30 October 1518, England
I drop my armful of wood into the closet next to the kitchen. I should have done so more quietly because the clatter alerts Mother to my presence and before I can scurry away, she hollers, “Zadicayn? Would ye go down to the larder and bring up the cheese wheel?”
My shoulders ache from chopping wood for the past two hours. I almost pawn off the chore on my sister who’s sitting at the kitchen table, except Mother keeps the cheeses on the top shelf where my sister can’t reach. Most things are on the top shelf. I think on purpose.
I smother my grumble. “Yea, Mother. I shall.”
I flex my shoulders back as I walk down the corridor, passing the scullery maid who isn’t shy about eyeing me with fluttering eyelashes. I don’t return her hopeful stare. I aspire higher than to marry a servant in Father’s castle, so I’m not about to entertain her fantasies by even so much as nodding a greeting in her direction.
The temperature drops as I descend the curving stone staircase into the larder. The remains of the last hunt hang from hooks driven through its hind legs, the blood congealed in the pan beneath. With how little meat is left on its bones, I foresee tomorrow’s chore.
Two hooks driven into the stone directly above the half cheese wheel make it look like a monstrous grin. I flex my fingers back and forth. I could use magic to relocate that cheese into my hands. Father would never know.
Ye must never use magic to replace manual labor. His past lectures surface. For ye will become weak in the arms because ye no longer chop wood.
I debate long enough that I could’ve already pushed the ladder under the shelf, grabbed the cheese, and been on my way upstairs. I kick the floor with a grumble and grab the ladder.
A flurry of echoing steps on stone reaches me from the stairwell descending down from the larder. I set the ladder in place and wait.
Philowynd flies around the corner, red-faced and puffing, cloak thrown off his head and shoulders so the clasp presses into his throat, his red amulet swinging side to side wildly across his chest. He rolls his eyes back like a spooked horse.
He sprints into the larder, but stops as I call his name as if he just now noticed me. “Where is thy father?” His voice is raspy, as if he’d been screaming.
His panic-laced question spikes fear through me. “In the village. He should have been back before sundown. I do not know what is keeping him. Mother was going to send me after dinner–”
“Where is thy mother?”
“In the kitchen.”
Philowynd shoots for the stairs faster than a bolt out of a crossbow. I abandon the cheese and follow him.
“Philowynd,” I say, “what is the matter?”
He doesn’t respond. I don’t think he’s sparing any breath for himself. He cuts corners as closely as he can without smashing into them. He darts into the kitchen.
Mother’s head rises in alarm, hand paused in mid-stir over the cauldron. “Philowynd?”
Awdrie pauses her game of knucklebones with Wybir. Wybir turns around. Wood pops in the hearth.
Philowynd inhales a massive breath. “Makrick has not returned from Valemorren?”
Her gaze shifts from him to me. “Zadicayn told ye correct. I was going to send him after dinner to look for him.”
“They took me son, Havannah.”
Mother releases her hold on the ladle and covers her mouth.
“If thy husband has not returned, then I fear they have him, too,” Philowynd says.
Mother’s habit used to be signing herself with the cross at the declaration of bad news, but her devotion soured when the church started hunting wizards.
I swallow the bile rising in my throat.
“I shall take Zadicayn with me and make sure the worst has not happened.” Philowynd’s cloak catches the door frame as he turns and sprints down the corridor. I follow. He’s faster, but he waits for me at the double doors on the other side of the Grand Hall, beckoning.
I reach him, panting, and he grabs my arm, stares across the bridge, and relocates us instantly to the other side. The October night buzzes with chilled anxiety, the half-moon spreading a white sheen across the frosted stones of the bridge. Even the night larks warble in distressed tones. I’m panting. Our breath fogs around our heads. I’m so stressed, I don’t feel the chill through my thin tunic.
He looks up the trail, focusing along with me on the white circle glowing in the half- moonlight, pressed against the side of the mountain. We use magic to instantaneously relocate across the distance to the Fae Gate, which responds to the presence of our amulets and dissolves, revealing a tunnel beyond. He lets go of me, and I sprint into the tunnel behind his whirling cloak.
Panic thunders in my chest, making it harder to breath while I run. Wizard killings started a year ago, just after Martin Luther tacked his Theses to the Wittenberg church door. The killings were only rumors from farther up north, so far north they were almost myth. If the church took Philowynd’s son in Nottingham, that myth has dived south into my reality.
We emerge on the other side of the tunnel into the canyon. He latches onto my arm again and uses magic to instantly relocate us farther down the road. It takes six relocations before we arrive in the Village Center. We walk behind the blacksmith, crouching behind his wagon, looking across to the parish.
Philowynd covers his mouth.
I stop breathing.