The days that followed flew by in a blur. Evadna was given her very own room and her very own maid. If she wanted breakfast brought to her in bed, it would be done. She was even invited to eat her meals with the earl and his family. The earl sent her to join his son’s tutoring. These classes were also joined by some other young members of the household, relations of the earl or well-born children of other house members. They made a class of eight in total. Yet, she took some pride in being the only girl of the party. In these classes, she learned arithmetic, politics, economics, astrology, and other scholarly pursuits. She was even allowed to learn how to fence, how to ride, and how to shoot.
After a month of this, the earl called her to meet with him in Bhare’s workshop, where she’d first met him. When she arrived, she found none other than Mallory waiting there for her, the earl trying hard not to smile as he watched the scene.
Mallory unbent enough to smile at Evadna and open her arms invitingly. Evadna ran into them without hesitation, hugging her tightly.
“It seems you are not rid of me yet, child. I still get to torture you,” Mallory said, a gentle hand patting Evadna’s head.
Evadna pulled back to look up at her. “I’m very glad of it. But Mallory, where’s Mama? Why did she never check on me?”
“It is my fault. I told her not to. I told her to return to her husband and rest assured that I would check on you myself.”
Evadna swallowed painfully against her emotions and nodded.
“She would have remained with you though it tore her heart in two. I believed you wanted her and your father reunited. Was I wrong?”
“No,” was all Evadna could manage to say.
“There then, take this,” and Mallory removed an envelope from the folds of her cloak and handed to her. “The first of many letters from your mother.”
Evadna hugged it to her, trying valiantly not to cry. The earl cleared his throat, murmuring that he’d leave them to it and departed from the room. When the door had closed behind him, Mallory sat upon one of the stools strewn about the room and look about herself. “Bhare’s workshop, is it?” she said to herself. “A sorry mess he’s left it in.”
“You knew Bhare?” Evadna said in surprise. “But he was so old. And he died ages ago.”
“I knew of him, more or less,” she replied.
“Alby says Bhare was this family’s last wizard. He says he was famous. They’ve been without a witch or wizard for half a century, since he died.”
“Who is Alby?”
“Oh, that’s Lord Albin. I must call the earl and his wife ‘my lord’ and ‘my lady’ but I am allowed to call their son, Lord Albin, whatever I like. I call him Alby. He hates it,” she said with something akin to a giggle.
“You seem happy, child,” Mallory observed, a twinkle in her eye.
“Yes.” Evadna heaved a big sigh. “Yes, I like it here. I like this family.”
“They’ve extended you a great honor, to be their witch.”
“Have I taught you about the old ways, the old ways this family still honors?”
Evadna shook her head.
“Well, have a seat then. This will be our first lesson of the day.”
Taking a stack of papers and folders off a nearby chair, Evadna sat down, giving Mallory her full attention.
“I swear you’ve grown an inch or two since last I saw you,” Mallory remarked offhand. “Now where was I? When witches and wizards originated in the land no one knows. As long as the human race has existed, so have humans with exceptional gifts some like to call magic. A sad word for it, really. Makes one think of unrealistic things like dragons and unicorns. What you can do Mallory is not magic. It is simply an ability that few humans are born with. You do not create mice out of thin air, or change trees into water. That would be magic. What you have is the ability to use nature.
“However, I digress. Those who possessed such exceptional gifts were treated with a great deal of respect then. No one feared what they could do. They were honored for how they used their gifts, and they were used for good. Working together, they created a society that flourished with peace and prosperity.
“When men called themselves kings, there arose others of political stature that owned lands and enjoyed much wealth. These families started a relationship with witches and wizards of a kind few still honor today. A family would invite the witch or wizard to live with them as an honored guest and member of the family. Nothing would be asked or expected of the witch or wizard. All their needs would be provided for. The witch or wizard, in loyalty and gratitude would then serve the family until the day they died.
“It is an old custom and a good one.”
Evadna furrowed her brows in thought. “Does a family ever have more than one witch or wizard serving them at a time?”
“No. There are those who’ve tried, but their greediness was not rewarded. A king even made a law against it.”
“But what about children? When the witch or wizard had children, and if those children had magic, what then?”
Mallory gazed sternly at Evadna a moment, hesitating. Slowly, she said, “Witches and wizards are barren. They cannot have children.”
Feeling as though a cold pit had dropped into her stomach, Evadna could only stare.
“I am sorry, child. That is not an experience you will ever have.”
Shrugging as if she did not care, Evadna turned her face to the window. For a moment she struggled to find something to say, then, “Does a witch or wizard have to find a wealthy family to serve?”
“No. Nor do they have to serve the family who extends such an offer to them. But it would be a vast unkindness not to show gratitude for being given a place to live and food to eat, among other things.”
“Am I free to leave? Must I serve this family until I die?”
“You have no shackles of any kind. You are not duty bound. It is simply a time-honored custom that most witches and wizards have chosen to carry out a certain way, as I have explained to you.”
Evadna rose from her chair, giving Mallory a slight curtsy. “I thank you for the lesson. May I leave now?”
“Pretty manners, child.”
“I have been taught that they are a way to show respect. I did not offend you?” she said in consternation.
Mallory fingered her cane. “You did nothing wrong. It feels odd to be curtsied to. I am not accustomed to it.” A steel-edge crept into her voice as she said, “But I did not say this lesson was over. You were dismissing me.”
Evadna had the grace to look sheepish.
“Do not dismiss me again.”
“I will not,” Evadna promised.
“Now, go. Fortunately for you, I am tired from my journey and would like to get settled in my room and take a nap before dinner.”