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The fresh, salty air of the harbor greeted me as I stepped out the front door of the manor. Stretching, I closed my eyes and let the smell of open water and freedom carry me into a daydream: standing on the deck of the royal barge as it cruised across the harbor, the king marveling over my latest creation, the members of court vying for my favor. In reality, I had been pulled out of my workshop, mid-spell, to wait with the other servants on the steps of Dappenshien manor.
Our employer, the Baron von Dappenshien, had spent the last three days surveying the border, and he liked to arrive home to an entourage. Notably absent from the lines of men and women standing in the fading light were the butler and the housekeeper, both of whom had more important things to oversee, like Baron Erik’s bath and supper.
“His lordship approaches the gate,” the steward called as he ran up the drive to take his place in line. Everyone smartened themselves up a bit. I sighed and brushed at a fly that landed on the sleeve of my robe. The indignity of standing on the stoop, awaiting the pleasure of an aristocrat, chafed worse than cheap woolen breeches.
Hooves clattered on the stones, heralding the carriage’s approach. Several servants jumped back a few paces as the driver, not the most cautious of men, brought the carriage too close. The horses pranced, jostling the coach back and forth as he brought them to a stop.
“Can’t you control those blasted beasts?” the baron called from within. He opened the door without waiting for assistance and waved away the pair of footman who tried to help him down. I was sure some magikal enhancement on the baron’s vehicle allowed him to fit within its confines. The man stood half a head taller than any of his servants, with the build of a once-mighty warrior now grown accustomed to fine dinners and long hours at the council table. He brushed the dust of the road from his considerable girth, and I had to concede I admired his dedication.
He insisted on overseeing the military exercises and patrols of the kingdom himself. This was his third trip in two weeks’ time to the heavily guarded border and the Demystified Zone that lay beyond.
“I’ll take my supper in my study after I’ve bathed,” the baron instructed. The steward, following in his wake, bobbed his head and mumbled his compliance. I shook my head in disgust before I could stop myself. I had hoped the baron would just go inside to his dinner, but my movement drew his critical military eye.
“Rezdin,” he barked, “how’s that commission coming along?”
“You can inspect it in the morning, after you’ve rested, my lord.” And after I’ve finished it, I thought. “I think you’ll be quite pleased.”
“We’ll see about that,” he gruffed.
I fixed the most benign expression possible onto my face. The baron went in, the servants filing in after him, leaving me alone in the gathering gloom.
The former street urchin in me wanted to spit at the baron’s feet. The educated magician wanted to shrink him until he understood just how small he made others feel. But on the whole, I didn’t fancy prison, so I let the temptations slip away.
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