The lordling was called Lord Albin, son and heir to his father, the Earl of Loeminic. An only child, he was the prized possession of both his parents. His mother, when not laid low with one illness or another, petted and adored him. His father, as much as he valiantly tried not to spoil his son, saw that he never wanted for anything. For as long as Lord Albin could remember, he’d known that he would one day take his father’s place as Earl and he was never allowed to forget it. His whole life was laid out in such a way as to prepare him for that fateful day.
The Earl and his household lived in Stateshead Manor, a sizeable property with fortified walls, complete with a portcullis, battlements, and brattices. It wasn’t originally built for defense. The wall with its accompaniments was added in later generations more as a precaution. It certainly seemed better to have some form of protection, rather than nothing. Neither though, was Stateshead ever called upon to defend itself. But it made its inhabitants feel safer to have it there.
As Stateshead was Lord Albin’s home, he knew it intimately, every nook and cranny. He knew the routines of many of its inhabitants as well, thanks to his rampant curiosity and frequent boredom. For this reason, he knew when he arrived at Stateshead with his guards and the witch-girl, that he would most likely find his father in the study, his usual retreat once dinner was over.
“Mackaby, attend to the girl,” he said. Then, sparing her a glance, he rushed ahead towards the front doors.
A stableboy came forward to take his horse. Dismounting, he handed over the reins, giving his horse a friendly look and a gentle pat.
“I’ll be back to check on her later,” he informed the boy, before marching through the front doors of Stateshead.
“Papa, have I got a surprise for you,” he announced, while striding into the study.
“Have you got any manners, boy? Or did I teach you nothing?” was the gruff reply. The Earl of Loeminic, startled out of his light doze, blinked at his son in genuine perplexity from behind his desk.
“My lord, I tried to stop him,” said Mr. Fen, one of the older servants.
“How could you?” the Earl responded in an undertone. “I do not hold you responsible for my son’s rudeness. The damage is done. You may leave us.”
When Mr. Fen had firmly shut the door behind him, and before the Earl could utter another word in remonstrance, Lord Albin said, “I found us a witch,” and watched in grave satisfaction as his father openly gaped at him.
“A what?” he sputtered.
The Earl looked at the papers scattered upon his desk as if they might help him make sense of his son. “Explain,” he ordered.
“When I arrived in Dorby, a mob of villagers were trying to drown this young girl for witchcraft. I saved her and brought her here.” Lord Albin was never one to mince words. His father appreciated conversation that was straight to the point.
“Are you sure she’s a witch?”
Taken aback, Lord Albin said, “I never sought proof, no. Her own mother admitted she was magic. I never thought they would lie.”
“It saved her life, didn’t it?” Grumbling, the Earl gestured for his son to take a seat. “No matter, we will find out soon enough, I wager. What’s the situation? How old is this girl? Who and where are her parents?”
“I promised her safety, sir. I promised her a home here.”
“You promised this regardless of her status as a witch?”
“Yes, sir. I did not specify.”
Frowning, the Earl asked him to continue.
“Her mother stayed behind. I have no idea about her father. I suppose the parents are in Dorby.”
At the expression on his father’s face, Lord Albin averted his gaze to the floor. “I should have made inquiries. This was poorly done. I apologize.”
“Her age? Does she have a name?”
“She’s shorter than me, and skinny. Maybe eleven? Her name is Evadna.”
“To sum up, she is no one from nowhere with questionable parentage.”
The Earl looked long on his son, who sat meekly across from him, clearly deflated. “I think the lesson is learned here. You will not repeat this mistake. If there ever is a next time, what would you do differently?”
“I would seek proof of magical ability before making rash promises. I would inquire more fully into the situation and arm myself with knowledge.”
“Yes, you will. Now then,” and the Earl surged to his feet, an eager light kindling in his eyes. He was a tall man, broad-chested and solid-muscled. He filled up a room simply by entering it. “Have the girl brought to me. I want a demonstration of her magic.”
“And I want you to watch.”
Lord Albin paused with his hand on the door. “Do you want her brought here?”
“No, bring her to the East Wing. In Bhare’s workshop.”
With one last nod, Lord Albin departed.