Chapter 1.1 – In which Percy attempts to re-gift an award

Percy

Month 11, Day 3, Tuesday 11:00 a.m.

“Taking the law into your own hands is never the answer, Mr. Irving,” Lieutenant Robards repeated, sitting down across from Percy at the interrogation table.

Percy nodded rapidly, then pushed his glasses up as they threatened to slide off of his face. “I completely agree, sir. I can only plead temporary insanity brought on by panic. It won’t happen again.”

It had been a huge mistake to chase after the thief, of course. Everything after that, though… Well, it hadn’t been entirely his fault, had it? But he knew how it looked.

The older man sighed. “At least you have the maturity to admit your mistake without making excuses. And despite the foolishness of placing yourself in such a position, your results do speak for themselves. Such skill is impressive for one your age. Or your size.”

Percy didn’t bother reiterating that he, in fact, had no skill.

“That doesn’t make it better,” Percy said. “Any number of things could have gone wrong.” His mind flashed with dozens of different ways he could have been maimed or killed. “If I had been just slightly unluckier…” He shuddered at the thought.

“Most boys your age have trouble grasping unrealized consequences. That is why, normally, I would firmly protest against what is about to happen. But with you, I hope that receiving rewards for your recklessness will not encourage more of it. I do understand your outrage at witnessing such blatant villainy, as well as your desire to help. I hope that—in the future—you can channel that heroic nature toward more appropriate outlets. Perhaps one day you could even join the coppers. We could use more good men.”

Percy flushed at the praise. And from such a competent and charismatic leader as Lieutenant Robards! If Percy were to imagine a perfect future version of himself, it would look remarkably like the older man: dark brown skin beginning to wrinkle just enough to be taken seriously, a sure stride and confident gaze, and an ambition based in the surety of his own self-worth.

But even such nice compliments couldn’t distract Percy from his finely honed sense of foreboding. “What do you mean, ‘what’s about to happen?’”

“The Assistant Ambassador to the Public is on his way down to meet you. They plan to give you an award for excessive bravery. It’s more of a publicity stunt than anything—something to raise commoner morale and allow some of the goodwill you’ve earned to rub off on the Crowns. There’ll be a newspaper article and a photograph of you shaking hands with the Ambassador, or something.”

Percy shook his head rapidly. “No, no, that’s too much. I mean, I didn’t even really do anything. You and your partner were the ones to make the arrests. Can’t you take the award?”

Lieutenant Robards stared at him in silence for a couple of seconds. “It’s a civilian award. I’m not eligible. And while extra public recognition is always useful to stack up toward my next promotion, Shelleck and I literally only walked in and slapped on the handcuffs. Doing the bare minimum of our job isn’t something we can or should receive rewards for.”

Before Percy could argue further, the interrogation room’s door opened. Copper Alma waved in a somewhat portly man in a thick wool suit. She gave Percy a quick grin and a wink before she shut the door behind the man.

Lieutenant Robards stood and bowed, so Percy quickly copied him. “Assistant Ambassador. Welcome,” Robards said.

The other man waved his hand. “Oh, no, please call me Mr. Rouse. Perhaps once I’m no longer an assistant, I’ll go by my title.”

Percy wasn’t totally clear on the etiquette, but Rouse was definitely the name of one of the Thirteen Crown Families. Introducing himself as Mr. rather than Lord probably meant that he was from a branch line or otherwise far from inheriting the crown. Either that, or he was simply a fan of the more informal address that was becoming popular among the younger crowd.

Mr. Rouse turned to Percy, looking him up and down critically. “Is this the lad of the hour, then?”

Percy shuffled awkwardly. He knew he looked horrible: filthy, missing one of his shoes, and covered in freshly bandaged injuries—including the rather deep scratches on his cheek and forearms from the rooster incident.

Introductions were made all around, and Mr. Rouse shook Percy’s hand enthusiastically. “Have you heard the good news yet, or shall I be the one to share it?”

Percy tried to smile politely. “I’ve heard. I’m sorry that you made a trip all the way here for nothing, but I have to decline any awards.”

“What?” Mr. Rouse’s jovial expression slipped. He looked to Lieutenant Robards as if hoping the other man would tell him this was a joke, and then back to Percy. “Why would you do something so foolish, boy?”

“I don’t think I should be rewarded for putting myself in danger. What kind of example does that set for other people my age?”

Mr. Rouse gave a forced laugh. “Oh, you’re too humble. You did a great thing, young lad! Practically doing the coppers’ job for them, I say! People will love to read about it.”

Lieutenant Robards frowned.

Mr. Rouse raised his hands as if framing a newspaper title. “Young boy takes out local thieves’ ring, single-handed!”

Even the idea made Percy nauseated, and he shook his head rapidly.

Mr. Rouse frowned. “I assure you, there’s no reason to hesitate. Why don’t you sit down, and we can discuss this?”

Percy clenched and unclenched his fists at his side, but returned to his seat. “It’s not just that. I might have been partially responsible for the theft in the first place.”

Lieutenant Robards shook his head wryly.

“At the very least, I didn’t try to stop them until it was much too late,” Percy amended. “Catching them didn’t even make up for all the damage done to Mr. Schubert’s store. And some artifacts were damaged. This really, really isn’t something I deserve any kind of reward or recognition for.”

“Oh, don’t be so modest. You did more than anyone could have expected from a boy your age, and I’m sure no one holds the incident against you. It’s not as if you were an actual accomplice…right?” Mr. Rouse looked to Robards suspiciously.

“He was not.”

“Well then, what’s there to worry about? Lad, are you aware of the ten gold reward that comes with the medal? If you feel so bad about it, you can donate some of your winnings back to this Schubert. Oh, but if you plan to do so, you must let us know about it beforehand so we can mention it in the article.” Once again, he lifted his hands while imagining a newspaper. “Brave and selfless!”

The offer of gold gave Percy pause, but only for a moment. He could earn ten gold in a couple weeks at his part-time job. “But I didn’t even mean to beat them up. I was actually just trying to escape when I realized what I’d gotten myself into. The way they ended up was an accident,” Percy protested weakly.

“Oh, pish posh! It was all in the heat of the moment. They wouldn’t have treated you any better if given the chance, lad.”

That hadn’t been what Percy meant at all, but it gave him an idea. He brightened, then tried to control his expression with something more solemn. “But that’s just it. I used excessive force on them. Whether or not they were criminals, there was no chance for the law to judge and sentence them. I’m a civilian, and I don’t have the authority to make arrests. Anyway, taking the law into your own hands is never the answer,” he said, repeating Lieutenant Robards’s earlier admonishment.

Robards’s lips twitched.

“Also!” Percy added with a sudden epiphany. “Isn’t that actually a crime? Violence, disturbing the peace, and, um…vigilantism? How can you give a medal to a criminal?” He wilted a little after he said it. Sometimes, he spoke without thinking. It was a tendency that only worsened when he was nervous. If they really charged him, it might be even worse than being rewarded.

Mr. Rouse stared at him, nonplussed.

Lieutenant Robards raised his eyebrows. “But I thought you said it was all an accident? Force used in self-defense while trying to escape?”

Mr. Rouse snapped his fingers and exclaimed, “Aha!” as if he had just caught Percy in a trap.

“There is also such a thing as a citizen’s arrest,” Robards added. “Though in Lenore, those are usually reserved for situations where you are preventing immediate danger to yourself or others. A good solicitor would definitely argue that you were only protecting yourself and the livelihood of another. Even if I intended to charge you with a crime today, which I do not, it is very unlikely you would be convicted or sentenced.”

Percy looked helplessly between the two men, then down at the scuffed surface of the table between them. He searched for any other arguments to use, but it was futile.

Lieutenant Robards cleared his throat. “However, perhaps Mr. Irving is worried about something else. It seems likely that the thieves were giving a tribute of their earnings—a tax of sorts—to the Morrows. If Mr. Irving’s name and image were to be publicized, he could face gang retaliation. However much an honor this medal would be, I’m not sure it’s right to put the boy in danger.”

Percy tried to keep his ecstasy from his face. Lieutenant Robards was a saint, blessed with insight and kindness.

“But surely the Morrows wouldn’t be so petty?” Mr. Rouse asked.

Robards sighed wearily. “It would be an issue of saving face. Retaliation might be even more likely due to the unusual circumstances. Three men defeated by a teenage boy?”

Mr. Rouse sputtered. “W-well, even so, shouldn’t the coppers protect him?”

Percy shook his head sadly. “The coppers can’t stand on guard beside me constantly. And I have a family, you know. Younger siblings. I’ve got to think of them first. I really cannot accept, though I appreciate your good intentions and thank you very much. If that’s all, I really have to be getting home soon. My mother was expecting me hours ago.”

Mr. Rouse puffed up and tried to argue but, with Lieutenant Robards now on Percy’s side, the round man soon deflated, and Lieutenant Robards escorted him out. When he returned, Robards informed Percy that with his statement given and his wounds treated—for free!—he was welcome to leave. “We have catalogued the stolen items and will return them to Mr. Schubert.”

“Um, would it be possible for me to go with you? If you’re doing that today, I mean. I just—I want to explain my side of things to him, and sometimes I get tongue-tied and trip over myself when I’m nervous, and maybe it would be better if you were there.”

Lieutenant Robards regarded him in silence for a moment. “I suppose that would be possible, but I must ask. Your desperation to get out of the ambassador’s accolades seems somewhat excessive. It might make one suspect that you had some other reason to keep your involvement a secret.”

Percy blinked at him. “Like what?”

“Say, perhaps, you were involved with the criminals, and betrayed them, and are now worried about a much more pointed retaliation.”

Percy laughed, but quickly sobered when he saw that Lieutenant Robards was serious. “Oh! No. Well…the real reason is”—Percy looked left and right, leaning in closer and lowering his voice—“my mom would kill me if she found out how recklessly I acted. I would never hear the end of it.” He shuddered visibly.

“Your mom,” Lieutenant Robards repeated in an inscrutable tone.

Percy nodded rapidly. “Yeah. She’s way more scary than the Morrows.”

As Percy walked away, he rubbed the tattoo on the inner side of his left wrist. It had appeared the same day of his first unfortunate visit to a Gilbrathan police station—the day his life changed. Five weeks ago, things had still been normal. Or, as normal as life could get for someone with luck as bad as his.

This is the new side story set in the Practical Guide to Sorcery world. You may recognize Percy from PGTS Book 3, where he made a cameo appearance.

Currently, I plan to post chapters once a week on Monday, at around 5:30pm MT. Unlike PGTS, once future chapters become Patreon-exclusive, they will not unlock a few weeks later for everyone, at least until the after the book is finished.

However, I do have plans to serialize this story for free to those on my Inner Circle Newsletter, as another potential way to access it.

When the book is finished and edited, it will become available for sale on all bookstores, in ebook, paperback, and audio formats.

In the next TCC chapter, we will jump back in time to the start of Percy’s story.

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