Authors: Wendy Knight
Published by Astraea Press
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual events and persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or part, electronically or mechanically, constitutes a copyright violation.
THE SPARK OF A FEUDLING
Copyright Â© 2014 WENDY KNIGHT
Cover Art Designed by AM DESIGN STUDIO
To my dearest friend Melissa, for demanding a prequel be written and reading everything I throw at you.
1699 â Adlington, England
Carules children looked just like Edren children, despite the blue flames racing through their blood. Instead of red, like hers. Ada bit her lip and stole a peek at her father Richard, the Duke of Adlington. He seemed uninterested, for the most part, in her new governess's arrival, writing in his ledger and every so often checking his pocket watch.
“Daddy.” She glanced at him again, but he was writing. “Daddy!” Louder this time.
Finally, she had his attention, as he set his pencil down and looked up, rubbing his eyes. “What is it, Ada?”
“My new governess is here.” Ada pointed at the window. “With her children.”
He raised an eyebrow and heaved himself to his feet. He wasn't a big man, but he moved like he was. “So they are. Looks like one of them is a seer. Isn't that interesting, Ada?” he asked, peering through the window. He might have asked her, but he didn't want her to answer. He preferred it when she didn't speak. “Children should be seen and not heard” was one of his favorite sayings.
“Ada,” her mother, Vivian, called from the entryway. Ada glanced once more out the window, but her governess was out of sight. With a hasty curtsy to her father, she fled the room, wondering if that man would ever
“Ada, darling, there's someone I'd like you to meet.” Vivian waited at the bottom of the staircase, holding a hand toward her daughter. Ada crept forward. This was her seventh governess. None of the others had been able to get her to produce any sort of magic at all and her father had dismissed them. “This is Governess Buttercroft, dear. Come say hello.” Vivian motioned, her smile faltering for a brief second, revealing the scowl underneath.
Ada grabbed her skirt in her hand and hurried down the steps. She didn't want to be scolded, especially not in front of other children. She skidded to a halt in front of the tall woman with striking brown eyes and dark hair. Her mother only came to the new governess's shoulder, but Ada had learned not to compare her mother to anyone. “Hello,” she said shyly.
The woman crouched down in a ruffle of skirts to peer into her eyes. “Why, you are a pretty little thing, aren't you?”
“Thank you, ma'am. I look like my mama,” Ada said, twisting her hands in her skirt. The woman laughed, and it reminded Ada of the little bells she'd heard at the shop in the village. Musical.
“Oh, isn't she kind? Come, I'll have the staff show you to your quarters. I expect you'll see enough of the child starting first thing in the morning.” Vivian swept an arm toward the wide front doors; the governess would be staying in the small cottage across the lawns, like all the others. But none of the others had had children.
Ada eyed them as they followed their mother without a word. The boy was bigger than she was, with the same dark hair and eyes as his mother. The girl was smaller than Ada, and she looked nothing like her brother or her mother. Her hair was white, like Ada's grandmother's, except silky. And her eyes shone silver. Like all the other girls her father had been hiring lately.
Ada stood alone and forgotten, watching them walk away.
At the doorway, the boy paused and looked over his shoulder. His dark eyes crinkled, just a bit, and he smiled.
“Ada, these are my children, Charity and Christian. They will be learning with you.” Governess Buttercroft stood in front of them with her hands behind her back, her dark hair twisted up and away from her face. Ada was positive she was the prettiest governess she'd had. But that didn't make Ada any less nervous. If someone wasn't able to make Ada produce at least a spark, her father would send them all away â Ada included. He was a powerful Edren sorcerer. Kings begged for his protection. Royalty paid for his services as an assassin. And he had a daughter with no magical ability. It was a disgrace.
She felt Charity's silver eyes on her, but she didn't dare take her eyes off her governess. “If you're a Carules, how can you teach me to do magic?”
Governess Buttercroft leaned down so she was eye-level. Ada's fingers clutched convulsively at the ornate carvings on her wooden desk. “Your father hired me because he was told I'm the best teacher there is â Edren or Carules.” A slow smile curved her lips up and she continued. “He was told correctly.” She stood up and swept away to the front of the room. “There is magic in you, little Ada. And we're going to find it.”
“My mama is the most powerful Carules that will ever live,” the boy, Christian, leaned over and whispered. Ada blinked owlishly at him, but his grin died as his eyes moved from her face to stare over her shoulder. “Not again.”
Ada turned to see what he stared at with so much annoyance. Charity's big silver eyes were glowing. Ada had seen it before in the servant girls. It happened when they got visions. But she'd never seen it in a child before, and she watched, fascinated.
“She's not the most powerful. There will be another one, one day, who puts her power to shame.” Charity's voice was light and hollow, as if she was speaking from a long way away.
“Charity, stop that. You know it isn't safe.” Governess Buttercroft clapped her hands in front of her daughter's face as if she was trying to startle her out of a daydream.
Charity blinked several times before her eyes welled up with tears. “I can't help it,” she whispered.
“Why isn't it safe?” Ada asked. She'd never heard anyone mention that it was dangerous to receive visions.
“Someone is stealing seers' sight.” Christian sounded morbidly excited at the idea, and his mother scowled at him before turning to Ada.
“Let's start our lessons, shall we? We have much to learn.” She turned toward the window, pulling the curtains back to let in light, and tying them securely. Beside Ada, Charity continued to cry quietly, scrubbing at her eyes with little fists.
“It's okay. I won't let anyone take your
,” Ada whispered. She didn't know how she thought she could protect this strange girl with glowing eyes. She had no power herself. But she would. With steely determination she vowed to her own tiny heart that she would keep Charity safe, and she reached out and took her new friend's hand. Charity gave her a weak smile.
From Ada's other side, Christian leaned back in his chair, folding his hands behind his head. “We're going to be the best of friends. Just you wait and see.”
Governess Buttercroft was very patient, but as weeks turned into months and Ada still couldn't produce even a spark at her fingertip, they all began to panic. Ada didn't want to be sent away to a Normals school. Her mother and father didn't want a daughter that was worthless. And Governess Buttercroft and her children didn't want to be sent away, either. As winter approached, Ada found herself hiding more and more often in the cottage with Christian and Charity. “If he sends me away, maybe I can live with you.” Ada traced the spell over and over in the air, sitting in front of their fire. If she thrust her hand into the flames, maybe they would ignite the fire in her blood and awaken the magic.
“You could be our sister!” Charity bounced and clapped her hands.
“Don't be ridiculous.” Christian scowled. “She's an Edren. They'd know she wasn't our sister.”
“If her magic didn't work, they wouldn't know she was an Edren.” Charity pouted, crossing her arms over her chest.
Christian reached over, tugging on one of Ada's red curls in her streaked black hair. “I think they could figure it out.” Ada's hair was her mother's pride and joy. She brushed the red and black curls a hundred times every night and hired Ada's maids based on their ability to weave her hair into intricate braids and twists. No one had ever seen anything like it before.
Ada pulled her head away, intent on forming some sort of response, but the sudden screaming from beyond the cottage froze the words in her throat.
“What's that? What's going on?” Charity's face paled in horror and Christian sprang to his feet, trying to look braver than his ten years permitted.
“We're under attack. Hurry, this way!” Ada grabbed both their hands and rushed to the back bedroom, dragging them behind her. Throwing open the window, she threw herself out, tumbling to the ground. Christian followed, and they both helped Charity climb out. Ada led the way through the small garden and wound around the trees to the barn. They had to make it around to the back â there was a tunnel there hidden in the hay. After the first attack just before Ada was four, Richard had taught her to go hide there. The horses stamped their feet in fear, trapped in their stalls as Ada peered around the corner. There was no one in sight, so she darted from behind the barn and ran as hard as her legs would carry her, diving for the hole in the hay stack. It scratched her face and arms, but she kept burrowing. Charity scampered after her, and she thought they were safe.
She thought wrong.
Charity suddenly screamed and disappeared backward, her hands clawing at the dirt. Ada heard Christian, too, wailing in pain. She froze, terror making her limbs immobile. Where was her father? He'd save them.
Charity screamed again, and Ada could tell without seeing that something very bad was happening beyond the hay. She was crawling back out through the hole before she realized what she was doing. Ada burst out of the hole and shoved herself to her feet. “Let them go!” she screamed with a shaky, frightened little voice. The two men holding Christian and Charity looked at the small girl in front of them and laughed. Christian's face was bloody. Charity's dress was ripped and her throat dripped blood where the man held a knife to her throat.
Both men looked hungry and sick, with yellow skin, and since they were using knives, she guessed they didn't have magic. Christian did, but he was Carules. His magic didn't attack, it healed.
Ada looked from one frightening man to the other, fury building in her small bones and racing through her blood.
Sparks exploded from her fingertips.
She'd seen her father do the spell many times â she knew what it would do, and she didn't hesitate as she burned the
into the air in front of her and shoved it forward. It hit the man holding Charity and he screamed and screamed, but before Ada could cover her ears she traced another one, this time pushing it toward Christian's captor. The man dropped Christian's arm and turned to run, but he was too slow. The spell hit him in the back and he burst into flames, howling in agony until that howl died with a gurgle in his throat.
Charity slowly sank to a heap on the ground, holding a shaking, white hand to her blood-stained neck. Christian stumbled over to her, trying to see despite his swollen eye and his own blood-encrusted face. “There are more. We have to hide,” Ada whispered, scrambling forward and pulling Charity with her into the hay. Christian followed, and they huddled together in the small hole until the roar of battle died.
“Christian? Ada? Charity?” Christian's mother's voice barely carried through the thick hay.
“We're here!” Christian's voice was hoarse. Charity hadn't made a sound in several minutes and lay still in Ada's arms. It took Christian pulling her feet while Ada pushed her shoulders and tried to cradle her head, but they got her out of the hole and into Governess Buttercroft's arms. Her skin was pale, almost as white as her hair. Ada watched in horror as the governess cradled Charity tight in her arms, racing across the courtyard to her cottage.
Christian gripped Ada's hand in his, holding her tightly in his shaking fist. “They'll heal her. We're Carules. We can heal anything.”
Ada looked at him with wide eyes, hoping he was right. Her father had employed Carules as healers forever. But Charity had been so stillâ¦
“Ada.” The duke stood over the two lifeless bodies of the men she'd killed.
She winced. He only used that tone with her when she was in trouble. Holding tighter to Christian's hand, she swallowed hard. “Yes, Daddy?”
“Who did this? Who killed these men?” His voice was low and she had to strain to hear it.
Fear made her entire body shake in violent spasms. “I did,” she whispered.
“I did,” she said, louder this time. “But they were attacking us. They â they hit Christian and that man had a knife. He hurt Charity!”
He knelt down in front of her, speaking very slowly. “How did you kill them?”
She'd forgotten, but now she remembered. The sparks at her fingers, the fire roiling through her blood. The hay behind her was still singed. “I did a
. Like I saw you do the last time we were attacked.”
He crushed her to him, wrenching her hand out of Christian's grasp. Christian cried out behind her, but her father hugged her harder than he ever had. “You had me worried.” He chuckled, his face against her hair. “But you are, in fact, my daughter.”