The Penelopes are specialists in unweaving magical effects and investigating how magical workings were done. This includes, but is not limited to curse breaking. It also applies to undoing magical work to reweave it, or to repair it. As that implies, it can draw on an incredibly wide range of skills.  
“The Penelopes solve problems on a vastly larger scale. Any sort of problem [....] They hold the depth and breadth of what magic can do in their hands and heads. And they turn it uniformly to helping people out of trouble, as much as they can. The Penelopes are experts in a dozen different kinds of magic, though they do in fact pick specialities. They work with each other closely, borrowing a cup of cleverness or expertise whenever it’s needed. They can’t let their egos get in the way, or nothing would get done.”

The name

The name comes from Homer's Odyssey. Penelope, the wife of Odysseus, waited for 20 years for her husband to return. When a number of suitors began to pressure her to remarry, she said she would when she had finished weaving a burial shroud for Odysseus's father. Every day she would weave, and every night, she would undo almost all of the weaving. Her name is thought to come from the words for 'weft' and 'face', as Wikipedia says, "which is considered the most appropriate for a cunning weaver whose motivation is hard to decipher."   The Penelopes have been called that since sometime in the early 1500s. Technically, they are "Analysts", but that term is almost never used for them in practice unless to avoid confusion (i.e. with someone named Penelope), or when that one accountant in the back corner of the Ministry needs to see the formally approved rank.  


The Penelopes began their work shortly after the Pact, when the rapid transportation of the portals, the quickly changing magical situation, and the law-keeping aspects of the Guard all meant there needed to be some specialists in figuring out what inexplicable magic someone had gotten up to now.   They have always worked closely with the Guard, but they are independent from them (a separate branch of the Ministry), and also handle a wide range of other cases and situations for the Ministry and occasionally for private parties. This last case is usually when there's some larger concern, for example, adulteration of goods that hasn't yet risen to an issue that would be investigated by the Guard.   They have a fair amount of discretion about how they spend their time, so long as the directly contracted work gets done. Historically, this means a lot of research and experimentation during their work time. (Also outside their work time, at 3am, when their respective partner or housemate would rather sleep in, etc...)  


Most of the Penelopes come up through Schola (especially Salmon House, Seal House, or Owl House) houses, or from Alethorpe. However, they're one of Albion's institutions that actually has a fairly wide spread of backgrounds, including people who went directly into apprenticeship. They care a lot more about your skills and how your mind works than who your people.  
“The Penelopes care about skill, not who your people are. Except the extent that sometimes, who your people are means you know interesting things. It is not the main reason they are where I have made my life, but it is certainly...” Elizabeth’s voice trailed off, as she searched for the right words. “It is certainly important to me.”


Being a Penelope is considered a slightly odd but very well-respected job. Would you want the people who know all the ways magic can go wrong annoyed with you? If you are sensible, no, you don't.   They are paid reasonably well, and because of their work are often well known (and members) in various of the Crafting guilds. It's very rare for there to be a Penelope on the Council - honestly, mostly because the Penelopes don't have the patience for the endless politicing. It's slightly more common for one to be tied into the land magics as Lord or Lady or Heir, though usually one a generation.   There is a certain amount of gossip about them, including the fact that men who are Penelopes are quite likely to be gay (and specifically effeminate). This sort of gossip is not remotely accurate as a general rule, though there are a couple of men in the 1800s who didn't help the assumption.   They are expected to formally and visibly recuse themselves from cases they have another relationship with, enforced by oaths. When that's not entirely possible (as sometimes happens with specific skills), the whole thing is handled under a series of truth-obligating oaths and second party observation and similar precautions.  


When working at the Guard Hall, the Penelopes usually wear a low-key uniform of black skirt or trousers, black or green vest, and a black jacket or cloak, over a white or cream shirt or blouse. But they can and will dress in varying fashions when an investigation calls for it. They all have excellent foul weather gear, and cloaks charmed with various protective magics.   They wear a token that is initially similar to the Guard token - Trellech's city walls on a coin. But the coin is ringed with a stone they find particularly relevant to their work. (Gabe's is ringed with amber, which is an unusual choice. It's more commonly a stone or series of stone chips.)  


About two-thirds of the Penelopes are women (certainly the best of them, that's the way it falls out.) Richard and Alysoun talk about this in Pastiche and Richard says:  
"Mason herself argues it’s not that women are better at it innately. Rather, society encourages a certain mode of thought for women, perhaps more inclined to this kind of puzzle solving. The easy puzzles respond to rote attempts or brute force. It’s the complex ones that need a creative thinker.”

Training and skills



Outside of apprenticeship, they have a surprisingly flat structure. The Penelopes do defer to their seniors, becuase their senior members know all sorts of fascinating things, and you get to hear more great stories if you show some respect. But each individual case is assigned based on who's the best fit for it at the time rather than seniority. They often work collaboratively, in an endless mixing and melding that keeps bringing new ideas to the surface. There are support staff to handle paperwork, requisitions, and other details of that kind, because at least half the Penelopes are truly lousy at that part.   Custom is for Penelopes to use last names without a title with each other in working settings (parallel to the Guard), unless that will be confusing. However, they're likely to deploy formality to make a point if someone is being difficult. (Lucy Doyle, however, is uniformly referred to by both names, and Gabriel Edgarton is often Gabe if the situation is informal, since his father also comes up in conversation regularly.)  


The Penelopes have a (usually) long apprenticeship that is often highly individualised. They take on a handful of apprentices most years (somewhere between two and ten, depending on the number of available mentors and fit). Often, the apprentices are people who came to their attention earlier, either via a personal connection or via one of the professors at the Five Schools making an introduction. Each mentor may have zero to three apprentices at any given time.   The apprentice works with their mentor on a very intimate magical level, so there has to be a great deal of mutual respect. Those connections and lines of training often pass down from generation to generation, including particular approaches to investigatory magic, research note-taking, and general approach. However, care is taken to make sure the apprentice gets a mentor who will not just let them do the things they're already good at, but also challenge them the right way and the right amount.   In the process, they are expected to master investigatory magic (something not taught widely outside the Penelopes and some of the Guard), and also at least one magical specialty. Sometimes this is broad - Ritual or Alchemy. Sometimes it's narrower - Gabe says "I’m aiming at becoming the resident expert on structural magics in the Penelopes, though of course I’m not actually an expert yet. I’m up for whatever diagnostics you might want.”   However, it's best to assume a broad compentence, the way that people who are endlessly curious will pick up a little about a lot of things. If they don't already know it, they probably know where to look or have an expert they can ask.  

Gabe's apprenticeship

Gabriel Edgarton's apprenticeship is a bit of an oddity. He mentions in The Fossil Door that his apprenticeship (three years, almost to the day) was the shortest in three centuries. However, in his case, he was getting deliberate guidance from the time he was 12 or 13, and direct active tutoring in some areas by the time he was 15.   Gabe apprenticed with Lucy Doyle (who appears in a chapter of The Hare and the Oak), who had apprenticed with Agatha Witt. That's because he needed their line of order and structure and systematic approach. This did not stop him and Elizabeth Mason blowing up workrooms with experimentation in their spare time.  


A lot of what the Penelopes do is about identification, for example:
  • Adulterated or altered Materia
  • What items were newly added to a space
  • How many portals an item travelled through (and sometimes which ones).
  • Whether there are unexpected ingredients or materials in an item.
  • Pulling an image from ash to figure out what was burned.
  • Whether magic (or magic greater than the usual baseline) is present.
  • Spotting items that might be evidence (things out of place for the setting, magically.)
They're also skilled in creating and identifying ritual spaces on the fly (in rooms and outdoor spaces not designed for that). Elizabeth Mason does this in Pastiche at one point.   Also in Pastiche, Mason uses a magical technique that relies on sympathetic magic to identify components. Robin Aelfdane refers to this case some years later in Fool's Gold. (It's not used routinely because it is very fiddly, and because it involves knowing what should or shouldn't be there rather precisely.)   Old As The Hills follows Gabriel Edgarton and his apprentice Isobel Thomas through applying the skills of a Penelope to the early days of World War 2 and the many magical and esoteric workings of the period.  

Notable Penelopes

  • Agatha Witt : force of order. Specialist in precise and painstaking analytical and formal ritual work. Longtime counter part of...
  • Elizabeth Mason : force of chaos. Particular skills in Materia, Alchemy, and material identification.
  • Lucy Doyle : apprenticed with Witt, one of the best at investigating a site and figuring out what's going on with it.
  • Gabriel Edgarton : specialising in structual magics (architecture, warding, and related topics included), and the implications of the land magics. Also highly skilled with Materia and Duelling. (As of The Fossil Door, also one of the ones best physically able to do a longish trip in uncertain environments.)
  • Isobel Thomas : Gabe's apprentice as Old As The Hills begins.
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