Mistress locked me in a room with a candle burning and a loaf of bread, whispering to me as she shut the door that she promised to return. I waited for her. I waited and waited, but she didn’t came. The candle flickered and burned out after a few hours, and still the dawn didn’t come. I opened the curtains, but I could see nothing outside. The storm was so bad that no light penetrated the dark clouds. I tore small pieces of bread off the loaf and chewed them slowly, hoping that they weren’t the last things I would eat.
She said that the Magicians were doing something dangerous and that she was trying to protect me. I believed her, because Mistress never lied to me. I’d been with her since I was a small child, and I remained at the castle after my mother, her previous maid, died of a wasting illness. Mistress was about my mother’s age, but infinitely more beautiful. She knew the secrets of the Magicians because she was married to one. I almost never saw her husband, though, even though I’d lived at the castle for most of my life. He was always shut up in the tower rooms with the other Magicians, or else away with them on one of their infinite tours with the militia.
The reason was, of course, that we lived on the Border, which is the only place Magicians were allowed to live. They weren’t illegal, because the Crown used their services, but they didn’t want them to be anywhere near the capital. Some people in the big cities, I’d heard, didn’t believe that the Border was real, and they thought the Magicians were mad, people who’d contracted some illness, and that the Crown was simply quarantining them far away so that they wouldn’t spread the disease. It was feasible, I suppose, but living on the Border as I’d done, I knew that they did a real service for us all. They kept us safe.
So I believed Mistress was trying to protect me. When the men came into my room, I thought that she’d sent them. I’ll never know now if she did or didn’t, because by the time they took me into one of the tower rooms that were Master’s workshops, Mistress was already dead, spread out on the floor with her face as white as can be. They didn’t let me run to her. They pulled me back, roughly, and I knew that it was my turn next.