Wanting to track down her friend's murderers, corset-hating Brynn of 1842 England follows a map her dead friend left her, but she finds instead a wizard imprisoned during the Middle Ages. Because the wizard is the last one, upon his death a creature from the Fae Realm will infiltrate Earth and consume everyone. Finding more men to become wizards to prevent this is easy. Avoiding the church who wants the wizard dead isn't.
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. READ FIRST CHAPTER
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J.M. Robison is a fantasy author who writes books about heroes who are forced to reveal their mistakes, the weak who lead rebellions to dethrone tyranny, and courageous common folk unearthing ancient secrets to free the oppressed. She was made a debut author in 2016 with her first novel, The War Queen.