I watched the man I called Sir more often than ’father’ as he wrote a letter among the documents strewn over the oak desk.
As a High Mage, he had many responsibilities of a house of Magik and in recent times, he contended with the burden of my older brother, Luther. The disappointment of the family, in his words only.
My brother had entered into the Academy of the Mages the year before. He had received the title Mage Tributary. This title was a disgrace to my father. Over the past five generations never had a Blackhouse settled for something so low in as second place.
It was absurd to me. The title of Tributary in the Academy was only a rank lower that of Virtuoso, the highest level one could get.
“What are you here to speak to me about, Marley?”
He didn’t care to regard me. Instead, behind his glasses, his analytical gray eyes flicked back-and-forth as he wrote. The crow feather plum of the quill followed every stroke with fluid precision, a sword leaving its mark upon the paper.
His black hair ran over his shoulders and ended below the collarbone. I shared the same colored hair, though I kept it as short since I hadn’t become a mage yet and never wanted to be.
My mother sat, quiet as she read a text of her own. Her hair was blonde and braided to off one side. She always looked beautiful in purple, and most often wore that shade.
I wondered what I had to say would hurt her the most.
My fingers curled into my sweat filled palms and felt my heart kick my ribs. I took a breath to calm myself.
“Sir,” I managed to say, "I came to speak with you about the Messengers."
His quill halted.”Oh?”
He didn’t look up from his papers.
My jaw clenched and my chest tightened. “Yes, sir.”
“And why would you want to talk about them, Marley?” He asked.
His tone was a dare for me to continue. A dare to speak my mind.
“Sir.” I had to find a way to escape. A way to explore an avenue that wasn’t predestined since birth. “I’d like to transfer to the Dispatch Corps.”
The words felt like a hex that had left my mouth. My skin turned to ice from anticipation.
I heard a thump hit the floor behind me. I glanced over at my mother to see text had fallen to the hardwood floor. Her eyes were wide, and her skin turned pale.
My eyes flicked back to my father,
I cowered as three glasses exploded on the table in a wave of tempered Magik. The shards of glass skittered across the floor.
Mother gasp behind me. I didn’t brave to meet my father’s gaze as placed his quill beside the letter. With ease and leisure, he stood from his chair. I knew this calm was a façade for the cold and cruel wrath that embodied the High Mage.
“Do you now?” He asked.
I hadn’t the nerve to answer him.
I stole a shriveled breath as he took steps around his desk.
“Annabelle,” He directed my mother, his eyes on me. “Our son and I need a few words alone.”
“Alastor, please he-”
His voice cut as if it were a knife. “Annabelle. Know your place.”
There was a hesitant pause before I heard the ruffle of her dress as she stood. She collected the text from the floor as she scurried out of the study and closed the doors behind her. There was a silence between him and me.
He reclined on his desk with his fingers laced. “Marley, what are you?”
Beads of sweat had gathered, and I felt my pulse in my neck as I asked, “I don’t understand, sir.”
He leaned as if I were a small, dumb child. “You were accepted into the Academy as...?”
“As a Virtuoso, sir.”
“Which is a prodigy type mage, sir.”
“Yes,” He said. “And what does that makes you?”
I was reluctant to admit it. “A...prodigy, sir.”
His tone was dismissive as he straightened his posture. “Yes. Obviously, you are only a prodigy for your Magik skill and nothing beyond that.”
My frown deepened. “Ye-yes, sir.”
He crossed his legs at his ankles. “You are skilled, Marley. You are the sole redeemer of the stained Blackhouse name after the sorry excuse of my seed entered into the Academy last year.”
I felt a tug on my heart. Luther had done nothing but yearn for our father’s approval. It would only end with him forever overlooked as our father’s graces washed upon me.
“You have no understanding of our ancestry, Marley, but not for my lack of trying. For generations, this House has created mastery over Magik like no other House before it. Unfortunately, Luther seems to have inherited the previous lineage of history. The blood of beggars, farmers and horse thieves. That is his pedigree.”
I shrank from the bitter tongue.
My father continued despite my discomfort. “You are the only standing redemption for our House, and you dare face me with such disloyalty?”
“Sir,” I rushed. “It wasn’t-”
He pushed off the desk and stood toe-to-toe with me. My words clawed their way back into my gut as my mouth clamped.
“My answer is no.” He was collected and cold. “There will be consequences for you if you ask me again. I expect obedience.”
My shoulders sank. “Yes, sir.”
He studied me a moment. His air of authority made me nauseous and dizzy.
“Good. You’re dismissed,” My father said at last as he backed away to attend to his duty.
I turned on my heels and hurried out of the study. There was no hope. Hope was what charlatans sold to fools. I had blindly bought into that snake oil, if only to try it to prove myself right; that it was a lie. And I was right. Hope was a fabrication for the pathetic.
My room, a place that once meant safety from the rest of the Manor felt foreign as dust covers vailed the furniture of the bedroom. The things that had made the space mine were hidden or gathered to be taken elsewhere.
Two women dressed black and white uniforms unfolded more sheets from a pile on the floor. Other maids collected packed boxes to store upstairs.
I stood inside the bedroom door with arms crossed as I watched the busy work. The place that I grew up in had been swept away and replaced with an empty, lifeless room. I felt as if I had never been welcomed here, as fast as everything had disappeared. The unwelcomed guest that had hung around a little too long, leaving the host to scramble around to clean up the traces left behind.
“The Lord requires these to be stored in the far South corner of the attic,” Aloysius Coleman, the manservant of the Blackhouse Manor instructed a young maid with a wooden crate in her arms. She answered with a curt nod before she scuttled away.
Aloysius made eye contact with me from across the room. He picked his way through stacked trunks and case, the ends of his swallowtail jacket followed every easy stride.
“Master Marley, forgive me for not noticing you earlier.”
“It’s alright. You look busy.”
Aloysius gestured to the room. “Are you here to oversee that your belongings are properly stored?”
“No.” There wasn’t any real reason why I decided to watch. There wasn’t much to do as I waited for the carriage to arrive.
“I see. While you’re here do you have any preference where your books are placed?”
I glanced away. “That’s my father’s department. Wherever he decides to store them is his task”
Aloysius must have noticed the subtle tone as hesitation followed my words. He clasped his hands behind his back and regarded me for a moment. “Of course. Forgive my misstep.”
“It’s nothing to bother with, Al.”
The curtains had been drawn closed on the floor to ceiling windows and gave the room a dim, heavy feel. I hated that a place so familiar had grown so cold in the span of a day.
“Master Marley.” The pointed way Aloysius spoke drew my gaze back to him. “May I speak frankly with you?”
I nodded, “Always.”
Aloysius placed his crisp, white gloves on my shoulders. His gray eyes were keen on mine, “I am proud of you. The staff included.”
My gut shrunk in size and I swallowed. I stole a glance at the room and at the maids within earshot.
Aloysius continued. “The Academy of Mages may not be something you want, but it is prestigious. It is still a privilege to be accepted regardless of a name. In that way, we are all very happy for you.”
The words hurt more than I would’ve thought. Aloysius, even though he was a manservant for the house, I viewed more as a father figure than anything else.
My jaw clenched as I held back. “Thank you, Al. That means a lot.”
Aloysius nodded once as he released his grasp. “Now, there is more to be done so I won’t dilly dally further. I’m also certain you have a few things to attend to before your leave. Your time might be better spent being productive than brooding, Master Marley.”
A half-hearted smile broke through the steady frown I wore. “I suppose so.”