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The Specters of Haveroan

by

Heidi Wainer

     The constant throbbing in Marsa’s head blurred her senses. Jolts of pain racked her body. Only one cheek, resting against the cold tile, remained free of torment. How many times had her father hit her? She had lost track.

     “I think he killed her this time,” said a deep voice, filled with gravel.

     Who was that? Marsa pried opened an eye.  

     An old man hovered above her, stroking his short, gray beard.

     Marsa furrowed her brow, sending sharp jabs shooting across her face. She knew everyone at Haveroan Manor, and she’d never seen this gentleman. Although, he reminded her of grandfather.

     “Good, she’s breathing.” The old man ignored the glasses dangling off the end of his nose. Marsa grabbed at them, but her arm refused to lift.  “I told you there would be trouble when she snuck out to see the Duquessa.”

     Images returned to Marsa’s mind. The Duquessa of Granton, arriving in her fancy, black carriage pulled by four horses. Marsa’s father slamming the door in her face. Sneaking out through the kitchen to stop the carriage at the gate. No one else had visited Haveroan in the six months since Marsa’s mother, Lady Eleanor, died and Marsa’s father had returned to claim the Lordship. Marsa had wanted the Duquessa’s advice.

     A second face replaced the old man. His short, dark hair flopped back and forth atop a nose a bit too big for his face. Another stranger, Marsa grimaced. Where had he come from? And what was he wearing? Lacy collars and crisp, waistcoats hadn’t been worn for centuries.

     “Once again, Joseph shamed this house.” The younger man glared up the stairs.

     If only Marsa could oust her father. But even the Duquessa hadn’t known a way to remove him without provoking the ire of the King. No matter how many atrocities Joseph committed.

     “As one of the blood, the Duquessa has more rights to Haveroan than Joseph does, so says the Articles of Colonization. If the village conducted a trial, Joseph would be riding back to Granton within an hour, or worse.” 

     “Which is why Joseph sent her away. We’re lucky that’s all he did.” The swords mounted on the wall sparkled behind his floppy brown hair.

     Marsa's stomach rolled, each convulsion a knife stabbing in her gut. The lingering, metallic taste of dripping blood refused to dissipate. Marsa moaned at the strange men talking nonsense.

     The younger man nudged his much older and much pudgier friend. “Joseph refused to receive the Duquessa because Joseph is an ass.”

     “Plus, no one in Haveroan has read the Articles of Colonization in over two hundred years. You’re showing your age.”

     He placed his hands on his hips. “I’m only twenty-seven.”

     “Heathrop, you’ve been twenty-seven for three hundred years.”

     With a chuckle, Heathrop brushed his floppy, brown hair out of his eyes. “Well, yeah.”

     Her head must have hit the wall harder than Marsa remembered. None of this made sense. She was hallucinating.

     “Grayson, your son-in-law will drive Haveroan into the ground.”

     Too weak to move, Marsa stared at the old man and his striking similarity to her grandfather’s portrait. Her grandfather died fifteen years ago. She barely remembered him.

     “You were supposed to be watching for her.” Her supposed grandfather’s glasses fell to the ground. Marsa blinked. They hadn’t made a sound when they hit the floor. Who were these men?

     “I don’t know what happened.” Heathrop shrugged. “I waited for her to return…”

     “You slept.” Grayson retrieved his glasses and put them in his pocket.

 

     Heathrop sneered at her supposed grandfather. “Well, yes, I slept. I woke to Joseph smashing her into the wall.”

     Marsa fumbled her hand to her head. Wet, sticky hair dangled from her delicate coiffure. Blood. Her hand fell to the tile.

     “Heathrop, you were supposed to be guarding her.”

 

     “And what should I have done? Concentrate for five minutes to blow a few dust motes.”

 

     “Lady Marsa!” Her maid, Iris, charged across the foyer, right through the two men. They dissipated like a reflection in a pond, reforming several feet back.  

 

     “The impropriety,” Grayson brushed off his jacket. “The living are so rude.”

 

     Iris dropped to her knees beside Marsa, brushing blood-soaked hair from Marsa’s face. Her eyes pulsed with fear.

 

     “He’ll be back any moment, Miss. Can you stand? We can hide in the kitchens. He won’t come below stairs.” Iris pulled Marsa to her feet, shaking as she crawled under Marsa’s arm.

 

     Hide. The commandment echoed through her skull. Marsa’s legs wobbled, as Iris drug her across the room. Marsa shuffled as fast as she could. If her father caught Iris helping her, they would both suffer.

 

     Grayson and Heathrop stared at their progress without offering to help. Didn’t they see Iris struggling? Why didn’t Iris acknowledge them? She shook off her questions, these men only existed in her mind.

 

     “Wait.” Marsa stopped, her muscles taunt. “The twins?” Images of tiny legs and arms battered and broken, raced through her mind.

 

     “Your brothers are safe upstairs. Miss Shaw locked the nursery when she heard the scuffle.”

 

     Marsa’s panic subsided as they hobbled down the smoky stairs.

 

     Iris helped her to a long bench in front of an empty hearth now used for storage. “Sit here, Miss. I’ll get ice from the cellar.” In the days when this kitchen prepared food for more than a hundred, people would have filled the room, even at this late hour. These days there was a single cook, and Mrs. Thorton wasn’t the elderly woman occupying the bench.

     “Do I know you?” Marsa cocked her head, staring at the gray-haired woman.

 

     She rose with a flourish and scuttled across the kitchen, agile as if a young woman was trapped in an old lady’s skin.

 

     “Please, don’t leave…”

 

     “Miss, I must. You need ice.” Iris hurried off without acknowledging yet another stranger. 

 

     “You didn’t need to move. There is plenty of room.” Marsa collapsed onto the bench.

 

     The woman lifted her old-fashioned skirts and raced up the stairs.

 

     How strange. A person’s station had never mattered in Haveroan like it did in Granton. Here people worked together, each doing their separate jobs, but as a team. The Lady of the house entering the kitchen was a common thing. No one should flee.

     Marsa leaned her aching head against the cool stone of the hearth. Her skull throbbed with the constant beat of someone drumming a barrel with a hammer. Who were these strangers? Confusion and fear swirled weighing her eyelids, pulling them closed.

     Iris returned with a swish of skirts, and placed a cold, wet lump smelling of straw and wrapped in cloth into her hand. “Hold this to your face while I get bandages.”  

     Icy droplets ran down her neck, soaking her dress. Her hand numbed from the cold and the drumming in her head eased.

     “We must tell her.”

     Marsa cracked open her eyes. The strange old woman pulled Grayson and Heathrop towards Marsa’s bench.

 

     “Things will work out, if we just tell her.”

 

     Heathrop ran a hand through his short, black hair. “We can’t tell her. She can’t see or hear us.”

 

     “What if she can?”

 

     Marsa stared at them. If she ignored her hallucinations would they go away?

 

     Heathrop lifted his chin. “Well, I’m not telling her. I told my heir.”

 

     Grayson glared at the younger man. “I’m glad I never told my Eleanor. Can you imagine what Joseph would do with the power of the Caidson Orb? Haveroan would be doomed.”

 

     “We’re already doomed.” The old woman wrung her hands together. “One of you show her the orb before that monster kills her.” 

 

     Perhaps these hallucinations were her brain conveying a message. Maybe she should give in to her curiosity. Marsa wrapped the mantle of Lady around her shoulders and straightened her spine. “Show me what?”

 

     Grayson’s glasses fell to the ground. Heathrop’s jaw dropped.

 

     “It’s like she can see us.” The old woman rested her hands on her hips.

 

     “That’s not possible.” Grayson retrieved his glasses and knelt in front of her, studying her face with a furrowed brow. “She couldn’t see us yesterday.”

     This was annoying. “Well, I see you now. If you are real, as Lady of this house, I insist you tell me who you are. How long have you been sneaking around Haveroan Manor?”

 

     “Who are you yelling at Miss?” Iris rushed into the smoky kitchen, carrying a basket overflowing with strips of cloth.

 

     “If she can see us, why isn’t she running in fear?” Heathrop pulled Grayson back a moment before Iris walked through him.

     “As if she could run, after what that monster did to her.” The old woman shuddered.

 

     “I’m talking to the three strangers huddled against the butcher block.”

 

     “Miss, there’s no one else here.” Iris pulled a strip of cloth from the basket. “He hit you in the head harder than I thought.” She bandaged Marsa’s bleeding skull and arm. “Let’s get you to bed; a good long sleep is what you need. I’ll leave word not to wake you.”

 

     “Not to wake her?” The old woman vanished and reappeared right in front of the maid. “Are you daft? She has a head injury. Someone should wake her every few hours.”

     Iris walked right through the elderly woman, dissipating her image like smoke.

 

                             

     A deep thunk shook Marsa from sleep.

 

     “Thank God, you’re awake. Open your eyes.”

     Marsa rolled over, the metallic taste remained in her mouth. The strange elderly woman sat on her bedside, watching her in the dim light of predawn. A book from her nightstand was on the floor.

 

     The woman leaned in, inches from Marsa’s face. “Hallelujah, your pupils are normal.” She sat back with a sigh.

“It’s taken me half the night to push that book off the dresser. Your girl insisted you sleep, but head injuries are nothing to be trifled with. Can you walk?”

 

     Every inch of Marsa ached. “I don’t think so.”

 

     “Please, I have to show you…”

 

     “Show me what?”

 

     “Your birthright, dear.” She rested her hands on her hips. “The object that has made the Haversted’s powerful for as long as humans have lived on this planet. The object your grandfather kept hidden… It’s a chance to subvert your father to aid Haveroan.”

     Marsa’s eyes shot open. If a chance existed to undo any of the harm that her father inflicted on her people, she should listen. “I must be mad. The world abandoned me so I’m hallucinating a solution to my problems. You’re not real.”

     “Well of course I’m real. You’re confused ‘cause I’m dead, have been for two hundred years. Now, get up.”

 

     The room wobbled back and forth as Marsa rose to her feet. “But you look so… solid.” She clung to the smooth, wooden bedpost until her nausea abated.

 

     “Solid?” She waived her wrinkled hand right through the bedside table.

 

     Marsa gawked. “And those other two strangers, Grayson and Heathrop, they’re ghosts as well?”

 

     “Sure as sows love scraps.”

 

     Marsa cringed. Her heart raced, blood pounding in her ears. Neither hallucinations nor ghosts were products of a healthy mind. She should lay down, but what harm would it do to hear the old woman out? She owed it to her people.

 

     “What is your name?”

 

     “Oh, I’m sorry, dear. I’m Liddy. When I was alive and housekeeper here, they called me Mrs. Dirton. Now, I prefer Liddy. You’ll have to get your own dressing gown. Follow me.”

 

     Marsa donned the thick robe and stumbled through the quiet corridors after the ghost. Until they entered the grand library, each creak of the floorboards drew her attention, each shadow filled her with fear.

 

     Liddy charged straight to the one set of shelves devoid of books. Her jaw clenched, and her arms folded. “The living are always moving things.” Liddy scanned the room. “Where is that clock?”

 

     “There.” She marched to the window seat.

 

     Marsa grimaced. She loved the way it swiveled atop of four ornate golden feet, and she had been the one who moved it closer to her favorite reading spot, years before her mother died.

 

     “Return the Singen’s clock to the curio shelves where it belongs,” Liddy commanded.

 

     Marsa’s head hurt too much to argue.

 

     “Move that awful tin dove on the second shelf. The clock goes there.”

 

     The clock was heavier than Marsa remembered. “What do you mean awful? It’s the ancient symbol of colonization.”

     “Never mind, feel the shelf. Underneath that statue are four divots that fit the feet of the Singen’s clock.”

 

     Marsa found the depressions in the wood and placed the clock.

 

     “Now hold the face of the clock and twist the feet a quarter turn to the left.” A wall panel opened with a swish.

 

     Marsa’s jaw dropped. “The wall’s hollow?”

 

     “Your mother should have showed this to you long ago. Come on, in you go. Get a lamp.” She ushered Marsa into the dusty passage.

     Her eyes wide, Marsa stepped into the passage, sending dust swirling into the air. She lit one of the oil lamps waiting in a narrow niche across from the opening.

     “You’ll have to close it dear.”

 

     Easy for Liddy to say, she didn’t have to touch the cobwebs covering the handle. Marsa pulled it shut with two fingers.

     Liddy drifted through more cobwebs as they descended the steep spiral staircase at the end of the passage. Coughing at the dust, Marsa pushed the sticky webs aside and followed.

 

     “You brought her?” Grayson growled from the entrance to a tiny room. Behind him, Heathrop stood next to a round stand cradling a glasslike sphere, at least a hand larger than the huge globe in the library. A single chair sat next to it.

     “Of course I brought her. The power of the Caidson Orb cannot be lost. Our people need it. Marsa needs it. That son-in-law of yours is a monster.”

     “But without the proper training…” Grayson trembled. “The power might turn on her.”

 

     Marsa winced and placed the burning lamp on the dusty side table, next to a cobweb filled basket of old candles.

 

     “We’ve seen it before.” Heathrop ran his hand through his hair.

 

     “Then it’s a good thing you’re here to guide her.” Liddy glared at the men.

 

     “But we’re dead.”

 

     “What does it matter? She sees you, thanks to the knock on the head the monster gave her.”

 

     “I do.” Marsa stepped closer. “If there’s a way I can help people, without my father discovering, I have to try.”

 

     “Good point.” Heathrop gave her a flourishing bow. “Let me introduce myself. I am Heathrop Haversted, your relative of… at least nine generations back. My companion is your mother’s father, Grayson Haversted. The monster is his fault.”

     “He’s not.”

 

     “You let your daughter run off with him at sixteen.”

 

     “Nice to meet you,” Marsa interrupted their banter. “What is this place?”

 

     “This is the home of the Caidson Orb.” Grayson stepped aside allowing her access to the glassy ball in the center of the room.

 

     Marsa heart raced as she ran her fingers across the cool, silky stone. She wasn’t hallucinating. This orb was real. “What is it? Why is it hidden? What does it do?”

     Heathrop held up his hand. “Before I explain, consider time.”

 

     “Time?”

 

     “Most people believe time is a string the world creeps along, always moving forward. Instead of a string, consider time as a tree with hundreds of branches spreading outwards.” Heathrop demonstrated with his hands. “Some travel in similar directions, but never the same. Each moment, with every decision, someone climbing the tree has to choose which branch to follow.”

     Grayson wiped his glasses with a handkerchief. “Once you pick a branch, you are committed. You can’t turn around and make a different choice.”

     Marsa gazed into the foggy orb, the flickering light of her tiny lamp distorted reflection. “That makes sense… I think.”

     “Now imagine if you could see the events ahead. You could choose which branch to take.”

 

     Marsa gasped. “You can choose your future?”

 

     “It’s more like nudging events in the right direction.”

 

     “You help people make good choices,” Grayson added. “But be careful, or you might also push people in the wrong direction. A monster…”

 

     “Like the one upstairs.” Liddy rolled her eyes to the ceiling.

 

     Grayson ignored her. “The monster would encourage people to make choices to benefit him, no matter the consequences.”

 

     “He doesn’t understand the connections. The villagers’ good fortune benefits the family.”

 

     “And, suffering harms us all,” Marsa finished. There had been too much suffering in Haveroan since Joseph’s return.

 

     “Using the orb is a great privilege. It takes dedication.” Grayson stared at her. “Anything less will drive you mad.”

 

     Marsa cocked her head. “I’m talking to ghosts.”

 

     Heathrop met her eyes. “Are you willing to devote your life to the care of your people?”

 

     The light flickered through them, their lack of shadows sending an icy chill down her spine. Perhaps this whole thing was a dream, but if an opportunity arose for Marsa to improve the lives of her people, she had to try. It was her duty. and what her mother would have done. “How does it work?”

 

     Heathrop’s eyes dug into her. “The orb only works at sunrise. Could you live with yourself if you overslept and something horrible took place, something you might have stopped?”

 

     “No,” Marsa shivered at the thought. “I will be here, every morning. I swear.”

 

     “Light the lamps.” Redstone sconces hung from the walls at equal distances around the room. “Start with the one nearest the doorway. Take a deep breath, clear your mind, and light the next.”

 

     “Think only of the orb and the flames,” Grayson insisted.

 

     “Why?”

 

     “Useless trivia clutters your mind.”  

 

     Marsa lit the lamp and took a deep breath of musty air.

 

     “When the lamps are lit, sit and gaze into the orb.” Heathrop stepped out of her way. “The Caidson does the rest.”

 

     “Can I try now?”

 

     Heathrop held up a finger. “Wait a moment.” A pinprick of yellow light appeared in the center of the orb. “The sun is rising. You may begin.”

 

     Using a taper from the web covered basket, Marsa lit the sconce closest to the door. Red-orange flames burst to life wafting cinnamon and peppermint across the room. Marsa concentrated on the dancing flame, cleared her mind and repeated the ritual.

    With the lighting of the eighth sconce, Marsa blew out the taper and sat in front of the glowing orb.

 

     Thousands of flaws in the massive crystal reflected the dancing flames deeper into the glowing sphere.

 

     “Don’t watch,” Heathrop whispered in her ear. “Don’t concentrate. Let your mind drift.”

 

     Marsa slid into the orb.

 

     Mrs. Haycross carried her young son, Gabriel, through Haveroan Village. Marsa strode next to her, cooing at the boy her mother’s seamstress used to bring to play with the twins. He didn’t respond. The foggy landscape blocked all sound, no foot falls, no bird songs. No tapping as the seamstress knocked on the door of Doctor Thorton’s cottage. Marsa shivered.

     Silence surrounded Marsa as the seamstress pleaded with the doctor. Marsa concentrated on their mouths, catching the word ‘fever.’ He scanned the street, shook his head, and closed the door in her face.

 

     What did it mean? Marsa’s fists clenched, and she cursed the lack of sound, throwing her from the orb. “Why didn’t I hear anything? Why did it show me Mrs. Haycross?”

 

     “The Caidson Orb shows you what you need to see. Sound, you have to interpret.” Heathrop leaned against the wall of the tiny room. “The orb still glows. Try again. Perhaps there’s more.”

 

     Marsa took a deep breath of cinnamon and peppermint and focused on the flickering light in the orb. Nothing happened.

 

     She imagined herself walking around the room lighting the sconces and emptying her mind. After too many tries, her vision blurred and Mrs. Haycross sat next to her in the flickering fog. The seamstress dug through a chest at the end of a bed, shaking out dresses and quilts. When a coin fell to the floor, she carefully placed it in a meager pile.

 

     The scene shifted, and they both stood in front of Doc Thortan’s cottage. Mrs. Haycross held the ashen-looking Gabriel wrapped in a blanket in one hand and the small pile of coins in the other.

 

     Doc Thorton looked at the pile and shook his head. Marsa caught the words “forbidden” and “credit” before he slammed the door.

 

     “She can’t pay.” Marsa lost the vision, returning her to the tiny room and its flickering lamplight. “I can change this. Father must understand what his increased tithes are doing.” She jumped out of her chair.

 

     “Wait,” Liddy blocked her path.

 

     “Think through your options,” Grayson joined Liddy in the doorway.

 

     “If you’re not careful, you could make the situation worse.” Heathrop guided her back to the orb. “What will happen if you tell your father how to handle the business of the village?”

 

     Marsa slumped. “He’ll beat me for questioning his authority.”

 

     “The orb would not show you an image impossible to change. Think.”

 

     “I have my mother’s jewelry. I could give her something to pay Doctor Thorton.”

 

     “Would she take it?” Liddy whispered in Marsa’s ear. “She seems very proud.”

 

     “I’ll commission a new dress.” Marsa grinned. She should wear something special for the spring festival.

 

     “It would be weeks before you could pay her for a dress.” Grayson eyed her. “And, would she be able to work with an ailing child?”

 

     “Could I pay Doctor Thorton?”

 

     “There you go.” Underneath his floppy hair, Heathrop’s eyes brightened. “He should examine that nasty cut on your head.”

 

     Grayson pushed his glasses up his nose. “Once you’ve decided, let the orb show you the path you’ve chosen.”

Marsa cleared her mind and drifted into the orb.

 

     Spring flowers filled the village square. Juliana’s daughter ran past, the ribbons of her flower crown bouncing in her hair. Gabriel Haycross and Marsa’s brothers chased after her.

 

     “It will work.” Marsa described her vision.

 

     “The orb’s light is fading. It’s time to extinguish the lamps.” Heathrop indicated the snuffer hanging by the door.

 

     Hope filled her heart as Marsa and Liddy emerged from the wall into a warm library filled with brilliant sunlight.

 

     “Miss.”

 

     Marsa jumped as Iris rushed into the room, seconds after Marsa closed the wall.

 

     “You gave me a fright when I saw your bed empty. Your father’s in a state.”

 

     “Don’t tell her about the orb,” Liddy whispered. “The more that know, the more chance the monster will learn of it.”

 

     Marsa rubbed her forehead. “Iris, my head’s splitting in two. I thought I would get a book and stay in bed today.”

 

     “Good idea Miss. Let the bruises heal.” Iris put a hand around Marsa’s shoulder. “It’s best if his Lordship don’t see you.”

 

     “Are they bad?”

 

     Liddy nodded.

 

     Iris wrinkled her brow. “Yes, Miss. There will be talk at services.”

 

     “Doctor Thorton must have something to speed the healing. Only…” She scanned the room and lowered her voice. “My father cannot know. If anyone sees me going to the Doctor’s cottage…”

 

     “You’re right, but no one would object to the doctor visiting his elderly mother in our kitchen.” Iris’s whisper came out in a rush. “I’ll fetch him as soon you’re back in bed.”

 

     “Nicely done.” Liddy followed them from the library after Marsa grabbed a book.

 

     Doctor Thorton arrived after the noon meal. “I expect you will be able to attend services on Sunisday without creating a stir,” he said, after examining her wounds. “Drink this every hour and rub this on the bruises.” He handed her a cup of bitter tea and a jar of salve. “Should I see Jolin?”

 

     Marsa furrowed her brow. “Jolin?”

 

     “Iris told me your carriage overturned last night. I assume you weren’t driving yourself?”

 

     “Oh, no. Jolin’s fine,” Marsa stumbled for a response.

 

     Iris mouthed the word, “Sorry.”

 

     “I thought so.” Doctor Thorton snapped his bag closed.

 

     “Doctor Thorton, I would appreciate if you wouldn’t bill my father for this visit.” Marsa pressed her mother’s silver bracelet into his hand. “In fact, it would be best if no one knew you came to see me at all. Would you take this as payment?”

 

     Doctor Thorton ran his thumb along the four inlaid rubies. “Lady Haversted, this is too much. It would pay for a hundred such visits.”

 

     Marsa dropped her eyes to the floor. “Doctor Thorton, I understand my father has raised the tithes in the village and people are struggling. Is that correct?”

 

     The doctor’s face tensed, his cheeks growing red with rage. “He’s made it a crime to accept credit or barter of services. I’d be flogged for seeing someone I know cannot pay. This morning, Mrs. Haycross brought her son to the cottage. I would have snuck her in had your father not seen. He’ll look for her name in my books.”

 

     “The poor child.” Anger boiled within Marsa as well. “If my mother’s bracelet will pay for a hundred visits, let it pay for the villagers. There is so little I can do…” If only she could expel her father from Haveroan. “You could see Gabriel Haycross on your way home.”

 

     “I will.” The doctor beamed. “I’ll see several patients on my way home. Thank you.” He grabbed his bag, in a sudden hurry to leave. He stopped in the doorway. “Lady Haversted, your mother would be proud of you today.”

 

     Warm hope filled Marsa’s heart for the first time in months.

 

     Liddy watched him leave. “He’s right. You are fulfilling the duties of your house, despite the monster.”

 

 

     True to the doctor’s word, when Marsa awoke before sunrise, the bruises on her face had softened into a pale brown. With a profound sense of purpose, Marsa shuffled to the library and climbed through the hidden passage.

 

     A glow formed in the center of the orb, growing brighter with each passing second. Marsa lit the lamps, and cleared her mind, allowing herself to be drawn into the flickering fog.

 

     Garlands draped from cart to cart as villagers traded winter crafts. Large trestle tables laden with steaming pies and bowls of spring greens surrounded dancing villagers. This was the spring festival.

 

     In the center of the square, Miss Shaw kept a minimal eye on the twins as she danced with Gerold Suntor, whose father owned the village mercantile.

 

     Joseph stomped around the wagons, his eyes drifting from the Duquessa’s carriage to Miss Shaw and back again. The villagers might not notice how his nostrils flared and his muscles flexed, but Marsa had seen his rage too many times to question. Inside her father, a cauldron of rage boiled.

 

     The scene shifted. Beside Marsa, the twins kicked at leaves as they walked home. Miss Shaw and Gerold Sunter followed behind, holding hands. Where was everyone else? The household usually walked to and from the village together.

 

     At the manor’s iron gate, Miss Shaw stopped short and pulled the boys behind her. Gerold jumped in front of her, his arms thrown wide.

 

     Joseph jumped from behind the gate and sliced him from shoulder to hip with a thin, silver sword. Gerold crumpled to the ground. Her father shouted something at Miss Shaw and impaled her, then lifted his sword towards the twins.

 

     Marsa gasped, and her nose filled with cinnamon and peppermint. “He wouldn’t.” The lamplight flickered as Marsa explained her vision. “We can’t go to the festival.”

 

     “Consider the consequences of that course of action.” Grayson circled the orb. “The family has duties at the festival.”

 

     He was right. Legends said if the Haversted family did not perform certain functions at the spring festival, the entire village would fall to ruin before winter takes hold. What else could she do? Marsa replayed the scene in her mind. What had enraged her father? “He seemed angry at seeing the Duquessa’s carriage and jealous Miss Shaw danced with Gerald. But, there was more. I think he resented the festival.”

 

     Marsa’s heart raced. She had to stop his attack, but how could she confront her father, the Lord? Even a Lord shouldn’t put himself above those in the village. An idea struck. “The Duquessa bid me to write to her. I’ll tell her not to come. Wait, I could arrange for my father to go to Granton during the festival. The Duquessa would help. I’m sure of it. Joseph would never know we went.”

     After quieting her mind, she sunk into the orb. The fog dissipated, her father sat across from her reading a letter, his face between grinning and sneering.

     “What’s that supposed to mean?” The trance lost, she stood in a huff, knocking over her chair.

 

     Heathrop’s hand hovered above her shoulder. “There is plenty of time to change this image, if your letter does not work.”

 

 

     The next morning, Liddy appeared in the mirror behind her as she buttoned her dressing gown. “Your bruises have faded.”

 

     Liddy’s supportive smile reminded Marsa of Lady Eleanor. If only her mother had lived.

 

     “A high collar and hat will hide the remaining marks. Now come, Heathrop and Grayson are waiting in the library. It’s Sunisday; time is short.”

 

     “I hope my letter changed events at the festival.”

 

      For the third time, Marsa lit the lamps in the tiny underground room, allowing the cinnamon and peppermint to clear her mind. The fog cleared, and she stood next to her father in the village square as men and women dressed for Sunisday streamed from their homes. Traven Carsten, the smithy’s son, was trussed to a dead deer. Only one crime warranted such treatment. The boy had been arrested for poaching.

 

     Joseph wouldn’t care if the Carsten family starved. Marsa cringed, jolting her back to reality. Her father would insist on the harshest punishment, a hanging at sunset. If this might happen today, no wonder the orb showed this image instead of the festival.

 

     Marsa knew what to do. She cleared her mind and focused on the orb.

 

     Events stayed the same.

 

     Marsa threw up her hands. “My warning didn’t change anything.”

 

     “Consider why someone makes a decision, not the decision itself.” Grayson adjusted his glasses.

 

     Heathrop raised an eyebrow. “Your father is one man, and the forest is large. No matter how much he scares them, would a simple warning deter a starving boy?”

 

     “They’re hungry.” Liddy circled the orb. “When I was alive, people ate rock dove stew. The bird’s meat is too tough and bitter to eat straight, but stewed with herbs from the forest, it’s tolerable. I wouldn’t say delicious, but it fills an empty belly.”

 

     “Eat rock doves?” Grayson curled his lip in disgust. “I can’t imagine.”

 

     Rock doves were the answer. Marsa cleared her mind and returned to the orb before the glow of sunrise dissipated. The fog cleared to show the Carsten family sitting around a table eating stew in trenchers. Marsa had her solution.

 

     Less than an hour later, the entire household gathered in the foyer to walk to Sunisday Services, Miss Shaw and the twins, Mrs. Thorten and Iris, Jorin and the housemaid. Every Sunisday, for as long as Marsa remembered, the family and staff walked together to the village, not as employer and employee, but as friends.

 

     “Daughter,” Joseph stormed through the foyer. “How dare you mingle with servants! If you insist on attending services in that village, you should ride in the carriage as befits your station.”

 

     Marsa’s shoulders slumped. Her hands trembled. “Father, it’s Sunisday. Today we’re all equal in the eyes of God.” Murmurs of agreement rose from behind her.

 

     Rage burned in his face. Iris cowered and backed out the door.

 

     Joseph charged at Marsa, pushing her against the wall. Marsa ducked under his arm and scooted out the door.

 

     “Don’t ever talk back to me.” Joseph slammed his fist into the wall. “You will go without dinner tonight for your insolence.” He stomped into his study.

 

     “Miss, are you okay?” Iris wrapped her arm around Marsa and led her through the manor gates.

 

     “I will be.” The sweet scent of newborn spring did nothing to calm her nerves. While the household gathered around her as they walked, Marsa jolted each time the leaves rustled. All three ghosts marched behind her as well as if ghosts did not dissipate when the living walked through them.

 

    If only Marsa had the strength to stand up to him. If only she could make him leave, like her mother had, but with Lady Eleanor dead, he was the rightful Lord. She had to watch the orb, and help her people, without him knowing.

 

     New leaves rustled in the trees as they neared the village and Marsa fell instep beside Mrs. Thorton. “I’ve been thinking of the spring festival.”

 

     “Your father will be the ruin of us all.” The elderly woman’s hands balled into fists. “He has ordered the family not provide a caldron.”

     Marsa gasped “That’s not right. I’ll talk to him.”

 

     “You’ll do no such thing.” Mrs. Thorton stopped short. “I know what he does to you and I know how you and Iris try to hide it. I’ll have no bruises on my conscious.”

 

     Stunned, Marsa walked the rest of the way the village in silence. Yesterday she had written a letter to the Duquessa, asking for help to secure an invitation to any grand event in Granton during the festival. Her father would never refuse a chance to show off his consequence. If only that one action would be enough.

 

     Horses and people filled the village square and Marsa’s brothers joined a pack of laughing children running among them before Ms. Shaw could stop them. Marsa walked straight over to Mrs. Carsten and her friend, the

Vicar’s wife, Juliana Sonatell.

 

     “Lady Haversted.” Juliana greeted Marsa with a warm embrace.

 

     “I have news that must be spread.”

 

    The two women leaned closer, practically bouncing in anticipation.

 

     “It’s about my father.” The breeze brushed her across her face, carrying the village scent, fresh dirt, horse and smoke. “He’s been complaining about poachers. This morning declared he would patrol throughout the day to catch --” she imitated his voice “--the thieves who believe I should provide their Sunisday feast.” Marsa leaned in closer. He’s even considered hiring a warden or two. If anyone is caught, you know he will insist on the fullest punishment.”

 

     Mrs. Carsten paled.

 

     “Never fear, we will pass the word.” Juliana furrowed her brow. “If your father had let our young men winter in Granton, they would have earned enough to buy breeding stock. With them here, we had twice as many people to feed. Families are hungry.”

 

     “I know.” Marsa pulled them both close. “I’ve also wanted to tell you what I read in these old family journals. Hundreds of years ago, my many times grandmother wrote about eating stew made from rock doves.”

 

     “Nasty birds, rock doves.” Mrs. Carsten shuddered.

 

     “Mrs. Thorton.” Juliana led them across the square to where the cook spoke with her son. “Have you ever heard of making stew with rock doves? Lady Marsa found mention of it in an old family journal.”

 

     “They are everywhere.” The bird’s mournful cooing atop the Temple accentuated Doctor Thorton’s words.

“Boiling would loosen the meat and with enough spices it might be edible.”

 

     “It’s a good idea, I’ll search the manor’s oldest recipe books.” Mrs. Thorton counted off several herbs and spices available in the forest in early spring.

 

     Satisfied, Marsa rushed across the square on another mission. “Mrs. Haycross,” Marsa caught up to the seamstress on the steps. “Could you remake one of my mother’s dresses for me to wear at the spring festival? I’d pay you King’s coins.”

 

     The seamstress’s eyes brightened. “Of course, it would be simple to alter one. That’s sensible of you, in these difficult times.”

 

     As the bells rang, ushering them into the Temple, Mrs. Carsten huddled on the other side of the square with her husband and son.

 

     Marsa held her head high as she walked into services. She’d made a difference today.

 

 

     The next morning, the orb showed one of the village girls falling into the river.

     Marsa bounded out of her chair. “I must catch them before they leave and invite them to the manor.”

 

     “Wait,” Heathrop protested. “See if your plan has unintended consequences.”

 

     “There’s no time.” Marsa ran from the little room.

 

     After a quick chat with Miss Shaw, Marsa sent Iris to the Charnis cottage. An hour later, the Charnis girls arrived in their best dresses, bouncing with excitement to stand as dancing partners for the Haversted twins.

 

     Marsa played the piano for hours as laughing children tripped over each other’s feet, trying to perform the steps Miss Shaw and Mrs. Charnis showed them.

 

     In the corner, Liddy took turns dancing with Grayson and Heathrop, until she fell through the sofa with a shriek and giggles.

 

     Marsa’s fingers danced across the keys, expressing the gayety in her heart. The boys had not been dancing in her vision of the spring festival. Today’s work might do one more thing to change the outcome of that horrible vision. As the shadows grew long across the southern lawn, Marsa announced the last song.

 

     The doors to the parlor crashed open.

 

     “What is going on here?” Her father boomed.

 

     Both Charnis girls hid behind their mother, leaving the twins empty-handed in the middle of the room. Marsa gulped. Heathrop had warned her about unintended consequences. If she had looked at the orb a second time, she might have avoided this scene.

 

     Marsa pushed herself up from the piano. “Father, the boys are learning to dance, so they do not embarrass our house when they are called to court.”

 

     His eyes narrowed and his lip curled as he surveyed the scene. “With peasant girls?”

 

     “Father, there aren’t many girls their age in our county.”

 

     Joseph’s fists clenched. “This was your idea?”

 

     Marsa dropped her eyes to the floor. “Yes.”

 

     “You will play until I say otherwise. The rest of you be gone.” He waved them away.

 

     The girls fled the house, and Miss Shaw hustled the twins back to the nursery.

 

    “Well?” Joseph glared at her. Her head hung low, Marsa returned to the piano and tapped out a slow sonata. As the evening progressed, she played etudes and waltzes, concertos and reels. Her fingers cramped, her arms rebelled. Her father refused her any break. When she missed a note he yelled. When she stopped, he threatened her brothers. Sharp pains jutted to her shoulders but Marsa kept playing until the wee hours of the morning.

 

     Marsa woke to the warmth of late morning sunshine, streaming across her face.

     “Liddy?” She sat straight up. The ghost was absent.

     Marsa rushed to the orb, but the dull, lifeless ball showed her nothing. Surely, one day wouldn’t matter. Marsa had lived twenty years without consulting the orb. Haveroan had survived.

     At luncheon, Marsa slide into place next her father in silence, as if a statue would fulfill the requirement of her presence. Joseph ignored her as he said grace. He sliced steaming bread and took a bite before passing it to her.

 

     Marsa’s light, fluffy slice had a strange malt and nutty aftertaste.

 

     Joseph’s lip curled, and he spat the bread on the floor.

 

     “Mrs. Thorton,” he screamed.

 

     The cook crept into the room a few moments later. Liddy followed, shaking her head.

 

     Joseph threw the bread at the old woman, hitting Liddy instead, dissipating her into a cloud of mist. “How dare you serve this peasant food to your Lord?” His voice echoed off the walls.

 

     Mrs. Thorton shrunk against the doorframe. “The flour is running low, My Lord. I tried something new to make it stretch.”

 

     His eyes narrowed. “New?”

 

     “It’s a recipe I found in an old book. It uses dried sorafat from the forest.”

 

     Joseph lunged at her across the table. “Sarofat is unfit for animals.” His face glowed red with rage. “You didn’t collect it. Where did it come from?”

 

     “I traded some village boys some salt.”

 

     Her father charged at the old woman. His fists raised, he pushed her into the wall. If he hit her, he would kill her.

 

     “Father.” Marsa jumped between them. “We have more salt in the cellar than we’ll ever use. No harm was done.”

 

     Joseph slapped her. “We will not eat peasant food. I will increase the tithes. Demand real grain.”

 

     “Father, since our young people could not work in Granton this winter, their food stores are gone. The only remaining grain was set aside for planting.”

 

     “Then they will plant less.” He threw her to the floor, pulled a sword off the wall and stormed out of the room.

 

     “When is it going to be enough?” Mrs. Thorton wrung her hands together. “What if he hurts them?”

 

     Marsa crawled to her feet. “I need to do something more than steer people away from him.”

 

     Liddy reappeared next to Mrs. Thorton. “Dear, be careful. If he hurts you, they’ll be no one to help the village.”

 

     “I know.” Marsa wrapped her arm around Mrs. Thorton, hoping the shaking woman wouldn’t notice her talking to the wall. “I thought the bread tasted good.”

     The old woman leaned on Marsa. “I’m glad he didn’t try the stew. I tried an old rock dove recipe, and I’d hate to clean stew off the wall.”

 

     Marsa’s stomach hit the floor as the scene replayed in her mind. If Marsa had visited the orb this morning, she might have prevented her father’s outburst, the villagers would be safe and still have their seed grain. Never again. She wouldn’t miss another sunrise with the orb.

 

     As the weeks went on, no one commented on the loss of seed grain and Marsa visited the orb every morning.

 

    With each accident she prevented, with each act of terror she stopped, she moved Haveroan towards prosperity. Villagers gave her the respect and deference her father always demanded but never received. Still, the vision of the spring festival weighed heavy on her mind.

 

     The invitation arrived four days before the spring festival, a hand written note from the Duke himself, inviting Joseph to hunt with him.

     Even her father’s absence could not shake the impending dread threatening to drown Marsa. She had changed the vision, her father might not murder her brothers, but until the orb showed her the days end, she doubted her success.

 

     The morning of the spring festival, Marsa rushed to the orb one more time and stared into the flickering fog. Beside her in the square, Traven Carsten danced with the Vicar’s daughter. He whispered something in her ear and she pushed him away, her face flushed.

 

     Her heart lighter, Marsa’s mind returned to the underground room filled with cinnamon and peppermint. “Does this confirm I’ve averted the attack?”

 

     Heathrop ran his hands through his floppy brown hair. “One of the saddest things you have to accept is that the orb won’t show you everything.”

 

     Grayson rested his hand above hers. “Change what you can and accept sometimes there will be nothing you can do.”

 

     “Hold in your heart that you are walking a different branch than when you saw Joseph’s attack.” The words slipped in and out of Marsa’s ears, pushed along by her fear and worry.

 

     By the time Marsa arrived in the courtyard, the household had assembled around the heavy, farm wagon that would take them to the festival. Jolin and Iris lifted a huge caldron of stew into the wagon as Mrs. Thorton watched, wringing her hands together.

 

     Marsa moved next to her. “What’s wrong?”

 

     “You’re sure his Lordship is gone? He insisted I not provide a festival pot.” Her voice shook. “His Lordship doesn’t follow our traditions. He doesn’t understand that Haveroan will fall if the family does not provide the largest one. It won’t matter that none of the ingredients came from his cellar.”

 

     Had she manipulated enough events to stop her father? She pushed the horrific images flooding her mind aside, climbed into the wagon, and lifted the lid. Sage, Thyme and Marjoram wafted into the air, making her empty stomach rumble. Luncheon would not come soon enough.

 

     “Mrs. Thorton, you have outdone yourself.”

 

     “I will not have Haveroan’s fall on my shoulders. The Haversteds will lead our people from starvation. Our cauldron is filled with rock dove, sorafat and roots from the forest.” She clambered into the wagon.

 

     Grayson, Heathrop and Liddy hopped onto the tailboard as they passed the gates, their faces lit with excitement. Birds sang in the trees above, as they rolled towards the village, creating an idyllic pastoral scene. Marsa alone trembled, unable to push the scene in the orb from her mind.

 

     “Miss Shaw.” The wagon jolted as the wheels shifted from courtyard to grassy track. “This evening, will you wait and return to the house with me? I’m worried… I just think we should keep an eye on each other today.”

 

     Iris put her free arm around Marsa’s waist. “Don’t you worry Miss, his Lordship will not return today. The Duquessa understands our traditions.”

 

     Mrs. Shaw laid her warm hand atop Marsa’s and kept it there the rest of the journey.

 

    The crowd gathered round, cheering, as Jolin drove the wagon right to the serving area.

 

     A handful of anxious women rushed forward, murmuring as they examined the caldron. There was no reason to fret, Mrs. Thorton had fulfilled the tradition well. Iris followed Mrs. Thorton over to the vending wagons from Granton. The twins ran off to the races, followed by an exasperated Miss Shaw, and Jolin hauled the heavy caldron from the wagon with the help of two village men. It towered over the three trestle tables filled with bowls of forest greens and pies.

     Marsa strolled across the square to the piano on the Temple’s wide steps. Juliana played a lilting jig that drug her mood kicking and screaming towards happiness. A light breeze carrying the aroma of spring flowers, poofed out her skirts as Marsa joined her friend on the piano bench. They played song after song, each piece livelier than the last.

 

     Even the non-living enjoyed the festival. Near the piano, Grayson argued the relative gaiety of festivals past with several gray-haired men. It didn’t seem to matter that the men couldn’t hear him. On the other side of the square, Liddy and Heathrop mingled amongst a clump of strangers dressed in old-fashioned clothes.

 

     After the races ended and the meal served, Jonus Straton and his son brought out their fiddles and joined Juliana at the piano. The dancing began with a fast reel.

 

     Marsa danced with at least one young man from each family in the village. She knew her duty, this year everyone should receive the favor of Haversted, and she enjoyed the vigorous hops and laughter of lively quadrilles. Iris chased after the twins during the fourth song, but Mrs. Shaw didn’t seem to notice anything but her dance with Gerold Sunter.

 

     The afternoon shadows grew long as Traven Carsten promenaded her around the square. Grateful this song moved slower than the last four, she gripped Traven’s hand, leaning into him.

 

     The music slowed, and the square grew eerie.

 

     Marsa missed a step. She’d already lived this moment. No. she walked the scene from the orb, but not quite.

 

     The Duquessa’s grand carriage was missing. In front of the inn, under Iris’s guidance, eight youngsters including Marsa’s brothers and the Charnis girls danced as a set. She clenched her fists, searching the square for her father.

 

     Effervescence spread across her as if she floated across the floor like Liddy. She had changed the vision. Her father wasn’t there. She wanted to jump and leap.

 

     “You’re smiling very broadly, Lady Haversted,” the Vicar took her hand and led her out for the next waltz.

 

     He held her like a father, spinning her around the square. “Yes, I’ve worried about this festival for a long time.” He spun her twice. “It’s exceeding my expectations.”

 

     A deep-throated scream interrupted the music halfway through the next loop.

 

     Marsa tripped, but the Vicar held her. Her father held his sword to the throat of the Straton boy. The cords on his neck bulged as the wide-eyed fiddle player held his bow aloft.

 

     “This travesty ends now.” Joseph twisted the boy’s arm, slicing through the strings of his fiddle. Joseph kicked him off the Temple steps and spun, kicking out the legs of the piano, which collapsed onto its keys in a discordant shriek.

     “Daughter!” He pointed his sword at Marsa. “Your presence at this country affair disgraces our house.” He closed in on her. “Did I provided one of those pots? Mrs. Thorton,” He called over his shoulder, never taking his eyes off Marsa. “Your wages are mine until you replace what you stole to feed these peasants.”

 

     Marsa stepped back, cringing. It was his shortsightedness that disgraced their house. How could he undermine the ancient traditions tied to prosperity? His selfishness would ruin them.

 

     Her heart raced, desperate to flee. Marsa pushed aside her fear, gathering her strength as the tip of his sword loomed ever closer. Friends crowded behind her, murmuring of tradition and triumph, though fear loomed in their eyes. In all the centuries they lived on this world, no one ever challenged a Lord. But this time, the Lord stood alone, the village favored Marsa.

 

     Months ago, the steaming rage on her father’s face would have sent Marsa cowering. Now, she understood how small events shaped the future. One action towards her father might change the course of history.

The Vicar stepped between her and her father. “My Lord, you have it wrong. Lady Marsa follows the ancient edicts.”

 

     Their support bolstered her, gluing her feet to the stone. She’d manipulated events to improve their circumstances in dozens of small ways, and they noticed. Her father could not take those actions away. Marsa remained their Lady. She acted as a Lady of Haveroan should.

 

     Marsa straightened her spine. “Father, if you had ever spent a spring quickening in Haveroan, you would understand what is expected of a Haversted. We honor the spark of new life with our village. It is you who have disgraced our house. Your actions have brought Haveroan to the brink of ruin.”

 

     Marsa stepped towards his outstretched sword. “We exist as one. If the village fails, so do we. If you will not do your duty to our people, I will as my mother did before me. Traditions will be followed.”

 

     “Your mother was a worthless shrew.”

 

     Silver flashed. Stinging fire sliced from her shoulder to hip. Marsa screamed.

 

     “And, so are you.”

 

     Pain surged across her body overwhelming her. Thick slabs of skin welled with dark red liquid. Marsa swayed, the odor of raw meat and metal surrounded her. Her father raised his sword to strike again. Someone rushed him from behind, sending his blow astray. Marsa crumpled to the ground.

 

     She awoke with another scream as a needle pierced her skin.

 

     “Hold still My Lady.” Many hands held her. “Swallow more of this. We couldn’t wait for the jansa leaves to numb your wound. You’re losing too much blood.” Thick, bitter liquid dribbled into her mouth.

 

     “Doc Thorton’s got you.” Iris’s voice.

 

     Julianna’s soft hand clutched hers.

 

     “You’re going to be okay My Lady,” Mrs. Carsten cooed. The pain abated as the syrup took hold.

 

     Mrs. Shaw, her lips sucked in with worry, rubbed Marsa’s cheek. “The doctor’s going to fix you.”

 

     Mrs. Thorton squeezed her other hand, Liddy stood behind, her ghostly face pure white.

 

     Doctor Thorton, splashed something on her flayed skin, making her chest burn as if too close to a fire. The needle pierced her again, a deep pull. She counted the dancing leaves on the tree above, forcing her mind elsewhere, anywhere but atop a trestle table, in the village square.

 

     At last, as the orange glow of sunset brushed the sky, it ended. The doctor bandaged the gash in soft white cloth and draped Mrs. Thorton’s festival shawl over her ruined dress.

 

     “Jolin’s getting the wagon, Miss. We’re taking you home.” Tears filled Iris’s eyes.

 

     “My father?” Marsa’s voice emerged as a mere whisper.

 

     “Locked in the Temple. No one knows what to do with him.” As if they knew she needed their council, Heathrop and Grayson appeared behind the young maid. “Arrest and evict,” Heathrop growled. “As dictated under the Articles of Colonization.”

 

     “I told you,” Grayson pushed his glasses up onto his face. “No one has read the Articles in hundreds of years. They don’t know.”

 

     Marsa gathered her strength. “Arrest and evict.”

     Iris leaned her ear towards Marsa’s lips “What, Miss?”

 

     “Tell them to read the Articles of Colonization, Article 25.”

 

     Each of Heathrop’s words Marsa repeated sent needles shooting through her chest, but they had to know.

 

     Doctor Thorton bellowed her statement across the square, demanding the Vicar to dig out a copy of the charter.

 

     The sky grew dark before the Vicar returned from the Temple library with an ancient red volume. “Article 25.” Torchlight flickered on his shoulders, as he stood on the steps of the Temple. “Any Lord may be tried for negligence and woeful disregard of duty by a unanimous vote of adults beholden to him. If another member of the family can be unanimously appointed, he may be removed and exiled.”

 

     The crowd roared and chanted. “Exile.”

 

     “Everyone is present. There’s no reason to delay.” The Vicar held the book high. “Bring the accused. Anyone who would present evidence may speak.”

 

     “Never were folks to put things off, were they?” Grayson leaned over Marsa. “Drink the jansa.”

 

     Mrs. Thorton poured more of the bitter syrup down her throat. The fire abated, and the world grew hazy.

 

     “We need to get her home.” Iris’s voice wavered between loud and soft.

 

     Mrs. Thorton shook her head. “We must have a unanimous decision of adults. That includes you and Lady Marsa. You must testify for her.”

 

     Four men hauled Joseph out of the Temple. He fought them, thrashing and kicking as they tied him to a chair. “You cannot arrest me. I am your Lord.”

 

     “Actually, we can.” The Vicar pulled the flower garlands off a torch and addressed the crowd. “This torch will signal our testimony. When each person finishes, they may pass it to another to come and speak.”

 

      “Marsa’s mind clouded over as men and women held the torch and testified against her father. The droning voices swirled away to blackness.

 

     When Marsa woke, the full moon lit the square and five lanterns sat on the ruins of the piano.

 

     “When Lady Eleanor discovered what he had done to those poor trader girls, she and Lord Grayson shoved him out.” Mrs. Haycross held the torch. The breeze flickered the flames and rustled her hair. “They helped him set up a household in Granton and told him never to return. Of course, we remember, he returned twelve years later, after Lord Grayson died. He held her captive in her room for a month and she bore the twins the following fall. Lady Eleanor did not tell me how she made him leave.”

 

     Joseph raised his eyebrows and flashed Mrs. Haycross a self-satisfied smirk.

 

     Nausea rolled through Marsa. The pain in her chest was a sliver compared to her rage at his disdain.

 

     “She paid him.” Marsa’s whisper was barely audible. She whistled, drawing Iris’s attention and repeated her words.

 

     “Lady Marsa says she paid him.” Iris shouted across the square. “Lady Elenor paid him to leave.”

 

     “But that’s not done,” someone said.

 

     “If Lady Elenor wouldn’t have him neither should we,” another person grumbled.

 

     The crowd roared as someone else took the torch.

 

     Twice, Marsa refused more syrup. She had to listen. Her chest burned, the pain stealing each conscious thought. Mr. Charnis took the torch, and Marsa moaned.

 

     “Please drink this, My Lady.” Mrs. Thorten held up the thick bitter liquid. Marsa took a deep swig and drifted into swirling fog.

 

     Marsa’s eyes fluttered open. The soft flannel of her own sheets pressed against her face. Warm sunlight filtered through Liddy, sitting at the base of her bed.

 

     “Shh,” Liddy held her finger to her mouth. Doctor Thorton and Iris dozed in chairs near her bedside. Marsa’s chest, bound in a tight, white bandage smelling of honey, ached with residual fire. 

 

     “The twins?” Marsa only managed a weak whisper.

 

     Liddy’s hand rested above Marsa’s knee. “Everyone is safe. You averted one tragedy by creating another.”

 

     “Father?”

 

     “He’ll never bother you again. They hung him from the old bozan tree in the Temple yard two days ago.”

 

     Marsa’s stomach dropped.

 

     “Most everyone testified. The vote to evict him was unanimous. But, since he returned from exile twice before, and after his vicious attack on you… No one opposed the punishment.” 

 

     Marsa brought her hand to her mouth, rustling the sheets. “Which of the twins…”

 

     Doctor Thorton’s eyes burst open. He took one look at Marsa and shook Iris. “Tell my mother, she wakes”

 

     “Everyone will be excited, Miss.” Iris fled the room, shouting the cook’s name.

 

     Marsa raised an eyebrow.

 

     “Your wound soured before the trial ended, but my mother noticed the heat.” He opened her wrap and peeked under the bandage. “It’s calmed down now.”

 

     Iris returned as he helped her sip from a tall glass of sweet tea, followed by the Vicar, his wife Juliana and Mrs. Haycross. Mrs. Thorton trailed behind them carrying a tray. Jorin stopped others at the door. Only Grayson and Heathrop passed through his blockade.

     “Five minutes.” Doctor Thorton pressed the crowd away from her bed. “I will not have you tiring her. She remains far from well.”

 

     The Vicar stepped forward. “Lady Haversted, I have the honor of asking if you will accept the mantle of Lordship along with the responsibilities implied by the title.”

 

     Marsa’s eyes widened. “But the twins?”

 

     “Are far too young.” Juliana slipped around the other side of the bed and took her hand. “At the festival, you stood up to Lord Haversted when no one else dared. I wish you heard the stories people shared. You act as a Lord should. You are the right choice.”

 

     Marsa blushed. She had only done what the orb showed her. It must have been enough. “Yes, I will accept the Lordship.”

 

     Liddy elbowed her fellow ghosts. “I told you things would work out.”

 

     “That you did, woman.” Grayson chuckled. “That you did.”

 

 

The End