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The Witch Hunter...fourth excerpt

Simon was quick to reach for the doorknob. “Allow me.” He opened the door and followed her in remaining close behind her the pathway too narrow to walk alongside her.

The small room was stacked with furniture and objects that Simon was certain had found their way to the shop by no legal means. Servants often stole from their masters to sell for extra coin, seamen had a thriving black market trade for imported goods and then there were the wealthy who claimed items stolen when they themselves had sold family heirlooms for much needed coins.

“Do you search for anything in particular?” Simon asked.

“Books and objects pertaining to the occult.”

“Books I have,” a raspy voice said from somewhere beyond the stacks of objects.

Suddenly a short, rotund man appeared from between two ornately carved chests. How he managed to squeeze through the confined space was magic, but he did and he welcomed them both with a smile.

He nodded to Simon but approached Hypatia. “I also received a shipment just today that I have yet to open. It contains an authentic witch’s cauldron and broom.”

Simon shook his head. The man had obviously assumed them a married couple of wealth and thought that Simon would indulge his wife’s odd interests.

“Oh how exciting, I would love to see them.” Hypatia glanced back over her shoulder. “Simon, wouldn’t you love to see an authentic witch’s cauldron and broom.”

The chubby-cheeked man grinned and Simon knew he thought he was about to make himself a fine sale, while ridding himself of a useless cauldron and broom.

“I would be thrilled,” he said, not wanting to disappoint her.

“I will unpack them and bring them to you. In the meantime let me show you where I keep my books.”

The man lead them around various objects some appearing as if they were about to topple off precarious perches, to the back of the shop where a four tier, glass and mahogany bookcase sat against a wall. Not a speck of dust or dirt touched the case and the glass shined clean.

“My books are my pride and joy,” the man said.

“I shall handle them with great care and respect,” Hypatia assured him and he disappeared amongst the clutter promising to return shortly.

“Any books in particular you search for?” Simon asked, helping her to lift the glass front to the top tier.

“My interests are wide.”

“These books are mostly in Latin,” Simon said, giving the bindings a quick glance.

Hypatia gently took one out and skimmed the pages before reading aloud a passage on Roman history.

“I am impressed.”

She smiled and replaced the book. “My father indulged my curiosity and my never-ending interests. He hired a brilliant man who tutored me in Latin, Arabic, Spanish and several Native American tongues. He told my father I had extraordinary skills with foreign languages and that I should be encouraged to pursue languages, which I hope to do.  Do you know any of the Gaelic tongues?”

“I do.”

“Good, then you can teach me.” She reached for another book to skim through.

“It takes time to learn a language.”

“You can teach me as we investigate the Bothwell witch.”

“I work alone.”

Hypatia replaced the book. “Then I suppose I have no choice but to also work alone on the investigation.”

“I will see to the matter for you.”

“I’m afraid that won’t do. You see I am determined to learn the witch hunting business and if you refuse to tutor me, then I really have no choice but to learn by trial and error.”

“Your attempt at making me feel guilty will not work.”

Hypatia stepped closer to him and laid a hand to his chest. “Dear, Simon, I have not yet begun to make you feel guilty.”

She turned away from him to gracefully squat down and peruse the bottom shelf. “Have you come across many grimores in your hunting?”

“I have seen books that have claimed to be grimores or more simply put a witch’s spell book, but they have held no validity.  They were but feeble attempts at practicing so-called witchcraft.”  He held his hand out to her and she took it and stood.

“You truly believe witches do not exist?”

“My findings thus far have not produced a single authentic witch, only those who claim to be witches and practice what they claim to be witchcraft. But proof of true witchcraft I have not found.”

“But how does one define true witchcraft?”

“With great care,” Simon said seriously.

“Here it is,” the shopkeeper said, a good-sized cauldron in one hand and a slim twig broom that had seen better days in the other.

Hypatia hurried over to examine the two items.

“I have been told,” the shopkeeper said firmly, “that these two items were removed from the cottage of a known witch, who met a justifiable end for her wicked ways.”

Hypatia handled the broom with care. “What do you think, Simon?”

“I think that witchcraft is illegal,” he said, sending the man a scathing look.

The little man’s full cheeks turned beet red. “Right you are, sir, but many of the nobility like to collect the odd and unusual. They demand and I simply supply and I keep business to myself.”

He was letting Simon know that his purchase would be kept in confidence.

“It depends on your price whether I take both items,” Hypatia said and the man turned to her surprised, though ready to deal.

Simon admired the skillful way Hypatia negotiated with the man and the advantageous price she got him to agree to. She then informed the shopkeeper that someone would come by tomorrow to pick up her purchases.

“One other thing,” Hypatia said when the shopkeeper thought them finished. “Have you ever come across a ring similar to this one?” She held her hand out to show him the gold ring she had found near the altar.

The shopkeeper took the ring and examined it closely. “I am not familiar with its design but it could be Tuddles’s work, though where you can find him is anyone’s guess.  The pubs are a good place to start.”

She took the ring from him, returned it to her reticule and bid him good day.

Once on High Street she turned to Simon. “Do we work together or do I go to the pubs myself?”

“We will not work together and you will not go to the pubs yourself.” He gave a quick glance for his carriage and spotted it and his driver. He summoned him with a snap of his hand.

“You can’t have it both ways. It’s one or the other, Simon. We work together or I investigate myself and there is nothing, absolutely nothing, you can do to stop me.”

She was right. He could not stop her from investigating on her own and with a murderer on the loose she could be in grave danger.  He really had no choice in the matter, none at all.

Hypatia smiled and held out her hand.

He shook it sealing his capitulation. “Partners, but I will not tutor you in witch hunting.”

His coach arrived and the driver climbed down to open the door for them.

Her smile widened as she hoisted up her skirt past her ankles to step up into the carriage without assistance. “We will see about that.”

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