Chapter 79 {Part 1}: A Reflection of Pride


‘Time makes fools of us all. The weak collapse beneath the weight of failure while the strong and wise adapt by learning from their mistakes and correcting them.’

Percy frowned at his own reflection in the carriage window as his father’s words of wisdom, given after a six-year-old Percy mistakenly tripped a maid down the manor steps with his wind magic, echoed against his ears.

‘Have I been a fool, Father?’ The Earl stared down at the glistening black diamond upon his hand and frowned at the memory of Maura fading away before him on the Ministry roof. “I’ve clearly made a mistake—so how do I adapt?”

A flicker of lightning from the turbulent clouds above drew Percy’s gaze back to the night landscape, where the illuminated windows of Hawthorne Manor welcomed his approach. There had been a time he resented his ancestral home, once he had even considered running away to join Mercy’s coven. Now the structure served only to taunt him—an incomplete dream awaiting the realization of all his ambitions and desires.

‘Although I was able to take the Coven of Crows under my wing after removing Mercy. The price of betraying one’s Master—’ He touched his nose cautiously, checking for blood, and shivered. ‘It had to be done if only to ensure her insatiable greed for immortality did not put Maura at risk.’

Time seemed to slow as the carriage stopped. Percy could feel every muscle in his body labor beneath the fatigue and backlash of Mercy’s curse. When he stumbled on the footstep of the carriage, the footman caught him. The servant’s worried expression only made Percy laugh as he straightened his back and waved the man off.

“I can walk just fine on my own.”

A rumble of thunder boomed somewhere in the distance as the Manor door opened. Russell came into view as the butler hurriedly descended the steps while opening the umbrella.

“No need,” Percy called out. “I’m already wet.”

He could have dried himself off with a bit of magic after getting drenched on the Ministry roof with Maura, but Mercy’s curse made each use of magic rebound on Percy physically. ‘I must be cautious of how I use it until I can lift that bitch’s curse.’

The Earl said nothing as Russell stubbornly held the umbrella above him and wrapped an arm around Percy’s waist for support.

“I’ll have the servants draw a bath and prepare something warm to eat before bed,” Russell said stiffly in a voice that broached no argument.

Percy’s lips twisted in a cynical leer. ‘Are you my servant or my father?’ He frowned as a soft crescendo of raindrops splattered upon the umbrella above them. “Detestable weather,” he muttered darkly as he glanced up towards the clouds and stopped when his gaze found the figure of a woman standing at his bedroom window, staring down at him.


The figure retreated and with it the vicious guilt that twisted his stomach. Lady Constance was now languishing in the depths of the Coven of Crow’s hidden nest, where neither the Dowager nor his mother’s other political acquaintances could find and liberate her.

‘Then who? Serilda is still at the ball enjoying herself.’

Percy’s hand tightened into a fist as they reached the door. He peeled off his cloak and jacket and tossed both soaked garments to the nearest maid before storming up the stairs.

‘The servants know better than to enter my room without permission. Ivy would never dare cross me. That leaves only the foreign beggar cunt.’

He slammed the bedroom door open only to find his room empty of intruders.

“Master!” Russell panted as he paused in the hall behind him.

Percy narrowed his eyes as he focused the wind inside the room, searching—but finding no trace of little Miss Jade. When his stringent examination pulled up nothing, Percy sighed. ‘Was it my imagination?’

“Please rest, Master. You look unwell. Should I have the servants send for Lady Serilda?”

“NO—” Percy stepped inside the room and paused to look down at the trail left by his muddy boots, “—let her enjoy the ball and send a fresh carriage back to bring her home when she’s ready.”

“As you wish.” Russell moved past him to pick up a chair by the wardrobe that he placed next to the door. “May I take your boots and have them cleaned?”

Percy nodded as he sat down obediently and removed the waterlogged boots himself. “Have the servants send up some wine for my bath.”

The door clicked softly as Russell departed. Percy rose from his chair and lifted his dripping shirt overhead.

Tap, tap, tap.

Perch flinched as he ripped the wet cloth away from his face and twisted towards the bedroom window. For a moment, the shadows dancing against the dark pane of glass resembled that of a crow, but then the branch of the elm tree came into focus as the wind brushed it against his window.

‘I’m on edge tonight. I wonder why?’ Percy pulled his arms free and tossed the shirt on the chair beside the door before wandering towards the window.

A heavy thud of feet down the hallway proceeded a knock. “Come in,” Percy responded. Four footmen and three maids promptly entered, carrying steaming buckets of water through his room towards the connecting bathroom. Percy watched them in the window’s reflection, only turning when he noticed Gus trailing at the end of the line of servants.

‘Another useless weight tied to Maura’s feet.’ His eyes narrowed as he took in the slaves slouched back as Gus strained to steady the buckets he carried in each hand. ‘It’s been weeks, yet he still can’t perform the simplest task without looking like he’ll fall over at any second? Pathetic.’

A steaming mist rolled out of the bathroom door as the servants emptied the buckets and returned in a line back through the room. Percy flinched when one of the maids cast a worried look in his direction.

‘Do I look that weakened for even my servants to show such concern?’ He sighed and ran a hand through his hair as he approached the bathroom door and examined the half-filled porcelain-enameled cast iron tub with bird claw feet that waited inside.

The line of footmen returned, Gus not among them this time, and finished filling the tub. Russell and two maids appeared afterward to complete the final preparations for his bath with a strip of thick white linen to protect his skin from the hot porcelain. As the maids pressed the linen down along the bottom with wooden paddles, Russell added a bottle of vanilla and cinnamon oil to the steaming bath along with a mix of crushed cedar and rose petals.

They had just finished the bath’s final preparation when Gus returned, already covered in sweat from his earlier endeavors, carrying a tray with a bottle of wine and a clear drinking glass. Percy stepped aside as the slave moved cautiously into the bathroom, his hands and the glass trembling slightly.

“Just set it there on the table,” Russell said quickly as he motioned to the marble table beside the bathtub. Gus moved obediently towards it but twisted his foot on the corner of the sheet draped inside the tub.

Percy lunged forward and barely managed to snag the toppling bottle while Gus and the rest of the tray crashed to the floor. The maids stiffened, then hurriedly rushed to the slave’s side while Russell did his best to compose his obvious disappointment.

“Are you ever going to recover?” Percy snapped as he set the rescued wine bottle on the marble table. “Or am I just wasting time and effort on a useless slave?”

“F-forgive me, my Lord,” Gus whispered hoarsely as he rose. A trickle of blood ran down the slave’s arm where the glass had shattered beneath him, but it was the sight of the man’s slouched back that made the nerve in Percy’s cheek twitch with anger.

“Can you even stand up straight?”

Gus’s trembling hands tightened into fists as he attempted to straighten his spine—and failed.

“Just get out!” Percy snarled with disgust as he gestured sharply towards the door.

The slave shook as he bowed once more, then left as the maids hurriedly swept up the broken glass and blood with their aprons.

Russell slid past Percy as the Earl watched them work, no doubt to find a broom and dustpan. The butler quickly returned, and the mess was soon removed. Afterward, the maids finished laying out a fresh change of clothes and a bathrobe on hangers beside the bathroom counter.

“Please enjoy your bath, my Lord,” Russell murmured as the servants departed. One maid carried away the dustpan with broken glass while the other gathered up the Earl’s damp shirt.

“Russell,” Percy called out, stopping the butler before he could shut the bathroom door. “Get rid of him by morning. Send him to one of our farms. Perhaps a bit of hard labor will toughen him up.”

“Master,” Russell spoke gently as he folded his hands together. “It would appear that physical labor may be beyond Gus’s current ability.”

Percy snorted at the obvious comment. “I won’t keep him here. Such a useless slave is an embarrassment to the Hawthorne name. Just—find somewhere else to put him or sell him back to the slave market.”

“It might take a few days,” Russell replied hesitantly as Percy tested the water and shook off his fingers. “But I’m sure we can find somewhere for him.”

“Save your pity and energy for those with the will to fight for their own survival,” Percy advised sternly. “We gave that slave a fair opportunity here. His failure to recover is no reflection on your training and effort.”

The Earl sighed as he lifted the expensive bottle of water and twisted the cap free with a bit of wind magic. The resulting sledgehammer against his head quickly reminded Percy of his early conviction to avoid using magic. “If that slave doesn’t have the spine to fight for a better life, then just return him to the life he knew before.”

“I understand, Master.” Russell bowed somberly at the waist. “My time and energy are better spent serving the Earl of Hawthorne.”

Percy raised a brow but nodded before he dismissed the butler with a wave. He took a deep drink from the bottle and shivered as another bolt of lightning ripped through the sky outside the bathroom window.

‘Looks like I’m not the only one in a foul mood.’

He discarded his socks, trousers, and undergarments, then stepped gingerly into the warm tempered bath. The oily surface of herbs and rose petals crawled over his skin to rest on his chest and arms as Percy lay back against the towel placed at the head of the tub as a pillow.

The rich scent and warmth flooded his senses as Percy sighed and closed his eyes. Another rumble of thunder, closer this time, disturbed the calm quiet as the glass windows trembled faintly.

A small box with Frost’s sigil waited on the table beside the open bottle of wine. Percy flipped the lid open and pulled out the decorative soap inside before running the ridges of its carved rose figure across his chest and arms. The motion helped ease the growing disquiet beneath his chest, yet the soap also reminded him of the night’s troubling events.

‘To think Maura would risk the safety and security of Lafeara for someone she barely knows.’ His hand stilled, eyes furrowing for a moment before he dragged the soap across his throat and collar bone. ‘What is her obsession with foreigners anyway?’

Percy submerged the soap beneath the water then returned the rinsed lump to its box before lying back against the towel-pillow once more. ‘How do I fix things between us? I was careful to keep my distance before—I had to—if Constance knew who she was training to enter the palace, she would have had entirely different plans for Maura.’

The Earl closed his eyes and splashed two handfuls of oil, water, and herbs against his face before dabbing it dry with a cloth. ‘But now I’ve pushed too hard, too soon, and pushed Maura further away.’ Percy pressed the damp cloth against his lips as he narrowed his eyes in frustration. ‘I can’t give up now. There has to be a way I can prove myself to her. Something I can give her to show Maura that I am no threat. I cannot fulfill Veles’s expectations for me without her at my side as Queen.’

“A man is only as weak as his resolve to change himself and the world around him,” Percy muttered as he flung the washcloth to the floor. “Isn’t that right, Father?”

The Earl grabbed the bottle of wine, took another satisfying drink, then submerged his head fully beneath the water. He blinked cautiously as he resurfaced to take another sip blindly, then wiped the oil and herbs away from his eyes with his fingers as he blinked up at the painted bathroom ceiling of clouds, stars, and the near-invisible figures of flying crows.

“For now—I try to keep my distance. The Marchioness still has access to Maura and can continue to train her in the meanwhile. Hopefully, Serilda can avoid provoking Eleanora further in the process. The last thing we need is for my Ventrayna cousin to be on guard against us.” He snorted at the thought of Serilda “playing nice” with the half-witch princess, then winced after a moment’s reflection. He was already in for a sharp tongue lashing after abandoning his cousin at the ball.

‘Strange. I’ve never questioned Serilda’s love for me, but Maura—I can’t even tell if she cared at all that I returned from the border alive and unharmed.’

‘Does it matter if she does?’ his cynical thoughts questioned.

“Yes.” The certainty of his answer only made Percy feel more wretched, and he quickly smothered the feeling with some more wine. For a moment, Percy thought he heard the bathroom door creak open behind him, but when he turned, the door remained closed and the room undisturbed. “Veles’s breath, what is wrong with me today?” He lifted the wine again, thought better of it, and returned the bottle to the table. “I need to—focus.”

As the Earl lay back against the towel to watch the steam coil towards the bathroom ceiling, he wrestled silently with the internal conflict battling between his heart and mind. Not only was his relationship with Maura in disastrous need of repair, but he still had unresolved matters to settle with his mother—before Constance met her likely end at Serilda’s hand.

‘At least I was able to put Lady Evelynn in her place today. That feral cat can’t come after me when her own reputation hangs on her marrying the Prime Minister’s son.’

He closed his eyes and smiled at the memory of Attwood’s miserable face. The brother of Duke Stryker Hargreve now forced to join hands with an all but destitute house of a Viscount.

‘What’s good enough for an Earl should be good enough for the irredeemable son of a Marquess.’

A satisfying feeling of victory coursed through him as Percy stretched his arms along the side of the tub. His eyes snapped open as two hands pressed down against his chest. Jade appeared above him, dressed only in a familiar pink diamond necklace, as she straddled her very naked figure on top of him in the tub.

“Shall I make you feel better, my Lord?” Jade asked as she trailed her left hand down the necklace Percy knew damn well belonged to Serilda. The foreign harlot’s lips parted in a cunning smile as she leaned towards him and stroked the frozen Earl’s cheek.

‘What the—Fuck?’


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