Chapter 56: The Winds of Sorrow

Ivy was a child again. Once more, she sat upon her father’s lap as he read a fairytale by the warmth of the hearth. She couldn’t remember his face or the sound of his voice, but the reassurance of his presence was like a blanket that wrapped her in frail security—because she knew this was a dream.

“And when the Saint had punished the evil king and queen, he chose from their descendants one who was untainted by greed or cruelty. The noble families of Lafeara accepted their chosen monarch and joined hands with the church to purge the wickedness of magic from the land.”

“But, Papa, didn’t the Saint have magic? He used it to burn all those soldiers and the evil witches.”

He coughed before answering. The muffled sound thudded against Ivy’s ears as she clutched his arm anxiously.

“I suppose—not all magic is evil, my little bunny.”

“I wish another Saint would come so they could cure you, Papa.”

Her father coughed again, and the safety of the dream faded as the threads unwove despite her desperate attempts to keep him here.

“A Saint will only appear when the world is in danger—be careful what you wish for, bunny.”

A muffled knock on the door roused Ivy from her sleep. Alarm sparked through her fogged brain as she snapped awake. It was not her father’s arm she held but Gus. She looked up at his blurred face as she struggled to banish the heavy sleep from her eyes. Gus remained asleep. The unnatural paleness still clung to his tanned, damp skin. His back, covered in bloody bandages, barely moved beneath his shallow breaths.

But he was still alive!’

Relief weakened her already frayed nerves as Ivy pressed her forehead to his arm and prayed. The knock came again and reminded Ivy of why she had woken. She straightened and rubbed the soreness from her stiff neck as she turned towards the door. “Come in.”

Percy entered and glanced from her to the unconscious patient then back. “You should eat something,” he said bluntly.

“I’m—not hungry—just yet,” Ivy replied as she turned back to Gus and slid her hand down to his fingers, which she clasped tightly.

Footsteps came up behind her as Percy moved to stand beside the bed. He sighed and placed his hand over her own. His touch was smooth and light—the hands of a noble holding the hands of two slaves. Ivy blinked back tears and looked away.

“You need to eat, so you don’t fall ill yourself,” Percy said firmly. “The servant’s kitchen is just down the hall. I had the cook prepare something for you.”

“Very well,” Ivy murmured, too tired to argue. “I’ll bring it back here—”

“You also need some fresh air,” Percy reminded her pointedly as he moved his hand to her shoulder. “Lady Maura will be done with the Selection around this time tomorrow. I was thinking of taking you with me when I go to the palace to visit her.”

Ivy sucked in a breath as her eyes flew to his face. “Tomorrow? Really?”

“If you eat properly and rest in your own bed tonight,” Percy replied firmly, though a smile teased the corner of his mouth.

“But—” Ivy turned towards Gus.

“I’ll have one of the other maids keep an eye on him. You can resume your vigil after you’ve eaten.”

“Yes, I understand—” Ivy stood up and faltered as the room spun.

Percy caught her arm and waist and steadied her. “This is why you need to rest,” he said coldly. “You can check back in on him after you’ve eaten, but then you need to lie down and sleep.”

Ivy nodded as she clutched her spinning head. Now more than ever, she missed her mistress’s cooling touch. She steadied her resolve and stepped away from Percy. With such a rare opportunity to visit Maura at the palace, Ivy would not let a little thing like tiredness get in the way.

Percy escorted her to the kitchen and kept a careful watch as the cook hastily placed a bowl of soup, buttered bread, and iced tea before Ivy.

It took one bite of the delicious, spiced cheese and potato soup for Ivy’s hunger to return. Despite the steam that still rolled off the spoon full of stew, she quickly ate her way to the bottom.

Percy studied silently then pulled out a chair at the table to sit.

Ivy glanced up at him curiously. “Are you hungry, my Lord?”

Percy frowned and crossed his arms. “No,” he answered. “But then—I will eat later with the Countess.”

“Yes, of course, forgive me, my Lord.” ‘Of course, he would not eat with a slave.’

Percy shook his head and turned to the cook. “Some iced tea for me, please.”

“Yes, my Lord.” The cook quickly prepared a clean glass, filled it, and set it before the Earl.

“The soup is delicious!” Ivy praised as she used the bread to absorb every last drop.

“Thank you, Miss Ivy.” The cook smiled, apparently pleased, and returned to his work.

Percy eyed her curiously as he drank his tea. “I can see why the other servants like you,” he observed.

“What?” Ivy asked around the damp bite of bread in her mouth.

“You’re humble, even though you used to be a noble yourself.”

The food in her mouth turned to sand as Ivy dropped her gaze to the empty bowl. She forced herself to swallow and replied, “That was a long time ago.”

“It’s a shame,” Percy murmured. “Anyway, I apologize for bringing it up.”

Ivy shook her head and silently ate her bread.

“Have you thought about what you’ll do next?”

“My Lord?” Ivy raised her gaze uncertainly.

“When Mother releases you?” Percy continued. “That was the deal she made with Maura, wasn’t it? That she’d release you after six months.”

“I—believe the Countess is setting me up with a job,” Ivy answered hesitantly.

“So, you’ll become a shop keeper?”

Ivy wiped her hands on the napkin and shrugged. “I haven’t thought that far ahead.”

“I suppose that makes sense,” Percy replied slowly. “After all, you are used to Maura making all the decisions for you.”

Anger and shame washed over Ivy. His words felt like an accusation, and one she couldn’t outright deny either. “I trust, Lady Maura,” she said resolutely.

“And Lady Maura is worthy of your trust,” Percy answered as he set down his empty glass and wiped his fingers with a handkerchief. “She is a competent person with many opportunities before her—but she can’t keep looking after you forever.”

Ivy swallowed another salty bite. His words nettled at her consciousness with harsh accuracy.

‘Of course, he’s right. I am four years older than Maura. I need to look after myself and stop being a burden—but what can I do? Even when I have my freedom, I’m still no one. Just an ex-slave who can barely read and only knows how to write her own name.’

She glanced towards Percy and quickly dropped her gaze. Those winter grey eyes of his had seen more of her weakness then she cared to reveal.

“How—how did you meet Lady Maura?” she asked, desperate to change the topic.

Percy tilted his head, silent for a moment. “Here, I suppose,” he answered slowly. “When she first began taking lessons with Mother.” He smiled softly as he pushed the empty glass of tea between his hands. “I’m ashamed to admit that even I underestimated her at first glance. It wasn’t until—”

He caught himself, glanced towards Ivy, and laughed. “This must be why Maura likes you so much,” he muttered as he shook his head. “You’re easy to talk too.”

“Well,” Ivy replied, cautiously stealing glances at him. “Go on, what changed your mind?”

He sighed and leaned back in his chair. “I saw her dance.”

“Dance?” Ivy pressed curiously. “I didn’t know Lady Maura knew how to dance.”

“I think I am one of the two people on this earth that have been privileged to witness it,” Percy admitted with a smug smile.

A prickle of jealousy flashed through Ivy, but she dismissed it.

‘Of course, Maura wouldn’t have danced back at Turnbell Manor.’

“I imagine she’s quite good,” Ivy admitted with a hint of pride. Her Mistress was naturally good at just about anything.

“Good?” Percy chuckled and shook his head. “To be honest, even Mother is baffled at her ability. It’s not a style of dance either of us have ever seen before.” He trailed off again as he self-consciously cleared his throat.

“What sort of dance?” Ivy asked, more curious than before.

His winter grey eyes looked towards her than away as a blush crept along his cheek. “It’s a solo dance—I suppose the best way to put it would be—a fairy dance?”

‘A fairy dance?’ Ivy blinked and smiled. She wouldn’t put it past her clever mistress to come up with such an unbelievable dance.

“If they let her solo-dance as part of the competition—she’d bewitch the whole palace,” Percy continued as he gazed across the table lost in thought.

Ivy’s lips twitched with amusement as she watched him. ‘Was that how she bewitched you, Lord Percy?’

Percy’s gaze snapped towards her, and his usual cold demeanor returned as he abruptly left his chair. “Hopefully, it won’t come to that,” he said tensely. “If you’ll excuse me, Miss Ivy. I have some other business to attend too.”

“Of course!” Ivy rose from her chair to curtsey. “Thank you, my Lord.”

“I’ll send a maid over to watch Gus. As soon as she arrives, you will go straight to your room to rest until dinner.”

“Yes, my Lord.”

He nodded and turned on his heel.

Ivy caught herself against the table and sat down with a sigh to massage the headache forming behind her eyes.

Her earlier suspicious about Percy’s interest in Maura had been validated in the most unexpected way. Ivy ignored the bitter taste in her mouth as she finished her tea and smiled. She could easily imagine little Maura becoming the Countess of Hawthorne. But her daydreams faded as she carried her dishes to the kitchen sink and returned once more to Gus’s room to pray.


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