Snippet Saturday is the brainchild of author Lauren Dane, wherein a group of authors selects thematic excerpts from their work and shares them on Saturday mornings. This week the theme is unusual professions, and it doesn’t get more unusual than the wishful guards in A Spell for Susannah. http://www.jodywallace.com/books/spellforsusannah.htm
In the book (which is based on the 12 Dancing Princesses) Susannah, the eldest princess, has to help her mother hire new guards to keep the princesses from sneaking off at night. Many of the applicants boast some unusual accomplishments:
The Queen signaled a maid to clear the breakfast remains from the table. Sunlight filtered through the clear glass windows, and the office hummed with authority and power. While the King spent his days settling his subjects’ disputes in the Justice Chambers or traveling to other kingdoms on missions of diplomacy, the Queen ran the kingdom from her office. She functioned as a chatelaine for the entire land. Her room wasn’t positioned behind the throne, but it might as well have been.
“Today we’ll interview guard applicants from outside the castle.” The Queen eyed Susannah as she waited for a footman to place her chair beside her mother’s. “Your father employed a talent scout to find these candidates. I plan to hire as many as I deem necessary.”
“You mean a headhunter?” Susannah’s eyes widened as she settled into her seat. “Mama, royals don’t use headhunters.”
“They do now.” The triumphant grin on her mother’s face unsettled her.
The first man to interview was a bearded giant. “Aye, I’ll see to it the little missies don’t go scampering out of their room at night.” The giant grinned, showing several gaps between his large teeth. He crouched on the ground in front of the table instead of sitting on, and crushing, the chair positioned for the candidates’ use.
“How tall are you, sir?” Susannah asked. Giants rarely came to the Middle Kingdoms, and even crouched upon the rug he was as tall as she or her mother.
“Tall enough to see whatever it is you’re up to.” The giant let out an unmanly titter. He dug his fingers into his wiry beard and scraped his chin with a sound like a carpenter’s sander.
“Where have you worked before?” The Queen scratched down notes with her pen, the feather dancing this way and that.
“I did siege work with the late King Nobbyknees, more siege work with King Torrance and some gate bashing with King Phillip, who hired me right out from under King Torrance’s nose during the siege, he did.”
“Are you an employee who cares most about gold?” the Queen asked. “If, say, my daughters offered you a great deal of money to look the other way, would you take it?”
The giant again scratched his chin. “It would depend on if His Highness offered me more.”
“He’ll do quite well,” Susannah whispered to the Queen. “Considering we have never bribed anyone, his loyalty will never be tested.”
The Queen pursed her lips. “You might not be the right giant for this assignment, but you may talk to the steward to see what other positions are open.”
The giant rose to his full height and nearly crashed into the ceiling. His huge navel, eye level with the seated ladies, looked exactly like a bathtub drain. “Thank ye, Your Highness.” A footman flung open both doors so they were wide enough for him to exit.
The second man was a tiny brownie whose head was level with the top of the table. If brownies weren’t reputed to be so sharp-witted, Susannah would have welcomed the chipper man onto the castle staff. They hadn’t employed a brownie in years.
In a surprisingly deep voice for such a small fellow, the brownie said, “Greetings, Your Highness! Greetings, Princess!” He hopped into the chair and swung his legs. “I’ve come about the job. The princesses can’t possibly pull one over on me.”
The Queen inclined her head. “That’s what we hope. You do realize the punishment for failure is dismissal from castle service with no letter of recommendation?”
“Aye, everyone knows that. The guards hoodwinked by the princesses are talking about forming a union. But I shall not fail.”
“There has been no hood to wink.” Susannah sniffed. “What jobs have you held?”
“I guarded a sheep farm for many a year before setting off to seek my fortune. Besides, I was tired of the smell of sheep.”
This wasn’t going to be as bad as she thought. Susannah whispered to her mother, “If I’m the ringleader and the other girls my flock, you should indeed hire him.”
The Queen sighed. “Guarding sheep isn’t like guarding twelve girls too clever for their pantaloons. If you’d like to visit our steward, he may have other positions open.”
The next to interview was a haughty young man with golden hair. He reminded Susannah of Agravar from the enchanted palace.
“Mr. Finder,” the Queen said. “What skills can you offer for our special project?”
“I always choose the correct door,” the man claimed. “It’s my christening gift. If the princesses evade my watch I’ll always know what door they hide behind.”
Susannah wondered if the man could detect what magical door they hid behind, but the door didn’t exist. She used her powers to create it each time. In fact, she could do it from anywhere in the castle, though it was easiest through Calypso’s armoire. Hers had the fewest clothes in it.
“Where have you worked before?” Susannah asked him.
“I worked with Pete & Benjamin’s Animal Circus in the funhouse,” he admitted, shamefaced. “I helped children find their way out of the mirror maze. But I did a little sideshow work—lady and tiger stuff.”
With a spare quill, Susannah scribbled her mother a message.
Choose him! He will know at all times we’re behind the door of our bedchamber.
The Queen drew an “X” through Susannah’s note. “Mr. Finder, your skill might be better put to use in our Lost and Found department. If you will go into the hall and turn to the left…well, I’m sure you’ll know what door to open.”
As the day progressed, Susannah and her mother interviewed a seamstress with a directional needle, a cook who never burned the broth, a soldier who could talk to fish, a man with seven-league boots and a minstrel whose lute playing would soothe the princesses into deep slumber. They interviewed a centaur, a giant badger and a coachman who was down on his luck and just looking for a job. Susannah grew more light of heart and the Queen more surly.
“Come, Mother,” she said during their teatime break. “I have never known a talking badger before.”
“I’m leaning toward the minstrel. He can sleep all day and play his lute all night.”
“Shall I call him back?” Susannah suspected she could dig up a counterspell to lute-induced slumber in one of the tomes in the castle library’s archives. She could create the door to the enchanted land, see and hear through walls, cast illusions, light candles, defeat truth spells, inspire slumber, make beds and heal aches and pains, and her powers were expanding daily.
She wished she could also read minds, although she doubted that would be on the safe list of ethical uses for magic Hortense and several of her sisters had worked out with her when her powers first surfaced. The Queen shook her head. “The headhunter inventory says we have one more candidate. I’ll interview him and then make my decision.”
Susannah straightened the skirt of her somber brocade overdress and brushed a few crumbs onto the carpet. Her hair tickled her neck and face, escaping from her hasty knot, and she shoved it behind her ears. “What is his name?” she asked her mother.
“Jon Tom what?”
The Queen frowned. “It just says Jon Tom.”
“But that is two first names and no last. What does he do?”
“It says he is a…detective.”
Clapping her hands, Susannah laughed. “A detective! What does he detect, stolen sheep? Burning broth? Anyone who needed something detected would come to the King’s Lost and Found department.”
The Queen shot her a sour look and rang the silver bell. The tall double doors swung open and Jon Tom the detective walked through. Susannah examined him, as she had the other applicants, for potential threats. He had a swarthy face, dark hair and white teeth, which gleamed brightly in the afternoon sun streaming through the tall, thin windows.
I have a bit more of this excerpt posted at my website, if you’re interested. It’s here: http://www.jodywallace.com/snips/susannahexcerpt.htm
For more unusual professions by more authors: