Site icon VeraWolfeFantasyWebNovels

Chapter 72: A Fracture in Friendship


Chapter 72: A Fracture in Friendship


Ivy squinted, rubbed her tired eyes, and stared down at the blurred writing of her notes of observations for the day, assessing each child’s level of learning. Most of the children couldn’t even write their names or count past two hands, much less identify half the letters of the alphabet regardless of age. She was reminded once more of the vast disparity in education between children of commoners and those of noble families.

‘How exactly are they meant to improve their lives when most of these children were sold into slavery by parents who couldn’t even read what they were signing?’

The young matron glanced at the small ornate clock that ticked quietly on the corner of her desk, then started upright when she realized dinner was only a few minutes away. Ivy quickly set aside the elegant white swan feather quill, closed the pretty ivy-green porcelain ink well, and hurriedly organized her papers before storing them in a desk drawer. She also made a mental note to start a file for Jesse, not that the boy had shown any interest in participating in the lessons so far.

‘That’s all right, we’ll take it one day at a time.’

Ivy checked her fingers for ink stains as she rose and then paused by the small decorative mirror hanging on the office wall to tidy her hair. She winced as she moved to re-pin a few loose strands, and the bandages tugged against the scabbed sores around her shoulder blades. The young matron’s determined smile faded as the constant reminder of her grim reality settled comfortably upon her shoulders.

‘Will I even be here in a few months? Let alone the time it will take to get these children caught up to the primary reading level?’

Ivy lowered her fingers to the silver chain of the obsidian wolf necklace as she met her reflection’s tired eyes, the shadows beneath them more visible by the day despite the numbness to pain offered by Hana’s tonic. ‘Perhaps I should look into some makeup powder to cover them up.’ She gritted her teeth and looked away, unnerved by the similarities between her eyes and those of the witch that had cursed her, and then jumped as a sharp rap came from the office door. “Yes?”

“It’s Sergeant Bryant, Lady Ivy. There are—visitors at the gate who wish to speak with you.”

Ivy raised her brows curiously, noting the tension in the knight’s voice as she moved to open the office door. “Who are they, Sergeant?”

“They did not identify themselves, my Lady. However, one of them claimed to be a friend of yours. He only identified himself as Gus and implied that you knew him.”

“Gus?” Ivy echoed in disbelief, a hopeful smile moving across her lips as she shook her head. “He is at the gate?”

“You know him then?”

“Yes, I—if it is the Gus I know, then I must speak to him,” Ivy replied, noting the heavy frown that darkened the Sergeant’s face. “Is something the matter?”

“It’s just—I believe he is traveling with Witch Hunters, my Lady.”


“Most of them were wearing generic traveling mercenary garb, but I noticed two at the back who were definitely wearing the scarlet armor of the Witch Hunter Order.”

The young matron stared at the knight silently as understanding, and the cold chill of dread filled her stomach. ‘But that doesn’t make any sense. What would Gus be doing with Witch Hunters?’

“Lady Ivy?!” The knight and matron turned in surprise to where Mrs. Day appeared, accompanied by David, who looked extremely agitated.

“What is it, Mrs. Day?” Ivy asked sharply, still attempting to make sense of the information the Sergeant had presented her.

“It’s Sarah and Jesse,” the teacher blurted out, glancing in David’s direction. “They haven’t come back yet.”

“Come back?” The matron’s gaze rose sharply toward the pair. “What do you mean? Explain it quickly!”

“I only sent Jesse outside to dump the dustbin,” David replied with a note of anger. “He didn’t come back, and I—well, I only noticed he was still gone when I gathered the boys for dinner.”

“Apparently, the cook’s apprentice asked Jesse to take some food scraps to the garden compost as well,” Mrs. Day tacked on quickly. “That’s the last time anyone’s seen him.”

“When he didn’t come back, I figured he was just lazing about to avoid more work. But then Ruth told me that Sarah also went out nearly half an hour ago.”

“We searched the manor from top to bottom,” Mrs. Day continued breathlessly. “We can’t find either of them!”

“I wanted to ask permission to search the gardens. Sarah wouldn’t disappear like this. That boy must have—”

“No. No, David,” Ivy interjected sharply. “Where is the garden compost?”

“Peter said it’s in the north fields, right across from the main gate. There’s no way the boy could have gotten lost,” Mrs. Day replied.

“I see,” Ivy murmured as her troubled jade-green eyes returned to the Sergeant. “You have men by the gates, do you not, Sergeant? Would they have seen the children?”

“They would have noticed anyone who used the main gate,” Bryant replied tensely. “However, if they slipped over the fences instead—they might have crossed paths with our guests on their return journey—assuming they’re together.”

“Sarah has no reason to be hanging out with a worm like him!” the Head Boy blurted out angrily.

“David!” Mrs. Day reproached swiftly, clearly shocked at his sudden vicious tone.

“Never mind that now. The Sergeant and I will head to the gate,” Ivy declared as she brushed past the teacher and student. “Mrs. Day. David. Please keep the rest of the children inside. Proceed with dinner as planned and make an excuse for my absence. Tell the children that Sarah and Jesse are with me if they become worried. I will find them.”

The young matron moved swiftly down the manor hallway towards the foyer and front door, which Sergeant Bryant opened swiftly ahead of her. She didn’t want to think about why the children were missing or why Gus would appear with Witch Hunters out of nowhere. If any of these children were witches like Maura, or even half-witches, the presence of Witch Hunters presented a genuine threat to the orphanage.


Jesse was almost too afraid to breathe. The muttered voices of the Witch Hunters on the other side of the garden wall felt so close he wouldn’t be surprised if they heard his tall tale heart pounding inside his chest. The boy’s arm lay protectively across Sarah’s shoulder as the older girl trembled in the dirt with both hands clasped across her lips and nose. Her panicked gray-blue eyes stared back at him as terrified as she had been when she first yanked him down behind the stone fence to hide before the riders pulled up to the orphanage front gate.

Jesse had been too caught off guard to question why she’d been afraid until one of the men muttered something about smelling something suspiciously like magic. This led to the rather open, vulgar, and sickening comments directed at Lady Kirsi and all the witches hiding inside her Duchy.

Only then did Jesse realize that his witch blood, whether he could harness it or not, meant he would be hunted and even killed by the very faith he had been taught to revere as a child. A sickening feeling crawled through his panicked thoughts as guilt whispered that perhaps he was to blame for his family’s sickness and death. After all, witches were the reason for the plague—and he just so happened to be one.

“What’s taking so long?”

“Never mind that why are we even here, Vanya?”

“Because Master Gus wished to check in on an old friend before we continue our journey to Gilwren,” a woman’s sharp voice retorted.

“Ohho! Look at this pretentious bitch. Acting like she’s important just because she’s been tasked with babysitting the little spark.”

“Shut up, Morley!” A male voice countered sharply. “Unless you want me repeating what you just said to Ripper word for word.”

“I meant no disrespect by it, Terik. Ripper knows I respect the Pope and his family. I just don’t understand why we’re taking orders from someone who was meant for the breed—”

A sudden thud against the garden wall above them nearly made Jesse jump out of his skin. Sarah reached out to grab his shirt, holding a shaking finger to her pale lips as loose soil rained down on them from the mud-packed stonewall.

The sound of footsteps approaching mingled with the painful, rasping breath of the man leaning against the garden wall.

“If you want to see which of us is the weakest, then, by all means, let’s compete, Morely. I’ll happily recommend you to the breeding huts myself,” Vanya growled viciously. “That’s all you’ll be good for once I’ve broken every single one of your limbs.”

Jesse paled as he watched a hand lift a large rock from the top of the garden wall and raise it over the still-panting Witch Hunter.

“Stop it, Vanya,” Terik called out in a quiet voice accompanied by the savage growls of what sounded like dogs.

‘Wait, dogs? Fuck!’ Jesse’s fears were only confirmed by the tightening grip of Sarah’s fingers on his shirt as a silent tear ran down her pale cheek.

“What would Ripper say if he could see you now, distracted by petty squabbles like common mortals,” Terik continued in a monotone voice that suggested he found both parties equally at fault. “Morely, speak out of turn again, and I’ll feed your tongue to Brimstone. Vanya, you’re still on probation. If I were you, I’d focus my time and energy on Master Gus and the mission ahead.”

The quiet thud of the rock falling onto the road made Sarah flinch as Vanya responded with a resigned, “Understood.”

A sharp whistle pulled the growling hounds away from the wall as Morely pulled himself into a sitting position with a faint groan before climbing unsteadily to his feet.

“I think that Bastiallano knight is coming back,” one of the men commented from further away. “Looks like he’s brought some noblewoman with him.”

Jesse felt his heart thud tightly with hope. ‘As long as they leave the fence and gate, we should be able to safely cross—’ The boy’s mouth went suddenly dry as he noticed Sarah’s disheveled hair and realized that one of her ribbons had come loose. It didn’t take him long to spot the thin bit of pink fabric as the wind carried the ribbon toward the pumpkin patch, where it tangled around one of the prickly stems.


“Gus?” Ivy greeted nervously as she took in the only familiar face among the well over ten cloaked and heavily armed individuals gathered around her old friend. “What is the meaning of all of this?”

“Ivy!” Gus replied with relief as he quickly approached to greet her. “It feels like forever since we last—”

The young matron flinched and quickly stepped back as a young woman with short blonde hair and violet-blue eyes cut between them sharply. “Master Gus, I must insist that you remain outside the gate, just to be safe.”

“Nonsense,” Gus replied, lowering the woman’s arm with a relaxed smile. “I appreciate your concern, Vanya, but Ivy is a friend—she couldn’t harm a fly, much less a grown man.”

Ivy’s hesitant smile faltered slightly beneath his faintly condescending tone, but she quickly refocused on searching the mounted men and fields behind them for any sign of the missing children. Her gaze snapped back to Gus as he stepped closer, towering above her, dressed in fine silk and embroidered velvet.

‘He looks—different. Did he have a growth spurt since I last saw him? And why is he dressed like some rich merchant?’

“Could we speak privately for a moment?” Gus pressed with a note of urgency. “We could take a walk in the garden or perhaps go inside—”

“No!” Ivy interjected sharply. Noticing his startled frown, she quickly offered a plaintive smile as she took a step toward him. “I’m afraid your companions would frighten the children. And since they want you to remain outside—we can speak right here and—” The young matron nearly bit her tongue when her jade-green eyes narrowed in on a pink ribbon dancing in the breeze at the edge of the pumpkin patch. “That is if your friends can give us some privacy?”

“Friends, are we?” one of the cloaked men chuckled darkly.

“Maybe your friend has something to hide, Master Gus,” observed another with a sinister leer.

“That’s enough,” Gus barked, turning around to glare at them with surprising authority and confidence.

Ivy took advantage of the distraction to signal to Sergeant Bryant behind her back. When the knight frowned at her frantic hand gestures, the young matron jerked her thumb toward the pumpkin patch. Gus turned back towards her before Ivy could confirm whether the knight understood or not.

“I suppose we could take a stroll out here while we talk,” Gus suggested, gesturing towards the empty southern pasture where the manor stable horses grazed in the distance. “I’ll have Vanya follow along at a distance, and you can bring one of your knights.”

“That’s fine, but I think the Sergeant and I would feel a lot better if your companions moved away from the gate,” Ivy replied, almost sighing in relief as Bryant moved past them toward the stone garden wall. She watched as the knight paused and then stepped closer to the garden wall, where he again stopped, then turned and casually tapped two fingers against his belt.

‘Two? Saint’s Mercy. Are both of the children hiding behind the wall?’

“Terik,” Vanya spoke up suddenly. “Why don’t you lead the rest of the men down the road to those oak trees for shade while Master Gus finishes his business here.”

The man she addressed, who was wearing a rather frightening red mask that resembled a demonic hound, leaned back in his saddle with a faint sigh of resignation. “Fine. You have half an hour, Vanya. Then we move on. No good will come from camping out in the open at night in witch territory.” With a sharp whistle, the Hound Master moved forward, shadowed by six wolf-like dogs with matted black and brown hair painted with reddish-brown runes that looked suspiciously like blood. Ivy quickly looked away, unnerved by the hound’s strange orange eyes and twisted, snarling fangs that radiated malice.

The rest of the Witch Hunters fell silently in line while the last unmounted man limped quietly over to his horse. Vanya gathered the reins of the two horses left for her and Gus, which she led in the opposite direction toward a patch of grass.

Just as the young matron was about to breathe a sigh of relief, one of the hounds let out a shrill whining bark as its muzzle turned in the direction of the garden wall Sergeant Bryant guarded.

The Hound Master glanced over his shoulder in the dog’s direction and muttered something sharply in a language Ivy didn’t understand. The Witch Hunter then turned his gaze towards Ivy and Gus with a visible sneer as he added loud enough for them to hear, “Not now, Brimstone. Later.”

The hound bristled, then growled almost sulkingly, before it quickly moved to the head of the pack beside the Hound Master’s black stallion.

‘What the hell are they? For people who hunt witches, they look far more dangerous than most of the witches I’ve seen.’

Ivy turned her troubled gaze back to Gus and frowned as she found him studying her with an almost pitying look. She brushed the discomfort aside, determined to move this conversation along so the Sergeant could bring the children in safely. “You’re—looking well. Lady Maura and I were both worried when the Earl informed us of your departure from the Hawthorne Estate?”

“My departure?” Gus echoed, arching a cynical brow. “The Earl threw me back to the slave market like a bag of expired meat.”

“Yes, sorry—I had expected better from him,” Ivy deflected awkwardly as she reached for her shawl, only to realize she had left it indoors.

“You always did, and only because he had eyes for Maura.”

Something in his tone rubbed Ivy the wrong way, but she ignored it, wanting to keep the conversation as light as possible. “Still, it’s good to see you looking so well. I was worried your spine had been irreparably damaged—yet here you stand, with the posture of a noble no less.”

“Don’t lump me in with those repulsive swine,” Gus growled, rubbing the golden chain around his neck with a sense of discomfort before gesturing to where the female Witch Hunter had led the two horses to graze by the garden wall. “It was Vanya and her Master who saved me.”


“Ah, I suppose teacher would be a more appropriate term.”

“I see. I thought I heard her call you Master Gus?”

“That—” Gus shifted uncomfortably as he avoided meeting her gaze. “It turns out one of my parents was related to a well-respected and influential family from Zarus.”


“No need to sound so doubtful,” Gus snapped with a faint scowl. “The Pope himself confirmed my identity.”

“I wasn’t questioning you. It’s just—is that why the Pope’s Witch Hunters are traveling with you?”

“Yes, they’re—here for my protection.”

“Protection?” Ivy echoed incredulously. “The only people the Witch Hunters serve as bodyguards are the Pope, his cardinals, and—” Her jade-green eyes widened in disbelief. “No, you—have you become a priest?”

Gus chuckled dryly in amusement and shook his head. “No, I’m not a priest. Although—I suppose you could say I’ve taken up a position in the church.”

“What—sort of position?” Ivy asked hesitantly, noticing for the first time the golden jeweled dagger at his belt, all but hidden behind his traveling cloak.

“It’s an honorary position, really,” Gus deflected, clearing his throat as he noticed the direction of her gaze and quickly pulled his cloak closed. “As for why I’m here—I just really needed to see you.”

“Oh? Why?”

“Because I wanted to ask—if you would like to leave Lafeara with me?”

“Leave?” Ivy echoed, tilting her head and then frowning as she contemplated whether she had heard him correctly. “Why would I leave? I’m free, and I’m a noble again. I’ve only just started this new beginning, following my dream of teaching. And the children I care for now have suffered just as much as I have. I’m needed here.”

“But you’re not safe,” Gus countered with such grim confidence that she was momentarily taken aback.

“W-why wouldn’t I be safe?”

“Because of Kirsi.”


“No, Kirsi! The Maura you knew no longer exists. Her body has been taken over by Kirsi, the Immortal Witch of Calamity—the epitome of evil, chaos, and destruction!”

“Gus! What are you—why would you even say that? You know Maura. Have you forgotten everything she did to try and help us? Look around you. Look at what she’s made of Turnbell Manor. How could you possibly think she’s evil?”

“I knew her before you came to Turnbell, Ivy. Before Kirsi learned to mask her evil presence. Back when she traumatized the Turnbell family, especially Maura’s half-siblings. Saints only know why they kept a child in their home who tried multiple times to poison them, smother them in their sleep, or push them down the house stairs.”

“Now you’re just exaggerating the rumors,” Ivy snapped angrily. “Yes, I did hear about Sophia’s accidental fall down the stairs while the sisters were fighting as children, but you and I witnessed the awful things those siblings, Josiah and even Helena, put Maura through. As for the rest of those malicious lies—”

“They’re not lies, Ivy!”

“Then, did you witness any of it firsthand?”

“N-no. You know stable hands like myself were never allowed in the main house!”

“Then how could you possibly verify if it’s true? Let me guess. Was it Joy you heard this from? That woman was nothing more than a bitter liar who took pleasure in spreading ridiculous rumors about Lady Maura’s birth.”

“It doesn’t matter who I heard it from—”

“Of course, it matters! I spent nearly every minute of my time under the Turnbell roof at Lady Maura’s side. Do you know how many times she shielded and protected me? A barely ten-year-old child, skinny as a rail and far too short for her age, taking beatings like they were nothing because she was so accustomed to being hated. And you want me to believe Lady Maura was the evil one in that household?”

“All nobles are vile, self-centered, and cruel—”

“That’s exactly my point! Lady Maura is none of those things!”

“Will you listen to yourself!” Gus snapped with audible exasperation as he stepped forward to grab Ivy’s arms. “Lady Maura, this! Lady Maura, that! What about you? How do you feel being trapped here, inside the very place you were violated and treated like a piece of furniture?!”

Ivy stiffened, her breath catching between her lungs and throat as she blinked up at him in disbelief.

“You should be somewhere you are truly valued. Where you can marry, raise children of your own, not the unwanted stray bastards of witches.”

“Stop!” Ivy hissed through clenched teeth as the roar of buried emotions and malicious lies of blame, guilt, and worthlessness hissed inside her ears while her stomach flipped unpleasantly. “Please, just stop!”

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought it up,” Gus replied hastily. “I just didn’t want you to continue making the same mistake of placing Maura’s interests above your own. You’re not a slave anymore. There’s no reason for you to remain here of all places when you could start over with a fresh slate somewhere else.”

“But I don’t want marriage—not right now, at least. I want to live and experience an independent life—and while I do love children—” Ivy quickly blinked away the tears burning in the corner of her eyes. “I don’t think I’ll get the chance to experience motherhood.”

“That’s silly. Why wouldn’t you? You’re still young, beautiful, educated—”

“Because—I’m dying.”

A sudden silence fell around them as even Vanya and Sergeant Bryant straightened in surprise while Gus stared at the pale young matron in horror. “What are you—talking about, Ivy?”

“I don’t want to get into it, but—there’s a good chance I won’t—survive the winter.”

‘As much as I want to believe that Maura will find the plague witch and break the curse—Hana was upfront about the limitations of how long her tonic could hold the poison in my body at bay. Perhaps hearing this will allow Gus to let go and move on with his life unburdened by me.’

“All the more reason you should come with me then,” Gus growled sharply in response.


“I told you. I’ve met the Pope. The bloodline of Saints carries healing properties that can cure even the plague. If I asked Jericho for a favor—I’m sure he’d agree too—”

“Gus, stop this!” Ivy blurted out furiously as she pushed his hands away. “The Pope won’t just give his blood away to someone he’s barely met. And only the Saint can cure the plague. Everyone knows that.”

“So it is the plague!”

“What?! No!”

“Then it can be cured!” he declared quickly, grabbing her arms tighter this time. “We can find a priest or ask the Witch Hunters for help. I’m sure one of them will know how to cure you.”

“Gus, no!” Ivy shouted frantically. ‘One look, and the priests will have me burned just to stop the plague from spreading.’

“Why are you being like this? Are you hiding something from me? Are you lying to me?”

“I told you I don’t want to get into it!” Ivy shouted, holding back a sob as Sergeant Bryant quickly moved to step between them.

“You, stay out of this!” Gus snapped furiously as he attempted to sidestep the knight.

“I think your thirty minutes are just about up,” Bryant commented sternly, holding up his hand to restrain the angry young man. “And the lady is clearly distressed.”

“The Lady can speak for herself!” Gus countered cynically before his gaze snapped back to Ivy. “This—this is because of Kirsi, isn’t it!”

“What?” Ivy stared at him in confusion.

“She’s either compelled you to lie to me to stop me from taking you away, or she’s cursed you with some form of black magic that forces you to remain by her side?” Gus’s agitated gaze narrowed as the young matron visibly flinched. “I’m right! It’s a curse, isn’t it! Vanya!”

“Whoa! Stay back!” Bryant yelled authoritatively, his hand moving to his blade as Vanya sauntered over with a resigned sigh. “This meeting is over.”

“The hell it is!” Gus roared as he stepped back and turned his focus to Vanya. “Search her.”

“What?!” Ivy gasped as her legs almost gave out.

“Master Gus,” Vanya responded with a soothing note of calmness. “You need to slow down and think about what you’re asking. Do you want me to force your friend to strip to confirm whether or not she’s been cursed by a witch?”

“Yes! I mean—” Gus stammered, his cheeks flushing with embarrassment as her words sank in. “Can’t you tell without—removing her clothes?”

“I can smell if she’s been around a witch recently, but I can’t confirm the presence of a curse without a visual search.”

“Then—how do I help her?”

Vanya’s violet-blue eyes moved from Gus to Ivy and then turned suspiciously in the direction of the garden wall. “You need to understand that offering help is all you can do in such situations. It’s up to the other person if they accept or reject your offer.”

The young man’s brows furrowed in apparent frustration before his ebony brown eyes turned earnestly toward the trembling matron. “Please, Ivy. Come with us. Let me help you.”

“You can’t,” Ivy retorted hoarsely as she gripped the cloak of the Sergeant in front of her. “And I don’t want your help, Gus. Or the church’s.”

Vanya’s gaze narrowed slightly before she placed a restraining hand on Gus’s shoulder as he stepped toward the matron and her knight. “Then that settles that. Doesn’t it, Master Gus?”

Ivy breathed in a slow, steadying breath as she tried to calm the overwhelming drums of fear beating painfully against her chest and ears. “I think it’s time we said our goodbyes. I wish you a long and happy life, Gus.”

He glared back at her over Vanya’s shoulder as the blonde Witch Hunter leaned in to whisper in his ears.

A quiet caw pulled Ivy’s gaze to where two crows now gathered along the garden wall where the children still hid, no doubt terrified.

‘This isn’t how I wanted to say goodbye—but I barely recognize the person he’s become.’

“I understand,” Gus responded gruffly. “I’ll be staying near the capital. If you—change your mind, Ivy, or require my help in any way, please reach out to any priest at any church and ask for myself or Vanya.”

“That won’t happen,” Ivy replied firmly. “I hope you have a safe journey, Gus, but please don’t bring your Witch Hunters near this place ever again.”

“I don’t hold that much authority,” Gus retorted with a sinister grin. “But I’ll ask that they leave the orphanage alone for as long as you reside here.” He turned sharply, brushing off Vanya’s grip as he stormed over to where she had laced the reins of their horses around the bars of the gate.

Ivy maintained her grip on Bryant’s cloak, half convinced she’d collapse if she let go, and watched as Gus and the Witch Hunter mounted their horses and rode slowly past them.

“Perhaps I wasn’t meant to save you,” Gus called out suddenly as his ebony eyes fixated on the pale young matron’s face one last time. “Perhaps you were just a tool to guide me to my destiny.”

Ivy stiffened but said nothing and quickly averted her gaze. Soon enough, she heard their horses move into a gallop as they continued down the road to where the Hound Master and other Witch Hunters waited.

“If they’re here, an inquisition can’t be far behind,” Sergeant Bryant muttered darkly.

“Then let us hope the Crown Prince holds firm on his position against the church’s persecution of Lafeara’s citizens,” Ivy whispered weakly in response. She unclenched her white fingers from his cloak and turned toward the garden wall, calling out breathlessly, “Jesse! Sarah! Are you there?”

“They’re gone. You can come out now,” Bryant added encouragingly, hesitating between the wavering matron and the garden wall.

Two pairs of frightened eyes peered over the moss-covered stone, and Ivy breathed a sigh of relief as she quickly gestured towards them. “Come on. Quickly now. Let’s get you both safely inside.”

Sarah was the first to scramble over the garden wall and rush toward the young matron’s open arms. Jesse followed behind a moment later, holding onto the pink ribbon Ivy had spotted earlier. He avoided her touch when she reached toward him but didn’t dodge Bryant’s firm grasp as the knight and matron led the children through the gate of Rose Dawn Orphanage.



Exit mobile version