“Give a dwarf an emerald and he will be your father.
Give a dwarf a ruby and he will be your brother for life.
Give a dwarf a sapphire and he will be your neighbour,
But never give a dwarf a diamond,
unless you wish grief upon him and bring war upon yourself.”
– a dwarven proverb
Jasper Blake was a detective and a human man in Oxen Basin. Though this sounds racist, the reason why he was known as human was due his interactions and workings with dwarves, elves, riluds, and phaelans (what humans know as “fairies”) – mainly those who do not look kindly to humans.
In the year of 1667, the city of Oxen Basin (located in the western prairie lands of Nordica) was called Onyx Basin, known by the dwarves for mining in semi-precious stones of agate, jasper, jade, and, after what the town was named after, onyx. Then came the discovery of “dwarves’ aluminum” messrihl, illuminium quartz (a valuable resource for illumination), coal, silver, gold, and potash. After the news of precious metals and semi-precious stones, the humans came to Onyx Basin to gain “their share of the riches” only to discover that those finds were shallow and very limited. People from various backgrounds and ethnicities came and built the town. A few generations later the town population grew to 4,780 later becoming a city. Within one generation, the greedy humans sucked the land’s riches dry taking away whatever could be mined and scraped from the land. Once nothing could be found in the earth, the humans left with their booty leaving the dwarves with “their duty to clean the mess they have started.”
As the dwarves began to restore the mines by filling them with earth or transforming them into graves (for that was all it was good for), the riluds came. The riluds were drawn to barren earth and made excellent work in breathing life into the soils that lost their nutrients. Short in stature, yet clever and hard workers, the riluds took to restoring the soil so it could sustain life once more. Trees were planted, streams directed in ways that would coax greenery to flourish, Onyx Basin became Oxen Basin where cattle and livestock grazed safely. The dwarves, thankful for the restoration skills of the riluds, gave them seeds for crops and livestock. Finally, the dwarven chieftain Bjorn Ironspeare assigned the riluds as stewards of diamond caves for dwarven royals and nobles.
Since the rundown of Onyx Basin and the flourishing of Oxen Basin spanned over three generations; from those generations, memories and stories of ancestors were passed on to the descendants. Sadly, prejudices against the human race took root from there as well. It was in this city with roots of prejudice and unfairness that Jasper grew up.
Jasper Penner Blake was adopted into the Blake family in the year of 1809 as a son of a dwarven artisan named Diamond Blake. Diamond made illuminium lanterns and ones with an excellent quality at that. Diamond gained his skills from the dwarven guild in the Vulcanor University of Engineering who specialized in using the illuminium quartz as torches when digging in the mines. He refined his skills to creating intricate and sturdy frames from pewter and other metal scraps. The beautifully crafted handheld torches and lanterns became so popular in the land that the Blake family made a fortune. With that money Jasper was sent to school and later joined the military at the age of 16. However, it was during Jasper’s overseas assignment that Diamond was killed in his home. Hearing his adopted father’s death, Jasper returned home for the funeral and later joined the Emerald Knights, an elven rangers force known for investigating crimes both local and provincial regions.
He was a lieutenant under the command of Captain Edgar Aspengroves, an elven elite of the force when Jasper made his first arrest within the second year of his ranger career. After 7 years of service and 19 arrests, Jasper left the force and opened his own business as a consulting detective in Oxen Basin.
When I first met Jasper I did not know much about him. Truth be told, I knew nothing of him – not that it mattered to me at the time really. I only knew his name in the classifieds for a secretarial and investigative assistant position for his agency. With the ad cut out from the newspaper in my purse and a portfolio folder containing my resume under my arm, I paid him a visit.
The agency was a small two room office located on the second floor in the apartment segment of a building. A doctor’s office, a small Zenian tailor and boutique, and a second hand bookstore with a small teashop occupied the main level. It was just above that teashop where the agency was located.
I stood at the corner studying the address and location. The smell of sweets drifted through the air. It was eleven o’clock and the local patrons were already having their high tea. I was tempted to join them. Not just for the tea, but for the books. I just loved the musty aged smell of books. Inhaling the deep rich scent of paper and tea, I silently promised myself to breathe that comforting aroma again once the visit was over. Ah, books. I just can’t seem to get enough of their presence and fragrance!
Taking a narrow stairway to the upper levels, I came to the door at the right with “Jasper P. Blake, Consulting Detective.” painted on the glass. I pushed down the latch and opened the door. A bell rang overhead announcing my entry.
“Yes?” I turned at the voice. The owner sat at his desk, his feet on the desk top crossed at the ankles with a newspaper spread wide obstructing the view of his face.
“Hello, my name is Cassisa Fullerton,” I introduced myself, “I am here for the secretarial position that was posted in the papers.”
The newspaper lowered revealing a shrewd looking face. He was in his forties. His narrow eyes were pale blue that appeared more grey than blue. The straw coloured hair on his head was cut almost like a pageboy’s style with his long forelocks almost hiding his broad forehead and receding hairline. His thin elongated face had a pallor that suggested him to be anaemic, with a five-o’clock shadow accentuating his face.
“Pleasure,” he stood up to extend his hand, I shook it over his desk. “Do you have any engagements this afternoon? Or better yet, have you had tea yet?”
I blinked at the sudden question. Was this man asking me to have a social engagement with him? Highly unlikely since this was an interview meeting.
“Uh…” I faltered, unsure of how to respond.
“Let me rephrase that question: Can you begin working today at this moment, immediately?”
I blinked again.
“You do understand the common language of Nordica?”
“Yes, I do, but –”
“Just answer the question, please.”
“N-no, I don’t – I mean, I don’t have any engagements. Not today, really…”
“Excellent! I feel rather peckish. Let us lunch instead then. How do fish and chips sound to you? I know of an excellent place close to here.”
“Uh, Mr. Blake,” I cut in.
“Jasper,” he corrected.
“You have not seen my resume yet.”
“Ah, let’s have it then.”
I handed him my folder. He opened it, turned the pages and tossed the folder on the desk.
“Right, to lunch then.” Leading me out the door, he grabbed his hat and coat.
We sat at a diner about a few blocks away called One Fish, Two Fish. Within the half hour we ordered our lunch and finished eating. As promised the fish and chips were good. Perhaps the best I have eaten. The conversation, on the other hand, was not the kind I had in mind for an interview.
“Cassisa Fullerton-Winters. Mainly going by ‘Cassisa Fullerton’, a graduate of the Provincial University of Western Kannata with a degree in teaching; travelled to Orona and other Eastern Kingdoms a number of times. Judging by your appearance you are Oronean or your parents are. You are fluent in Oronean and the Common Tongue of Western Kingdoms. You are a bibliophile since you always carry a book in person.” Jasper rattled off resume credentials immediately after I finished my meal.
“The indentation on your left ring finger suggests you were previously married, so you would be either a widow or a divorcee,” he added. I was glad he had timed that comment so I wouldn’t choke on my water. He sure had the nerve of mentioning my marital status.
“Are you done?” I asked irritated with the direction this conversation was going.
“Hmm, well there’s more, but before you crown me with that greasy dinner plate I will stop.”
“So, would this mean I am hired?” I asked, removing my hand from my plate.
“Yes,” Glancing at his pocket watch he stood up and tossed two 5 maple crested coppers on the table for our meal.
“I could –” I reached into my purse.
“No,” he grabbed my arm and tugged me to the railcar that was just about to leave outside the diner.
“Where are we going?”
The railcar brought us to St. Eleanor’s Chapel, a stone chapel located at the edge of Oxen Basin marked by the end of the tracks. Jasper in his long strides entered the chapel past two rangers guarding the entrance way. The men wore black uniforms with short matching capes; each had round flat-topped caps bearing the brass crest of the Emerald Knights pulled snugly on their heads.
“Sorry, miss. You cannot go in there.” One of the rangers stopped me.
“She’s with me,” Jasper called from the sanctuary. They let me through.
With a nod of thanks I approached Jasper’s side.
“I forgot to ask, how are you with the dead?”
“The dead –?” I immediately choked on my words at what we found there.
At far end of the sanctuary were some wide stairs that lead to a large stone table. On the stairs was a man with a large gaping wound on his back stretching from his right shoulder blade down diagonally to his left hip, his right arm extended towards one of the table legs. Blood from the open wound was now crusty blackening the sanctuary floor. The victim’s left fist was to his side closed over something. By the victim’s physical position it appeared as if he was crawling towards the stone table. Judging by the smell the body was there for more than two days.
“If you want to stay employed, get used to it. It comes with the territory,” Jasper approached the body; he pulled out a pair of cotton gloves and held them out to me.
“Here, put these on. Well, come on, before they remove the stiff.” I took the gloves and numbly pulled them over my hands.
“Tell me what you see,” Jasper waved over the dead man with his gloved hands.
I swallowed trying to keep down my still digesting lunch. I frantically pulled a handkerchief from my purse and pressed it over my mouth and nose.
“Come on, before the sunsets,” Jasper said impatiently.
Taking a deep breath I began, “The man –”
“Speak louder, so I can hear you,” Jasper ordered as he brought out a notebook and began to scribble.
“The man is a part-rilud.” I started over again, “His height is that of a short man, but a bit tall for a rilud. Also the curly hair on the back of his hands and feet are the common traits found in the race. One of his shoes was lost on his way here revealing his hairy foot, an emergency of sorts to get here, perhaps?” I noticed some dirt at the victim’s fingertips.
“He is a farmer, judging by the dirt trapped in the nails, unless further analysis suggests otherwise… He is clutching –” I tried to peer into the clenched fist for its contents.
Jasper put his pencil and notebook on the table ledge and pried open the fist with his now free hands. A lump of cut crystal with rune markings shone in the faintly lit sanctuary.
“A jewel? A seal?” I wondered. Immediately the stone was covered by a handkerchief and disappeared into Jasper’s pocket.
“Well, Jasper! What did you find?” a voice called. Its owner was a tall man in a Nordican ranger uniform with his thick dark beard trimmed and his hair groomed for his profession. A rectangular pewter pin with two bars at each end and a row of three stars identified his captain status of the rangers.
“Captain Peere, I came as soon as I could.” Jasper shook hands with the big man.
“You brought a girl I see,” the captain winked at his friend. “Captain Weed Peere of the Nordican Third Division.”
“This is Cassisa Fullerton, my new secretary,” Jasper introduced.
“Pleasure to meet you,” I smiled.
“So, let’s have it then.” Jasper held out his notebook to Captain Peere allowing him to see the contents.
“Mr. Gavin Tiller, a gardener by trade. Still need to find out what he’s doing here away from the usual places of his kind.” The captain filed through the notes as he gave his updates.
Jasper glanced at the captain’s last statement, but the captain took no notice.
“Any family members notified?” Jasper took the notebook returned to him.
“Just had one of my men send the message to his…wife? Well, a female next of his kin.”
“Probably his sister, I see no wedding band on his hand,” Jasper commented, then added, “Any reports of a robbery?”
“None. Why do you ask?”
“You may get a report of one soon.” Handing the captain the handkerchief bundle, Jasper turned to leave the sanctuary. “This came with the stiff; he had it in his hand. You may need to have an expert look at it, say a gemstone specialist and a dwarf.”
“Hey, Blake,” Captain Peere called.
“We should meet up one of these days.” The captain made a gesture that suggested having a pint.
Jasper only waved as he continued his way. I followed after him.
“Can you come in tomorrow?” Jasper suddenly asked the moment I matched his long strides.
“Yes, I can,” I answered.
“What’s with the hesitation?”
Guessing he heard the brief pause in my reply, I told him, “I just don’t really have a place to stay…” My last month’s rent was past overdue and I was told to leave my present residence by the end of the week. It was embarrassing to admit such a thing, even mindful that I will end up in the streets this week – which was the last thing I wanted.
Not seeing that he had suddenly stopped, I nearly tripped over my own feet.
“Where do you live?”
“You heard me. Where do you live?”
I gave him the address, which was in Sylvia County, a small community located far in the northeast across the river from Oxen Basin.
“Right. First, go home to Sylvia County, pack your belongings. I will meet you at your place tonight at 9 o’clock sharp. Good?”
Thus my day had ended.
At 9 o’clock, Jasper met me at my place at Sylvia County in a horse drawn carriage. He gave a curt, “good evening”. After paying my due to my landlady, Jasper immediately grabbed my trunk and luggage, putting them on the carriage with me and had the driver take us away.
It was during the fall season and the sun had already set, so I could not see where we were heading. I hoped it was not some strange place where a lady should not be. The moment the thought came to my mind, I snorted. Me, a lady! A Plain Jane like me who was made the butt of everyone’s jokes during my youth debut. I felt the smile fade from my face. Yes, that’s right, I thought to myself, who would want to kidnap a plain girl like me?
“Here we are!” Jasper announced, opening the door. When did the carriage stop?
I stepped out and looked around. We were at a rather peaceful neighbourhood, with illuminium streetlamps on every corner giving off a soft, silver light. The carriage stopped in front of white picket fence surrounding a large house – and what a house it was.
The place in question had a rather modern, but practical design: three levels with four windows looking out from the gabled attic rooms; the second level had three windows; the main level had large windows looking out at us with a front porch leading down to the stony path that led to the front gate. All the windows were lit warmly as if the place had welcomed me home.
“Welcome to Stahlgrau Haus (steel grey house).” Jasper smiled at me as he hoisted my carpet bag over one shoulder and carried my suitcase with his free hand.
“Thank you for paying my landlady,” I said as I followed Jasper up the porch steps.
“You will be staying here from now on so I thought it was best to take care of the matters.” Jasper set down the suitcase and opened the door. “After you,” he said with a slight bow.
“Mr. Blake –”
“Jasper,” he corrected me.
“Jasper,” I began, “I appreciate the effort of paying my rent and helping me move here, but I would appreciate it if I could repay you in some way.”
Jasper blinked. “I thought it would make things easier for you since you will be travelling to and from work with us as well as working from home. The location is ideal since we will be working closely.”
I was a bit confused. “This is a secretarial job, is it not?”
“So why am I here with my rent payment settled, with a suggestion of working from work and home, on top of that being brought here across the city with my things?”
Just then, something ran into Jasper nearly knocking him off the porch.
“Hey, Jasper! Oh, a girl!” A tall dark skinned man with pointed ears leaned against the already burdened Jasper to have a quick look at me. Immediately he turned and shouted back at the house, “Hey, guys! Jasper brought home a girl!”
Sounds of furniture moving followed by a thundering of feet came four young males pushing poor Jasper even more to the side (with my baggage).
“A girl?” A short young man with curly copper hair and gold rimmed spectacles studied me.
“Oooooh! She’s pretty! I’m Ian McAlvin. What’s your name, sweetheart?” A handsome dark haired man with an East Nordican accent grinned.
“Hey! I was here first! Hi, I’m Harris Noire, Jasper’s housemate,” the dark skinned elf quickly made his introduction and grabbed my hand.
“Hi, I’m Merlin Fourleaf. Please call me ‘Merl’,” a blonde rilud male grabbed my other hand with his hairy one and shook it.
“Umm, pleased to meet you all,” I said with a smile, unsure of what to make of my welcome party.
“Don’t crowd her, lads! Can’t you tell she’s spooked?” A plump woman with grey streaked brown hair and a white apron appeared parting the tide of men. Waving them off, she told them to “go wash up for dinner”.
“And Jasper, how long are you going to stand there? Take the girl’s bags up to the peppermint room. Well, move along, chop-chop! Don’t tell me you are feeling tired. Have I not told you that we need to get more iron into you? I could tell you did not have that kidney and liver pie this morning!”
“Yes, mother,” Jasper deadpanned as he carried my bags into the house and up the stairs to the room.
I was about to follow Jasper when the woman stopped me. “Come this way, my dear. Let the young man do his duty. I am Rosemary Grey, the house mother and landlady of this place.”
“I am Cassisa Fullerton. It is a pleasure to meet you Mrs. Grey.”
“You could just call me Rosemary, dear.” Rosemary laughed. “It is so nice to have another girl at this place. Right now, you are the only female because our two female boarders are away and will not return until the weekend. You will meet with them soon. And don’t let those lads worry you; they are all good and respectable.”
“Surely they don’t live under the same roof…” I suggested doubtfully.
“Oh no! They live in another home just behind this one run by my brother Ross and his family. The lads only come to this house for the meals and work related meetings.”
I relaxed at the idea of another place designated for the men.
“It’s done,” Jasper announced as he approached us. “Perhaps, Cassisa would like to freshen up before supper?”
“Ah, I would like that.” I agreed at the idea.
“You do that, Cassisa. Your room is on the top floor, the one with peppermint striped wallpaper and the door open.”
With Rosemary’s words, I went up the steps to the second floor. Remembering that the room was on the top floor I took another set of stairs leading further up and found my room. It was a lovely attic room with white wallpaper patterned in red stripes and green sprigs of mint leaves. Indeed, the room was apt in being called “the peppermint room” for it had that very image about it. A nice bed with mint coloured bed sheets, cherry red braided rug, a window seat covered in a white, red and green striped material, and a white chest of drawers. The place was warm and welcoming; I immediately fell in love with the place. I found my bag and suitcase next to the bed.
The home was lit with illuminium lamps and mini lanterns giving the place a soft sunny glow. I left my room to find a bathroom. I found it at the opposite end of the hall with a water closet next to it. I went into the bathroom, washed up, and then went downstairs. Jasper met me at the bottom of the stairs.
“How do you like your room?” he asked.
“I love it! It’s probably the loveliest room I will ever stay in.” I said as he led me to the dining hall.
He stopped and looked at me. “You did not have nice rooms?” he gently inquired.
“Oh no, I just happened to have had rooms that were just simply and practically decorated.”
I was brought to the dining hall where everyone was seated. Jasper pulled out a chair for me. I sat down. He took a seat next to me.
“Would someone say a blessing over our meal?” Rosemary asked.
“Jasper could do it,” Ian, who sat on the other side of me, suggested as he threw a wink at me.
As we all bowed our heads, Jasper spoke in his gentle and low voice, “To the one who rules our world, may the blessing be upon those who brought this meal to our table.”
“We thank you Ishual.” We all chorused.
“So, why don’t you introduce yourself,” Ian said as he passed a bowl of potatoes to me.
“I’m Cassisa Fullerton.”
“You are the new secretary for Jasper?” Merl said.
“I see that the news have travelled fast.” I smiled.
“He is usually very particular about whom he wants to work with.” Harris added.
“So what ethnicity are you, Cassisa?” a bespectacled man with curly hair asked politely.
“My parents are Oronean, I was born in Nordica.” I explained. “I’m sorry. I don’t think I have your name.”
“It’s Rusty, Rusty Coalminer.”
“Rusty is our handyman. He could fix as well as make things if it is needed.” Harris commented.
“If you need something repaired, like a watch, I could do that for you.” The young man smiled shyly.
“What about you, Harris? What do you do?” I asked.
“Mail carrier. I am one of the runners for the pony express. Mostly my job is within the city.” Harris explained.
“Harris knows the city like the back of his hand,” Ian added, “Just don’t let him drive the carriage, sometimes he takes the craziest back roads just to get to a destination.”
“I always make sure I arrive fashionably early or on time,” Harris said with pride.
“Except when he’s courting. Ow!” Merl got smacked behind his head by his friend.
“Hey, I have a legitimate reason for my tardiness on those!” Harris defended.
“And it always, and oddly, happens only when it is not business related.” Ian commented.
After the delicious meal of lentil stew, buttered potatoes with herbs, and garden salad, Rosemary brought out the frosted shortbreads served with tea. One by one, the boarders excused themselves taking their plates to the kitchen sink and washed the dishes, cups and utensils they have used.
“I’ll see you at the front gate at 8:30 in the morning.” Jasper said to me just as he left. “We will leave for the office together.”
I watched him as he went through the back gate to the men’s boarding house for the night.
“I guess it means that I am hired.” I said to myself, half expecting Jasper to say something instead had him pay my remaining rent, brought me to another place of residence, and telling me to meet him at 8:30 in the morning.
“This is going to be interesting.” With that, I went back into the house.