‘You fancy her,’ Siobhan accused.
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘Dahlia. That elderly but attractive woman who just turned up. You luuuurve her.’
Warloc gave her a tap on the arm and sat down, looking disgruntled. ‘No I don’t.’
‘Yes you do.’
‘I do not, actually, Ms O’Leary.’
Siobhan threw her hands in a half-shrug. ‘OK, I believe you.’
Siobhan looked around the house, noticing for the first time that there were two chairs, two separate bookcases. There was room enough for two inhabitants.
‘Warloc,’ she asked. ‘Does anyone else live here?’
‘No,’ came the answer.
She looked around. ‘Are you sure? Is it just you?’
‘Yes,’ Warloc said sharply, taking out another book from one of the shelves. It had the title, ‘Recognising Dark Magic’.
‘What’re you doing now?’
‘Stop asking questions,’ Warloc snapped. He sighed. ‘I’m studying. I’ll be upstairs. Please don’t disturb me.’
‘Wait!’ Siobhan said. ‘I’m still hungry.’
Siobhan read some more books until Warloc came downstairs again. He opened another wooden cupboard, hidden of all places in the corner beside the stove, and took out some cheese and bread and a few bits of cutlery. He cut a slice of bread and put it on a plate. Then he cut some cheese, threw that on top and handed the plate to Siobhan.
‘This almost looks like a sandwich,’ she remarked.
‘It’s what you call something when you put it between two bits of bread. So you get some cheese or lettuce or meat or something like that, put it between bits of bread and it’s a sandwich.’
‘We have that already,’ Warloc said, a little moodily. ‘We just don’t have your word.’
‘Okey dokey,’ Siobhan said, biting into the bread. ‘This is very tough.’
‘I’m sorry,’ Warloc said, not sounding sorry.
Siobhan put her plate down and went upstairs. She thought she could get some water to drink from the taps in the bathroom. She sensed asking Warloc for a drink would make him grumpier, somehow.
The bathroom was a surprise. The walls were patchily covered in sponge and rotting wooden shelves. They too were covered in books and other magely paraphernalia. In the centre was a huge round blue bath with symbols all around the sides. She surmised that when you wanted to have a wash, there was a rope or a chain or something you pulled to let water in. She located the rope, but after much deliberation, she decided it was best not to tamper. She went back downstairs.
‘Warloc,’ she asked. ‘Why don’t you have a sink or a toilet?’
Warloc was reading again, spectacles on. ‘What?’
‘How do you drink, and where do you go to pee?’
Warloc shut his book. ‘There is a washroom somewhere outside. Lots of people use it, but there are lots of them dotted across the county.’
‘Will you show me where it is?’
He exhaled noisily and got up. ‘Do I have to show you everything?’
Siobhan followed him out the door. ‘Well, if you’d given me the grand tour when I first got here, we wouldn’t be in this fix.’
‘I shouldn’t have to be hospitable. You’re rude. You don’t even say please.’
‘You say please here?’
‘Yes. Believe it or not, you’re not the first outsider to enter our world, and we have picked up a few basic words and phrases.’
‘I thought if I said please it’d be one of those words you didn’t know and you’d get grumpy again.’
Predicting Warloc’s grumpiness, as it turned out, did nothing for his current state of grumpiness, and they didn’t talk again until they reached the washroom. It turned out to be a small wooden shed.
‘Here you go,’ he said. ‘The water is clean.’
He agreed to take a stick and draw a line in the dirt that she could follow back to the house. As he left her, dragging a stick behind him, she entered the washroom. She was hoping for a proper toilet and some basic bit of plumbing. What she found was basically a seat with a hole in it. Above her was a pipe, and another rope. She pulled it, and water gushed out of the pipe into the hole in the seat.
‘Oh,’ she said. ‘Lovely.’
Siobhan had a tentative drink from the pipe water, but decided not to use the toilet until she was really desperate. She followed the line back to the house. Warloc was already upstairs, so she finished her almost-sandwich and curled up again in the chair with her book.
When she’d finished the book, Warloc still hadn’t come down. She didn’t know if he’d bother coming back down again. It was already getting dark. She got up and put the book back, tired of reading, and chucked more wood on the fire.
Siobhan still felt empty. She rooted in the cupboard and found more bread, some cheese, jars of preserve, some eggs and a bag which turned out to have apples inside. She took an apple and another bit of cheese and went back to the chair.
Far away near the peak of Mount Jaleb, stood the Imperial Palace. The Emperor’s team of Wizards had spent months restoring the palace for him. The new building looked like new, and thanks to the collective magical genius of his team, two new gleaming limestone towers stood proudly at either end of the palace.
Here he lived, eating the best food and living comfortably. He had worked hard to get to this position, he reasoned, and now it seemed only right that he and his three wives should live out their lives here in peace.
His head wife was his favourite. She had been such a defiant woman when he had first seen her. But he had been curious, had brought her here and offered her an ultimatum. She had eventually accepted. Now, two years later, he had quite literally whipped her into shape. Jocosa was the perfect wife, silent and obedient; beautiful and respecting. And best of all, he had successfully stolen her from somebody else.
The other two wives, Minah and Ludu, were also obedient and respecting, but not nearly as beautiful. They were all permitted to use the Emperor’s rooms and join him at some of his less important ceremonies – as long as they were silent.
That morning, Emperor Quelch was enjoying the sunset from his spot in the garden when a messenger approached him.
‘Your Imperial Majesty,’ he began. ‘I request a mere moment of your time.’
Quelch turned, barely glancing at the man. ‘Well, make it quick.’
‘Your Wizards have shared a vision, your Majesty. They have seen a girl from another world. She has been brought here through a gateway between worlds, and -’
‘I said make it quick,’ the Emperor snapped. His arms began to coil, and the man gulped, speaking faster than before.
‘She will be trained by someone who was once an enemy. She will prove herself to be a magical prodigy, and seek you with a vengeance. They have seen you fall in battle before this girl, your Majesty.’
Emperor Quelch was silent for a moment, and then responded, ‘I will find a way to stop this. Meantime, have my army round up some monsters for me.’
The messenger bowed at the waist. ‘Yes, your Majesty.’