Authors: Margaret Rogerson
“You truly should learn how to do things for yourself, master,” the servant replied. “It would be useful if you could
tie your own cravat, for example, or for once manage to put your cloak on the right side out—”
“Yes, yes, I know. Just try to behave more normally around the girl. It wouldn’t do for her to find out.” Nathaniel paused. “Is that window open?”
She jerked away as a swirl of green light twined around the latch and forced the window shut, cutting off their conversation. She could try again later,
but she suspected the latch would remain stuck fast for the remainder of the journey.
The little she had overheard filled her with dread. It sounded as though the servant was Nathaniel’s accomplice in the scheme to kill her. Before the coach stopped for the night, she needed to
formulate a plan. Planning had always been Katrien’s strength, not hers. But if she failed to escape, she would die,
and if she died, she would never bring the Director’s murderer to justice.
Desperate for inspiration, she looked out the window again, only to confront a view she didn’t recognize: sheep grazing on a hill, surrounded by woodland. She sought and found the Great Library beyond the trees, nestled amid a patchwork of farms, its brooding towers looming above the countryside amid wreaths of gray cloud.
She had gazed out of those towers her entire life, dreaming of her future far away. Doubtless she had gazed at this very road, understanding the landscape as a bird might, now finding it strange and unfamiliar from the ground.
She pressed her forehead against the glass, swallowing back the ache in her throat. This was the farthest she had ever been from Summershall. After so long dreaming, it
seemed cruel beyond measure that she was to receive her first and very likely last taste of the world as a captive, a traitor to everything she held dear.
The carriage swung around a bend in the road, and Summershall’s rooftops vanished behind the hill. Soon the trees closed in, and the Great Library, too, was gone.
HE COACH JOSTLED, shaking Elisabeth awake. She sat up, wincing at the crick in her neck, then froze, every sense on the alert. She heard only insects singing—no hooves clattering, no wheels rattling over the road. The coach
had come to a stop. It was dark out, but lamplight shone disorientingly through the crack in the curtains. Peering between them, she found that they’d drawn up outside an old stone inn.
The door’s latch turned. She slumped back into the position from which she’d just awoken, her mind racing. Through her eyelashes, she watched Nathaniel lean inside, his face a pale blur in the dark. The wind had
left his hair tousled, its silver streak agleam.
“I hope you haven’t died in here, Miss Scrivener,” he said.
She didn’t move. She barely allowed herself to breathe.
“It would be rather inconvenient for me if you did,” he went on. “There would be all sorts of tedious meetings, an inquest, an accusation or two of murder . . . Miss Scrivener?”
Elisabeth still did not move.
Nathaniel heaved a
sigh and climbed into the carriage. Her pulse pounded as he drew nearer, carrying with him the smell of night air and sorcery. What she planned to do was dangerous. But she had no choice—or at least, she had no better one.
When he reached for her shoulder, she came to life. He wasn’t wearing gloves, and when her teeth sank into his hand, he shouted. In a flash she was outside the carriage and
running. The lights of the inn juddered up and down as she sprinted toward the road. They winked out of sight when she skidded down the embankment on the opposite side, and for a terrible moment, tumbling over rocks, she saw nothing: only blackness lay ahead. Then she struck the bottom with a splash. Water flooded her stockings, accompanied by the stench of mud and rotten weeds. She had landed in
a ditch. Beyond, she made out a gloomy tangle of branches—a thicket.
She plunged inside. Twigs lashed her face, and leaves snagged in her hair. Her heart seized as something clamped down on her shoulder, but it was only another branch, disturbed by her passage. She half expected the trees to come alive around her; for their roots to uncoil from the earth like snakes and wrap around her ankles.
But there was no sign of pursuit. No sign, in fact, of anything else living at all.
If there were animals in these woods—birds, squirrels—they had all fallen silent, leaving her alone with the sounds of her harsh breathing and her crashing progress through the brush. At first the silence didn’t trouble her, not so late at night. Then she thought,
Where have the crickets gone?
She burst into
a clearing and stumbled to a halt. Nathaniel’s servant, Silas, stood in front of her. His hands were folded behind his back, and he wore a slight, apologetic smile. Not a single white strand had escaped the ribbon that tied his hair. He was
so pale that he resembled a ghost against the shadowed trees.
Terror clutched her throat with strangling fingers. “How did you get here?” she asked, her voice
a thread in the dark. She should have seen him chasing her. At the very least, she should have heard him. It was as though he had appeared from thin air.
“All good servants have their secrets,” he replied, “which are better left unspoken, lest they spoil the illusion so dear to the master and his guests. Come.” He extended a gloved hand. “It’s cold outside, and dark. A warm bed awaits you at
He was right. Elisabeth suddenly felt foolish for running through the woods at this hour. She couldn’t even recall why she had fled. She took a step toward him, then balked, darting a look around. Why did she trust Silas? She didn’t know him. He was going to help Nathaniel—
“Please, miss,” he said quietly. “It’s for the best. Dreadful things roam the shadows while the human world sleeps.
I wouldn’t like to see you harmed.”
Concern and sorrow transformed his features into those of an angel, easing her fears. No one so beautiful, so full of sadness, could have anything but her best interests at heart. She stepped forward as though hypnotized. “What sort of dreadful things?” she whispered.
Without any effort, Silas lifted her into his arms. “It is better if you do not know,” he
murmured, almost too softly for her to hear.
She gazed up at his face in wonder. The moon shone silver overhead, the black branches laced beneath it like fingers clasped in prayer. Frosted by its glow, Silas looked as though he were spun from moonlight himself. He carried her between the silent trees, over the ditch, and back across the road.
When they reached the inn’s yard, a boy was leading
Nathaniel’s horses toward the stable. The nearest horse pinned back its ears and flared its nostrils. A shrill whinny split the night.
The sense of peace fell from Elisabeth at once, like a heavy blanket flung from her body. She sucked in a breath. “Let me down!” she said, struggling in Silas’s arms.
What had happened just now? She had tried to run—she knew that. But how had she gotten so dirty?
She couldn’t have made it far before Silas had caught her. Her last memory was of reaching the road, and after that . . . she must have struck her head in the scuffle.
Nathaniel jumped down from the carriage. “My god, she bit me,” he said to Silas in disbelief. “I think she broke the skin.”
Elisabeth hoped so. “That’s what you get for drinking orphan’s blood!” she shouted. The stable boy stopped
Unexpectedly, Nathaniel began to laugh. “You impossible menace,” he said. “I suppose it’s my fault for assuming you were harmless.” He shook his hand. “By the Otherworld, this stings. I’ll be lucky if I haven’t contracted a disease. Silas? Make sure her room has a lock. A good one.”
Elisabeth’s struggling subsided as Silas carried her toward the inn. He
stronger than he looked,
and she needed to save her energy, which was fading rapidly—more rapidly than she’d expected, even after the dungeon. Nathaniel watched her, but she couldn’t make out his expression in the dark.
Silas set her down inside the door. To her relief, the inn bustled with activity. The Inkroads were the best-kept roads in Austermeer, maintained by the Collegium, and heavily traveled. Lamplight glowed
against the whitewashed walls, upon which the shadows of patrons stretched and laughed and raised their glasses. Her stomach growled at the smell of cooking sausages,
greasy and laden with spices. A wave of hunger left her light-headed.
A maid hurried past them, but she didn’t so much as glance in their direction. No one in the busy inn seemed to have noticed Elisabeth looming there, dripping
ditch water on the rug, or Silas standing silently beside her.
Before she could call for help, Silas steered her toward the stairs. “This way. Our rooms have been arranged.” He placed a steadying hand on her back when she tripped. “Careful. I fear Master Thorn would not forgive me if I let you fall.”
She had no choice but to obey. Her head felt stuffed with cotton wool. The noise of the inn’s
crowd throbbed in her temples like a second pulse: cheers and laughter, the clattering of cutlery. Upstairs, Silas led her down the hall, toward a door at the end. As he unlocked it, she noticed that he had on the same white gloves as that morning. But there wasn’t a speck of dirt upon them, even though he’d spent all day handling the carriage’s reins.
“Wait,” she said, when he turned to leave.
“Silas, I . . .”
He paused. “Yes?”
Her head pounded. There was something important she’d forgotten. Something she needed to know. “What color are your eyes?” she asked.
“They are brown, miss,” he said softly, and she believed him.
The lock clicked behind her. At once, the pounding in her skull improved. The room was small and warm, with a fire crackling in the hearth and a braided rug whose
colorful patterns reminded her painfully of the quilt on her bed at home. First she tested the window and found it wouldn’t open. Then she yanked on the doorknob, to no success. Temporarily out of options, she peeled off her dress and sodden stockings, which
she laid out on the hot stones to dry. Despite the warmth, she’d begun shivering.
She was busy reviving herself by the fire, trying to decide
what to do next, when green light flared in the corner of the room. She leaped up, seized a poker from the hearth, and flung it in the light’s direction. The poker bounced off with a thud. It was not Nathaniel who had materialized there, but merely her trunk, now sporting a new dent on top.
Her weariness forgotten, she rushed to the trunk and flung it open, rummaging around for anything useful.
Dresses and stockings went flying across the room. Her hairbrush skidded beneath the bed. She had nearly reached the bottom, and resigned herself to a lost cause, when instead of encountering another layer of linen or cotton, her fingertips brushed leather.
Warm leather, imbued with a life of its own.
A thrill ran through her. Cautiously, she lifted the object from the bottom of her trunk. It
was a grimoire, an unusually thick and heavy volume bound in glossy burgundy leather. Gilt lettering shone across its spine: A Lexicon of the Sorcerous Arts. Without hesitation, she pressed her nose to its pages and inhaled deeply. The edges of the paper had worn velvet-soft with age, and possessed a warm, sweet scent, like custard.
“How have you gotten here?” she asked, now assured of the grimoire’s
friendliness. Ill-natured grimoires tended to smell musty or sour. “You’re as far from home as I am.”
The Lexicon’s pages whispered as though trying to answer. She turned it over and found a numeral
stamped on the back cover. Class One grimoires were typically reference works or compendiums. They couldn’t speak to people directly like a Class Seven or higher, or even make vocalizations, an
ability that most grimoires demonstrated beginning at Class Two.
The cover nudged her hand. Puzzled, she let go, and a scrap of paper slipped out from between the pages. She lifted it with a frown.
, the note read in a familiar messy scrawl,
if you’ve found this, then I was right, and the sorcerer has spelled your trunk to his carriage. I’ve hidden this grimoire inside in case it can help you prepare for whatever lies ahead. Never forget that knowledge is your greatest weapon. The more knowledge the better, so you can hit the sorcerer over the head with it and give him a concussion. That’s why I chose such a big one.
I would tell you to remain brave, but I don’t have to. You’re already the bravest person I know. I promise we’ll see each other again.
P.S.: Don’t ask how I managed to smuggle the grimoire out of bounds. I didn’t get caught, which is the important part.
Tears stung Elisabeth’s eyes. Katrien made it sound like a small matter, but she could lose her apprenticeship if she were found to have stolen a grimoire. She had risked a great deal to sneak it out of the library. No doubt she had known how much it would lift Elisabeth’s spirits to hold a piece
Elisabeth ran thoughtful fingers over the Lexicon’s cover, wondering where Katrien would begin. Surely there was something inside that could tell her more about Nathaniel. The more she knew about him, the better equipped she would be to fight back.