Opening up a world of magic and adventure, Our Lady of Mysterious Ailments by T. L. Huchu is the second book in the beloved Edinburgh Nights series.
Ropa Moyo’s ghostalking practice has tanked, desperate for money to pay bills and look after her family she reluctantly accepts a job to look into the history of a coma patient receiving treatment at the magical private hospital Our Lady of Mysterious Ailments. The patient is a teenage schoolboy called Max Wu, and healers at the hospital are baffled by the illness which has confounded medicine and magic.
Ropa’s investigation leads her to the Edinburgh Ordinary School for Boys, one of only the four registered schools for magic in the whole of Scotland (the oldest and only one that remains closed to female students).
But the headmaster there is hiding something and as more students succumb Ropa learns that a long-dormant and malevolent entity has once again taken hold in this world.
She sets off to track the current host for this spirit and try to stop it before other lives are endangered.
Please enjoy this free excerpt of Our Lady of Mysterious Ailments by T. L. Huchu, on sale 04/05/22.
So, I’m skint again. ‘Nothing new there, Ropa,’ I hear you say. Well, up yours. This time though, a lass is in luck – Sir Callander, Scotland’s premier magical bigwig, has hooked me up with an interview for an apprenticeship. Free food and a proper wage – all for a wee bit of filing. Yay.
I’m sauntering through George Street in Edinburgh’s city centre, headed towards the East End, and pass a beggar with matted hair sat on cardboard on the pavement, arms stretched out for alms. His trousers are folded and pinned just below the knees, where his legs have been amputated. Must have been a vet during the catastrophe or maybe just some civilian caught up in the crossfire. The bad old days were wild like that.
‘Spare some change,’ he says in a downtrodden voice. Makes me super sad.
‘Sorry, pal, ain’t got nothing on me,’ I say, and it’s a hundred percent true. Been lean times lately, and if I could spare a shilling, I would. I know more than most what it’s like to be skint.
‘God save the king,’ he replies.
‘Long may he reign,’ I say.
I get away as quick as I can, hoping someone with deeper pockets might take pity on the gadge. Used to be, I ran a small business as a ghostalker, delivering messages around the city for the dearly departed, but certain shenanigans which I daren’t recall saw that business go kaput. I went off Sherlocking around Edinburgh to find a missing kid for one of my spectral clients. Have to admit, I was pretty good at it, but it took up a bit of my time, and so I couldn’t do my core job. The spectral community got miffed and I lost a ton of customers. Sigh. It ain’t been easy building the business back up again. But you know what they say, one door closes and all that kind of jazz. This thing Callander’s lined up for me is some next-level shit. Formal employment – who’d have thought a fifteen-year-old lass from Hermiston Slum without no school certificates or nothing like that would get a job with them suit and tie folks? My future’s so bright I might just swap these plastic shades I’m wearing for a welding visor.
I don’t normally dress all formal, but for this, I’ve gone full-on bougee. Found myself a black pair of tailored straight-leg trousers and a beige fitted shirt with long sleeves. Hell, even borrowed myself a pair of Clarks to make sure my shoe game’s proper white collar. My old gig mainly involved tramping around like a postie, so I didn’t need to dress up or anything like that. But for this new one, I read on the net you’ve got to look the part . . . especially for the interview.
It’s a nice summer’s morn, blue skies, not too hot, which is brill ’cause I don’t wanna go in sweating like an oinker. The scent of ground coffee as I pass a cafe before crossing Hanover Street. Big old statue of George IV on a plinth to commemorate the geezer visiting Scotland back when. That was ’cause it had been ages before the king found it fit to visit this part of his realm. Our current monarch ain’t been down here since his reign began during the catastrophe, but seeing as how old George’s hair has turned white with seagull poop, I can’t blame any of his successors for staying well clear of this shithole.
A couple of buskers are jamming acoustic guitars near the church on the opposite side of the road. Their voices carry across loud and clear, covering Dolly Parton’s ‘9 to 5’, and I know that’s got to be an omen. I stop, take out a tissue from the handbag I nicked off my gran and brush dirt off my shoes. This apprenticeship’s really gonna turn my life around. I don’t know how much they’re paying yet, but it’s bound to be more than what I was on before. Means I’ll be able to do more for Gran and my little sis, Izwi. Been a bit rough the last couple of years. Same goes for most to be fair, but once I get paid, I’m looking to get us out of the slum we live in on the outskirts of Edinburgh, into a real house. Then I’ll get treatment for Gran, who’s a bit poorly, and maybe even a better school for sis. She’s the brightest kid this side of the asteroid belt.
With so much on the line, I’m a wee bit feart. Happy and nervous at the same time – nervicited, like that moment before lift-off when the countdown’s going and your dicky ticker’s racing with the second hand. Mad. I check the time on my mobile. Great, it’s only 09.40. Callander said to meet him on St Andrew Square for 10:00, so I’ve got a bit of time to kill and chill my nerves. I’m returning the phone to Gran’s handbag when the ringtone goes off, startling me. It’s only my pal Priya, though, so I pick up.
‘I’ve got great news, Ropa,’ Priya says so loud I might burst an eardrum. ‘Well, not for them, but for you.’
We’ve got this patient at my work and his case isn’t looking good. It’s been a struggle to make a diagnosis, which is hampering our treatment.’ Priya’s a healer, so I’m not too sure where this is all going. It’s not like I know nothing about doctoring. ‘What we need is a proper investigation into what happened around the time he got sick so we can see if there’s anything we’ve missed. Can you come round to my clinic? His parents are willing to pay you cash for the job.’
‘Sorry, Priya, it’s a no-go for me—’
‘Huh? This gig is right up your street.’ She sounds proper baffled. ‘I thought . . . Is everything alright with you?’
‘Hunky-dory. In fact, I’ve got a new job now.’ Well, almost. ‘Sir Callander’s hooked me up, and so I’m going in for my first day just as we speak.’ I hate to disappoint Priya since she knows I’ve been hard up lately, but I’m sorted now. Or at least I will be after today.
‘You kept that one hush. Damn it, you’d have been the best person for this. After you solved all that drama with those other sick kids. But, hey, congrats. Well done, you. We should catch up soon so you can fill me in on this new J-O-B, baby. I’ll be doing the skatepark in Saughton on Wednesday if you’re about,’ she says. ‘Listen, I’ve got to go – rounds to do, patients to see. Speak soon, mwah – sloppy kiss.’
Wow, look at that, little old me turning down odd jobs. Who’d have thought? I wait for a shilly-shilly ferrying passengers to Leith to pass so I can cross the road into the garden on St Andrew Square. It’s nice and peaceful here, with the scent of newly mowed grass, though the small crescent-shaped pool’s dry at the mo. I sit on one of the concrete bench mcthingies that run along the footpath and veg. That’s a relief ’cause the shoes I borrowed off Marie are half a size too small so my pinky toes are sore.
The New Town where I’m at just now is the nicer part of town, relatively speaking. If you go across the loch to the Old Town, it’s unadulterated mayhem. The only thing kinda marring this side is the pockmarks on the walls of the grand old buildings surrounding the square. Bullet holes. That’s from way back, when the king’s men were going street to street, driving out the separatists from the city into the Forth where a good few drowned. It’s legend out here how in the bleak midwinter of the war hundreds of diehard separatists were lined up on the great Edinburgh seawall with machine guns pointed at them. They were told to swim across the Forth to Fife – a good few miles in freezing water – or take a bullet to the back of the head. Only a handful made it, and to this day they remain His Majesty’s guests in Saughton gaol.
Must have been quite the horror show then. Grown-ups don’t like to talk about them days, almost like they can silence it out of existence. When I was growing up, if someone talked about being in a ‘bullet or breaststroke situation’, you knew they’d been put in an impossible position. This is what makes me a keen reader of books about war. It’s so I can be ready to save my family if shit hits the fan again.
I’m seagulling away, coasting in the moment and watching folks go about their business on the pavements, horse-drawn carts and electrics mingling, plus a shitload of cyclists hogging up the roads like this is eighties Beijing. Nah, Edinburgh’s nowhere near as posh. China – that’s the dream right there. Was a time, once upon, when everyone and their grandma was emigrating out that way, via Hong Kong, but the Great Wall’s been put up again and so we’re stuck here. Still, with the magic gig, there are deffo worse places to be.
I startle and jerk to the left ’cause a man’s suddenly beside me. I look up, and it’s Sir Callander, calmly staring ahead as though he’s been tracking my gaze for a while. A soft wind blows east, and I catch a hint of tobacco smoke snagged in his three-piece tweed suit.
‘Sir Callander, I didn’t see you coming,’ I say, a little uneasy ’cause I’m sure I’ve been spotting everyone in these gardens from my vantage point.
‘No one ever does, Miss Moyo,’ he replies matter-of-factly. ‘You look distinguished.’
I’m taken aback, ’cause Callander’s not normally one to offer compliments. He’s Scotland’s top magician, and a chance encounter with him a wee while back led to this moment right here. But I ain’t a believer in blind luck. No sir, I’ve spent nights up reading posts on prepping for a new job, and so even my pinky toes will forgive me one day when we’re aboard the gravy choo-choo. Callander’s not the type to hand over anything so easily.
‘A position within the Society of Sceptical Enquirers is a much sought-after, seldom proffered affair, which you should take very seriously. You have come prepared?’
‘Yes,’ I say. I ain’t done much else but dream of this since spring ended.
‘And you’ve already fully mastered all aspects of the Promethean spell?’
Piece of cake, that one. I nod. I don’t want to seem too enthusiastic, but inside I really want to burst out, Yes, yes, yes, just get me started on the apprenticeship already.
‘It’s almost time. The others will be waiting. Come with me, Miss Moyo,’ Sir Callander says, getting up.
I’m in his shadow as I follow him out the garden. He’s tall and confident, and moves like a great ship making people part like waves to let him through. I’m bursting with pride, trailing him. This is it, my dream about to happen, and my binoculars are wide open.
We cross the tramlines; hardly ever any trams about, so barring a few cyclists it’s a quick walk to the building opposite. The one with the statue of a geezer and horse in the garden at the front. Dundas House, number 36 St Andrew Square, the main branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland in this city. I’ve never been inside. Never had to. I’m not sure what we have to come out here for, but maybe Callander needs a bit of dosh before our appointment.
The road that runs inside the yard to the building arcs a U for vehicles coming in and out from St Andrew Square. Callander proceeds down the road directly ahead of the main door to the solid neoclassical building. It’s got large windows, straight lines and simple geometric architecture appropriately reeking of money, though the walls are sooted badly from pollution layered over the years.
This has been the home of the Society of Sceptical Enquirers for over two hundred and fifty years, Ropa Moyo. Or in other words, the home of Scottish magic. Mark me well, you always slip in via the extreme left of the door so your shoulder brushes against the frame. With your right hand, hold your thumb and index finger together and point the others down to the ground, like this. Arm by your side, palm facing your thigh.’ I mimic him, and he gives a satisfied nod. ‘And remember to be discreet so members of the public don’t see you come in.’ With this, we walk into the bank.
The air takes on a glassy tone. Everything kinda looks slightly reversed as if I’m looking into a mirror. My left is now my right and my right becomes my left, ’cause now we are on the inside.
Copyright © T. L. Huchu 2022
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