looked at it doubtfully, noticing several large dents and a gash in the side. ‘I’ll try, ma’am, but I don’t pretend to have the skills to do it.’
‘Hogwash, boy!’ she scoffed. ‘Use your magic.’