A Resignation to Remember

Nora bit back a curse as Steward left her workroom with a disdainful sniff. She didn’t need to be told the baron was in a foul temper, or what reason he had for summoning her at such a late hour. He was still stewing on the imagined—or perhaps unimagined—slight from the Lady Bishop, and it was up to Nora to talk him off the wall.

Not deigning to dress properly for the occasion, Nora only wrapped a shawl around her nightdress and pulled her pointed hat on her head to show people she meant business. While she was notoriously known as the baron’s resident witch and master of hexes, she felt her proper business was that of an advisor. That, or a nursemaid to an overgrown toddler with a proclivity to tantrums.

The most direct route to the baron’s apartments was through the dank dungeons, and Nora shivered as she left the warm embrace of her hearth. Muttering about foolish grudges and imbeciles who wouldn’t let go, the servants of the estate gave her a wide berth as she stomped down the hallways and up the stairs.

The baron was pacing in front of his own roaring fireplace when she slipped into his rooms, the double doors to his boudoir shut. It didn’t mean much—she knew the baroness kept her own apartments as far from the man as the estate allowed, and he wasn’t inclined to parade floozy’s around.

“You wished to see me?” Nora kept her tone dry and clasped her hands in front of her. The baron halted and clenched his fists.

“That woman must answer for her disrespect.” The baron’s face was a nasty shade of mottled red which creeped up over his shiny bald pate.

“Woman?” Nora cocked her head as if this was the first she’d heard of it. It was taking a chance on riling the man up even further, but sometimes he had to be handled with an air of disinterest.

“Don’t play coy with me, Nora.” He held up a warning finger. “You may think you can worm out of doing my bidding, but I can take you off the accounts ledger whenever I wish.”

Beyond petulance, then, Nora mused. This kind of foot stamping display was worse than the usual sort.

“I only caution you to think through the eventualities,” Nora sighed. “Blast around hexes willy nilly and one will surely come to bite you on the backside. Think smaller. A nasty itch, perhaps. Or something that will make food turn to ash in her mouth for a few weeks. Court politics are fraught. You wouldn’t wish for anything so permanent if there is a chance—”

Lady Bishop is my inferior in every sense of the word,” the baron roared. “I don’t mean to chastise her. I would have her chased out of high society for good. If she’s pressed to wear a wig, the very accessory she seems to find so amusing, she wouldn’t dare show her face in fine company.”

Except Nora wagered that Lady Bishop wouldn’t wear anything as gaudy as the bejeweled and inordinately tall abomination that the baron strutted around in. In all honesty Nora was a little in awe of the woman, who as a stranger to the court from a distant land showed equal measures of grace, humility, and charm. She was a rising star among the bluebloods, and had shown Nora kindness when other nobles sneered in her direction. No, she wasn’t going to make the poor woman bald on account of a pint-sized nitwit who couldn’t see how absurd he looked traipsing around in heeled boots and a top hat of curls.

“When I signed on, I agreed only to bothersome hexes.” Nora kept her voice low with an undercurrent of steel. “Every time I send bad energy out into the world I risk disrupting the order of things. I must refuse you in this. Think of something else.”

The baron’s eyes boggled and his face went from red to purple. He strode over to shove a finger in her face, and though he tried to look menacing Nora stood a full head taller than him. 

“Everyone tells me you’re more trouble than you’re worth, Nora Brightstar,” he spat. “Lying around either drinking your fill or sleeping off a headache most days in my employ. And when I finally have need of your services you dare deny me!”

Something in Nora snapped. People muttered all the time about how good she had it at the baron’s estate, but not one of them could fathom how much the puny little man grated on her soul. It was high time he learned the consequences of his actions. Leave him prone without protection after years of settling petty squabbles with hex magic. She would like to see how long it would take for him to be plucked from good favor in the court and ridiculed openly.

“Have you considered that Lady Bishop’s words only held up a mirror with a likeness you find unfavorable?” Nora bared her teeth. “That sooner or later the court would mock such a tiny man with an over inflated sense of himself? That by covering up your flaws, you are only waving a banner to invite people to stare? Without my protection, you watch them laugh openly!”

The man stood dumb with his jaw hanging, until rage flared in his eyes.

“That’s it!” he roared. “You are done for, Nora. I will not be insulted by the likes of you in my own home. Not when I have gone to great expense to keep you in comfort all these years. I hereby cast you out! Go beg for your scraps elsewhere.”

“With pleasure,” Nora snarled. “I shall take great pleasure in seeing your demise, you pathetic imbecile. When you’re ready to grovel, you better make sure it’s on your knees.” 

He only drew ragged breaths and pointed at the door. Nora took the moment to collect herself and stand at her full height.

“I shall be gone on the morrow. My workroom is my own. Enter at your own peril. I will have my things collected in due course.”

Not waiting for a reply, Nora turned on her heel to march out of the apartments. After slamming the door behind her, she swallowed down the excitement in her stomach. She’d wanted to say those things for years. And more. It was high time she moved on from the likes of him and to more notable pursuits. 

And if he crossed her… Nora curled her lip, frightening a maid she stalked past. He’d pay dearly.

Well, that didn’t go down well

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Last Words

Sir Jack was thrust to his knees in the stark cobbled courtyard, though there was no living assailant at his back. Chairwoman Zita Goldworthy loomed over him, but his gaze froze on the far wall where his stallion Hengreon stood tethered. 

“Oh, your precious nag, is it?” Zita clucked. “Perhaps you will be moved to make amends for your crimes on account of its flea bitten hide.”

Crimes, Sir Jack thought. Trumped up charges, more like.

“You overstep, Madam.” Sir Jack snarled. “The King’s men will be here any moment to demand my release. Do you think he will stand for hags deciding the fate of nobility?”

The old woman cackled and leaned toward him with a sneer. “Do you think the King will stand for his noblest of knights being a known rapist?”

Sir Jack’s blood boiled, and though his hands here bound behind his back he clenched his fists. “Filthy lies. You sent that temptress after me. I wasn’t even capable after drinking away the night in the king’s hall.”

“And yet, she was seen leaving your chamber in tears.” Zita flashed a nasty grin. “I wonder which of you will be believed.”

Sir Jack ground his teeth as he recalled waking from his stupor to an empty bed. He’d wondered then if he’d been duped in some way. “I’ll die before marrying your niece. Not after this treachery.”

Zita only shrugged and turned toward Hengreon. “As you wish.”

The lurching monstrosity which was Sir Jack’s captor, a vacant suit of armor, drew his sword and clattered toward Sir Jack’s mount. The horse screamed as the blade thrust into his chest, echoed by Sir Jack’s cry. He’d broken the stallion in himself, and he was truly a friend.

“What say you now, Sir Jack?” Zita pressed her lips together, and Sir Jack caught sight of a shadow in the stone archway beyond her. Evelyn, he vaguely recalled.

He could just say yes. Get out of the academy’s walls and go to the king. But the Chairwoman was right. Sir Jack knew she would stop at nothing to drag his name through the mud. And witches had something more potent than honor in their favor. Filthy magic and it’s corruption of truth and justice.

“Never. You will go down in history as a murderer and a tyrant, Zita Goldworthy.” Sir Jack lifted his chin. “The truth outlasts us all. It will be your kin who wear the mantle of your disgrace.”

Zita snapped her fingers and the suit of armor crossed the square. Fear held Sir Jack in a deadly grip, and even as he shook, he held the old woman’s eye.

“Very well,” she said. “But death is only the beginning. My Evelyn’s prospects are now ruined, and so shall your afterlife be.”

Sir Jack didn’t have time to puzzle over the words. The sword swung through the air, and he drew one last breath before it landed.

Grisly stuff

But I suppose it shines a light on what really happened all those years ago. Haven’t read The Head of the Horseman? No problem, check it out here.

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Waylaid in the Night

I love the expression on Gretchen’s face in this one. The illustrator, Rod Savely always gets these pictures spot on. But this time, I had to send it back because I forgot the mention the horseman was headless! Oops. It really is a testament to the man’s skills though – even after squinting at it, I couldn’t even tell the picture had been modified.

waylaid in the night

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More Than a Hat

While a witch is a strange sight without her hat, for Gretchen, the absence of her arcane regalia cuts a little deeper. This note casts some light on her attachment to it.

I can see why she wants it back so badly in The Head of the Horseman. Haven’t read it yet? No problem. You can find it here.

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