That being said, I may not be posted every day, but I will be posting more frequently! Onto today's scheduled MUSE post!
Fear coats my tongue, and still I press my face to the crack in the wooden door of the servant’s passage.
“I’ve come, Lord Hallow, for the Destined.” His voice never rises above a pleasant, conversational tone. But all can hear. Magic ripples in his voice.
Lord Hallow, my master, takes one step forward, his wife, Gwendolyn, holding his arm tight. The tip of one of his finely pointed ears twitches. He is unsettled.
“Tonight is Midwinter, Rand Bana. You told us we had until Spring.”
“I was wrong.”
A breeze moves through the hall. People fidget, whispers rise and fade. The short man doesn’t move. I wish I could see more. Naleen, who crouches below me, whispers a warning.
“Wrong?” Lord Hallow’s voice is cold as the snow outside. “How is it that you, who have collected the Destined for a hundred years, would be mistaken?”
Rand shrugs, unconcerned. “The curse grows stronger, and time is waning. I do not control these things. I merely gather the Destined and it is time. She will come, as will the others.”
“My daughter is not ready. Surely she may wait the night.”
“No,” he shakes his head. “We must go.”
Lady Gwendolyn extends a hand. Even at this distance, I can see the tremble in her slender fingertips. “Please. May we say goodbye?”
Rand laughs. I think him a bit callous. “My lady, it has been long ago that you were Called, and luckily escaped. Yet it is not so long that I do not remember your clever mind. You may not speak to her alone. Pray you have prepared her well.” He turns, and something changes. The very air stills, waits. I know he isn’t taller, but he seems it. He stiffens, draws in a deep gulp of air, and speaks. “I call to me the Destined. Come now, to my voice.”
My entire body jerks, the sensation of a thousand pins pricking my body draw a cry from me. I tell my feet to stay still, my fingers scrabble over the doorframe, but I have no control over myself. Naleen grabs my shoulders, hissing a curse, but I can’t stop. Her hands fall away and she retreats into the shadows.
My breath comes in heavy pants as I struggle. I fight it, but my hand pulls the door wide, and with jerky steps I stumble through the crowd, moving to the center of the room. Pain radiates through me the more I resist, until I gasp from the effort, and sweat beads on my upper lip. I can’t control my body even to wipe it away.
With a strangled curse, I stand between the Lord and Lady and Rand. The pain drops away and I crumple to my knees, gasping. A few moments later, I hear Althea, my master’s daughter, collapse beside me.
“What is this, Rand? A trick?” Lady Gwendolyn’s voice is cruel. “This girl is a servant, yet you call her here?”
I crouch on the floor, watch Rand closely. His weathered face remains stoic, though I think I see a flash of surprise in his expression. A tiny smile curves his lips.
“I had known that one more would join the numbers this year. We did not know where she hid.”
He glances up, and all the mirth drains from his face. “The Destined are chosen by powers beyond you, Lady Gwendolyn. If they deem her worthy, who are you to say otherwise? Need I remind you of your own failures?”
Her cheeks flush crimson, and she looks away. Rand extends his hands, one to me, one to Althea. She sniffs, refusing. I’m not so proud. I’m wrung out and my knees shake.
His strength surprises me as he pulls me to my feet. I brush at my dress, worry the edge of my fraying belt with my fingers. I’m used to being invisible. Being put to so much scrutiny does not set well.
“You will follow me. There is no time for goodbyes. What you have on is what you shall bring with you. You need nothing else.”
“I don’t understand,” I whisper. Rand tugs on a glove, and I catch sympathy in his eyes. “I know. But you will soon. For now, believe you are worthy, and that is enough.”
I hold my tongue, wanting to say something else. Beside me, Althea sneers and accepts a fur-lined wool cloak and gloves from a servant. I straighten my spine and pretend the thought of traipsing God-knows-where in the snow isn’t already making me shiver.
“Come. It is time to go.” Rand spins, and I follow, while Lady Gwendolyn calls something to her daughter in an elvish tongue and sobs.
Just before we reach the door, a tall man, his face hidden in shadow, slides near me. I don’t recognize him, but there are many unfamiliar faces at the celebration. “Here. Take this.”
A green cloak of heavy wool is thrust at me and I take it. He backs away before I can do more than nod and murmur thanks. I shake out the material, grab the pair of leather gloves that falls from the folds, and tie the cloak around my shoulders. As I shove my hands into the gloves, Rand opens the door. The blast of cold air bites into me, and brings tears to my eyes.
Had it been this cold earlier? I can’t remember. Maybe fear makes the cold more biting. Outside, nothing waits. The huge expanse of white stretching down to the thin black ribbon of road is unbroken. While the snow falls around us, it shouldn’t have been enough to have filled in the stranger’s footsteps.
“What is going on?” Althea demands. “Where is your carriage? Horses?”
Rand smiles. “Ah, can’t you feel the magic in the air, girl?”
I can. But I stay silent. The things I know and feel are not things I share. Not with magic. Not after Ethan. The knowledge cost my friend his life. It is a mistake I would only make once.