Safe Place

Lot, Bran, and Josef discover toddlers have no consideration for strategy meetings.

Read the first part of today’s double bill here.

London – 1844

What we wanted when we got home was a strategy meeting. What we got was Bran walking around the library reading area rocking a crying Edward against his shoulder with vomit down his back. Edward was holding on tight as if worried his papa might disappear.

‘Hey, babby bear, what’s the matter with you?’ I asked and rubbed Edward’s back.

‘William Arton was mean to me,’ Edward wailed. ‘He said when I get big you’ll send me to school and they’ll beat me.’

‘Someone should give that little shit a beating,’ Josef said under his breath and threw his coat over a chair.

‘No-one’s sending you away, little fella,’ Bran soothed and kissed his temple. ‘We’re not sending you anywhere, ever.’

‘Beat him up, Muma!’ Edward cried.

‘I can’t beat up little boys,’ I said and wiped his nose although Bran’s shoulder was already a lost cause, not that snot was the worst thing on it.

‘Not little, big meanie.’

‘That’s true,’ I said. ‘But I’m a grown-up and he’s a child so he’ll have to wait a few years before I can clout him.’ Though William Arton and his entitled horseshit were sorely tempting me.

Bran gave me a look. I gave him a look right back, William Arton was a boy of almost twelve picking on a three year old, if he carried on like that adult William would end up on my list.

‘Miss Ronni teaches good,’ Edward said. ‘Don’t need school.’

‘Of course you don’t. I didn’t go to school.’ I raised my arms. ‘Now, shall I give you a cuddle so Pappy can have a rest?’

‘Nooo!’ Edward shrieked when we tried to disentangle him to cross the distance between Bran’s shoulders and mine.

Bran re-adjusted him and rubbed his back. No doubt Bran hadn’t been able to put Edward down since he collected the children from Lady Arton’s house, no wonder he looked tired.

‘How about a dada cuddle?’ Josef said.

He was shorter than Bran by a few inches but when Edward was pressed between them he could grab Josef’s shoulder without letting go of Bran’s then ease into Josef’s arms.

‘There’s my snuggly sausage roll.’ Josef tugged Edward’s blanket a little tighter around him.

Bran collapsed onto the couch as if he’d deflated, and forgot the vomit down his back.

Edward sniffled. ‘Merry called him a bumface,’ he said as if it was the worst insult in the world. ‘And Mary kicked him.’

It wouldn’t take me three guesses to figure out where Mary had kicked William and he bloody deserved it.

‘Muma and Dada never went to school,’ Josef said. ‘Papa went to a special school where they taught him to be a heathen, but I forgave him.’

‘No school?’

‘No school,’ Josef replied. ‘Mary said Muma is the cleverest and she never went to school.’

Edward nodded. ‘Muma makes bestest coco.’

‘William Arton was being mean because he’s not a nice boy.’ Josef sat down next to Bran.

I claimed the space on the other side and took Edward’s little hand that wasn’t gripping Rawr. ‘You’re staying right here with us.’

Energy crackled through the air as Josef worked some form of soothing magic, I assumed by the way Edward was starting to look sleepy. I wasn’t sure about the morals of using magic to help your children calm down, but at least it wasn’t gin.

‘And I’m going to have a word with his mummy about letting him play with the little children,’ I said. ‘If he can’t play nice he doesn’t get to play.’

‘I play nice.’ Edward yawned. ‘I’m a good boy, an’ I share, an’… an’… everything.’

‘You’re a good boy,’ I said. ‘You’re the bestest boy.’

Edward snuggled into Josef’s chest, still holding onto my hand. ‘‘Cept Rawr, Dada says don’t got share Rawr. Rawr’s my special. Dada made Rawr for me.’

‘You don’t have to share Rawr,’ I said.

Edward closed his eyes. ‘Love you.’

‘We love you too.’ Josef kissed his forehead.

Edward drifted off into sleep. None of us moved until he started snorting softly through his stuffy nose.

Bran let out a breath. ‘It’s been hours.’ He checked his watch. ‘I take that back, it feels like hours.’

‘I told you learning to soothe people would be useful,’ Josef said. ‘But you said it was immoral.’

Bran looked at him. ‘You were using it to assassinate people.’

‘A minor detail.’

‘Not so minor to them,’ Bran muttered.

‘Did Josef join our marriage, or did I join yours?’ I asked, stroking Edward’s fingers with my thumb.

Josef shrugged. ‘I’m in a corner there.’

I grinned.

Bran sighed. ‘How’s your night been?’

We told him about tracking Gale down to ask her questions and how she’d appeared to use magic to stop us chasing her.

‘She threw you, with magic?’ Bran asked.

‘Somebody, we assumed Gale, threw us with magic,’ I replied, I tried to tug my hand free of Edward but his grip tightened in his sleep. ‘Both of us, at once.’

‘Impressive,’ Bran murmured, chewing his thumb joint.

‘I was thinking “painful”,’ I said.

He chuckled but the worried look didn’t leave his face. I wasn’t a magic expert but from my lessons I’d gathered consciously moving something was a step up from absorbing energy. It was possible that she hadn’t consciously thrown us and it had been a gut reaction, having tried moving things I knew I couldn’t have thrown two adults with such force. I’d seen Freyja Deacon use magic to throw people about like rag dolls, but she was so old she couldn’t remember how old she was.

I settled against Josef’s side. ‘I think I felt her readying to cast. I slowed and then after she cast it took me longer to recover than it normally would.’

‘As if she was drawing energy from everything around her?’ Bran asked.

I nodded, she’d done it before when we met on the rooftop. It would explain why I felt tired despite hitting the wall having been a minor injury compared to some of the ones I’d had.

‘Perhaps Josef didn’t feel it as much because he has so much energy to drain,’ I suggested.

‘Perhaps,’ Josef said.

‘But if it’s Gale then why didn’t I see her magic when I looked for it?’ It was lucky I didn’t need my circulation, Edward’s grip on my fingers was like a vice. ‘Unless she has some way to mask it when she isn’t using it,’ I added. ‘But why can’t I see through the trick?’

‘I don’t think I know enough about magic and changelings to say,’ Bran replied. ‘Maybe we should take a look at Thorps’ house. If he was a changeling too there might be some information there somewhere.’

‘Maybe.’ I’d been so intent on finding out who our mystery woman was I’d been ignoring Galahad Thorp. Dead though he was it would be a new experience for a man of his former standing, I was sure he was getting plenty of attention in hell to make up for it.

Bran was right, we needed to know more about changelings.

‘All this is good and well,’ I said. ‘But it doesn’t answer the question of what to do if we catch her. She could drain the energy from any or all of us.’

We exchanged looks.

Nobody had any suggestions.

Read more episodes of Nine Shillings, or read Lot’s first adventure, Victorian Mistress, here.

Nine Shillings and Victorian Mistress are also available on Wattpad.


Published by Jesse

I'm a writer and academic specialising in fantasy fiction and creative writing theory. I'm allergic to pretentiously talking about fiction and aim to be unashamedly ‘commercial’. Surely all fiction is commercial anyway, or what’s the point in publishing it?

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