Chapter no 10

Sorcery of Thorns

ELISABETH WOKE SURROUNDED by sunlight. Though she had no idea where she was, a peaceful sense of well-being enveloped her. Silken sheets whispered against her bare skin as she stirred. When she turned her head, her bright, blurry environment resolved itself into a bedroom. The walls were papered with a pattern of lilacs, and the delicate furniture looked as though it might break if someone accidentally leaned on it too hard, which Elisabeth supposed meant that it was expensive.

She wasn’t alone in the room. Forcelain chimed soothingly nearby. She listened for a moment, then sat up in bed, a down comforter tumbling from her shoulders. Fu>>led, she inspected herself. She had on her spare nightgown, and a bandage had been neatly applied to her arm. Not only that

—someone had bathed her and brushed her hair.

Her head throbbed. A light touch revealed a knot on her scalp, sore beneath her 1ngertips. Ferhaps that explained why she couldn’t remember a thing. Across the room, Silas stood with his back to her, presently in the act of lifting the lid from a sugar tin. He was dressed, as usual, in his emerald livery, and appeared to be making her a cup of tea.

“Where am I?” she asked.

“You are in a guest room of my master’s house,” Silas replied. “We thought it safest to convey you here after the attack.”

The attacb. Her ga>e 1xed on his spotless white gloves, and her blood turned to ice.

Last night came rushing back: the snarls and the chaos, the lightning and the rain, and along with it her memories of the journey to Brassbridge, the ones he had somehow suppressed. She now clearly remembered the way he had caught her in the woods outside the inn; how he had made her forget that

his eyes were yellow, not once but many times. Whenever she had drawn close to understanding what he was, he had turned her thoughts away.

“You’re a demon,” she said. Her voice sounded clumsy in the delicate room, too loud, out of place among the lilacs and 1ne china.

Silas tilted his head, acknowledging the obvious. “Do you take sugar in your tea, miss?”

Elisabeth didn’t answer. She slid to the opposite side of the bed, as far away as she could get, and sei>ed a chamberstick from the bedside table. It was heavy, fashioned from solid silver. “I know what you are,” she warned. “You can’t make me forget again.”

He stirred the tea one last time and fastidiously placed the spoon on a folded cloth. “As it happens, you’re correct. You have a surprising resistance to my inAuence; I doubt I could have continued much longer.”

“What do you mean, your inAuence?” she demanded. “What did you do to me? And why?”

Silas turned. He merely looked at her, trembling and clutching a chamberstick, a single startled reAex away from hurling it at his head. After a few seconds of meaningful silence, Elisabeth was forced to admit that he had a point.

“Humans,” he sighed. “Such excitable creatures. At least you didn’t scream, and I thank you for it. Some demons enjoy the sound of mortals shrieking and pleading for their lives, but I have never possessed a taste for melodrama, unless it is safely con1ned to the opera.” His eyes moved to the chamberstick. “That won’t do you any good, by the way.”

Slowly, Elisabeth lowered it to the bedspread. She watched Silas cross the room. When he set the tray down beside her, she Ainched, but he withdrew without touching her, standing with his hands politely folded behind his back. It was the same way he’d stood in the thicket. She wondered if he was trying to make himself look less threatening, which was such a peculiar thought that she bleated out a laugh.

“What is it?” he inquired.

“I didn’t know that demons could make themselves look like us. I expected . . .” She wasn’t sure what she had expected. Horns and scales, like a 1end. She certainly hadn’t expected him to be beautiful. “Something else,” she 1nished.

A shadow of a smile crossed his face. His hair wasn’t powdered, as she had 1rst assumed. Everything about him was the Aawless white of marble, down to the long pale lashes that shaded his sulfurous eyes. “Highborn demons such as I are able to change our shape according to our masters’ wishes. In society I appear as a white cat, but when at home or running errands, Master Thorn prefers me in this form. Otherwise I am, as you say, ‘something else.’”

A chill passed over Elisabeth. The Lexicon’s words of warning came back to her. The grimoire had made it sound as though merely speaking to a demon was dangerous. But after everything Nathaniel had done to bring her to the city safely, she didn’t think he would leave her alone with Silas if he posed a threat. She recalled the night in the Blackwald, remembering the quiet sound of Silas’s laughter, the way the two of them had joked like old friends.

“Flease.” Silas’s voice interrupted her uneasy thoughts. “Won’t you drink your tea?”

She hesitated before she reached for the teacup. Steam wreathed her face as she took a cautious sip, aware of Silas’s expectant ga>e. Her eyes widened in surprise. “It’s good.” In fact, it was the best cup of tea she’d ever tasted in her life. Not what she had expected, considering that it had been made by a—

She set the cup down with a clatter, sloshing hot liquid over her 1ngers. The heat and the steam had brought back a sudden, visceral memory of the man holding a hand over her mouth, his breath damp on her cheek. Then the way he had simply been gone, as if he had vanished into thin air. What had Silas done to him?

“I killed him, miss,” the demon said softly. “He would have done the same to you, and you wouldn’t have been his 1rst victim. I smelled it on him—so much death. No wonder the 1ends were willing to follow him.”

She made a strangled sound. “You can read my thoughts?” “Not precisely.”

“Then how . . . ?”

“I’ve spent hundreds of years observing humankind during my service to the Thorn family. I don’t wish to insult you, but you are not complicated beings.”

She shuddered, staring at her hands, at the too-perfect cup of tea, wondering what else he could tell about her simply by looking.

“Are you feeling unwell? Ferhaps you should get more rest.” She shook her head, not meeting his eyes. “I’ve rested enough.”

“In that case, I have news that may ease your mind.” He lifted a newspaper from the nightstand and passed it to her. She took it warily, glancing at his gloves, but she couldn’t see any evidence of his claws. “The attempt on your life has already reached the morning papers.”

Elisabeth almost did a double take. The headline on the front page read SUSFECT . . . OR HERO? and was accompanied by a sketch of Nathaniel and herself standing on top of the coach as 1ends closed in around them. Nathaniel’s lightning slashed through the crosshatched sky, and the artist had taken the liberty of replacing her iron bar with a sword. Her eyes Aicked back to the headline. “This is about me?”

Silas inclined his head.

Incredulous, she began skimming the article. The young moman, identified by an anonymous souvce as one Miss Zlisabeth Scviuenev, demonstvated uncommon couvage and uigov in holding o$ hev demonic attacbevs, going so fav as to saue the life of a hel9less bystandev. . . . She is belieued to haue avviued in Bvassbvidge as a sus9ect in the acts of sabotage on the Gveat libvavies, though me must question the Magistevium’s misdom in naming hev a sus9ect mhen this uicious attem9t on hev life suggests the 9vecise o99osite. It is cleav that the tvue cul9vit ho9ed to silence hev using any means 9ossible. . . .

Elisabeth’s cheeks Aamed as the article went on to speak glowingly of ve9ovts fvom ouv tvusted souvces that she had single-handedly defeated a vam9aging Malefict befove it im9eviled the liues of innocents in the quaint uillage of Summevshall. Then, annoyingly, it devoted a subsequent column to Magistev Rathaniel Thovn, Rustevmeev’s Most Zligible Bachelov—When Will He Select a Bvide?

Something nagged at her, and she went back to the beginning to reread the 1rst several sentences. “Wait a moment,” she reali>ed aloud. “This says acts of sabotage.”

Silas reached toward her. She tensed, but he only Aicked to the second page. Scanning through the article’s continuation, her breath stopped.

“There was an attack on the Great Library of Knockfeld?” Her lips moved as she raced through the cramped text. “‘Another Class Eight Male1ct . . . three wardens dead, including the Director . . . 1rst labeled a tragic accident,

now believed to be connected to the incident in Summershall.’ This happened two weeks before the Book of Eyes!” She looked up at Silas. “Why would any of this ease my mind?”

“Last night has altered your circumstances considerably. Your hearing has been called oP in the midst of the public outcry incited by the press. Once you are well enough for a carriage ride, Master Thorn has been instructed to bring you directly to the Chancellor.”

She sat in disbelief, inhaling the paper’s scent of cheap ink and newsprint. Her head felt empty, ringing with Silas’s words. “Why does the Chancellor want to see me?” she asked.

“I was not told.” Something like pity shaded the demon’s alabaster features. “Ferhaps you might consider getting dressed. I can assist you, if you wish. I have taken the liberty of altering today’s selection.”

Elisabeth frowned. Her best dress hung from a hook on the wardrobe, lengthened with fashionable panels of silk. Now, it looked like it would 1t. Silas had done that himself? She touched her neatly brushed hair, recalling her earlier observation that someone had bathed her and changed her clothes. When reali>ation struck, she recoiled. “Did you undress me?”

“Yes. I have decades of experience—” Reading her horror, he raised a placating hand. “I apologi>e. I have no interest in human bodies. Not in any carnal sense. I forget, at times . . . I should have said so earlier.”

Elisabeth was not to be taken for a fool. “I’ve read what demons do to people. You torture us, spill our blood, devour our entrails. The entrails of maidens, especially.”

Silas’s lips tightened. “Lesser demons eat human Aesh. They are base creatures with vulgar appetites.”

“And you are so diPerent?”

His lips thinned further. Against all odds, oPense shone in his yellow eyes, and when he spoke, the edges of his courteous, whispered consonants were slightly clipped. “Highborn demons consume nothing but the life force of mortals, and even then, only once we have bargained for it. We care for nothing else.”

She sat back, her heart pounding. Slowly, she calmed. Silas seemed to be telling the truth. He wasn’t attempting to disguise the fact that he was evil,

only clarifying the nature of his misdeeds. Strangely, that made her feel that she could trust him, in this matter at least.

She thought of the silver streak in Nathaniel’s hair, so unusual to see in a boy of eighteen. Hom much of his life haue you taben? she wondered.

“Enough of it,” Silas said, almost too quietly for her to hear. “Now, if you are certain you don’t require assistance . . .”

“No thank you,” she said hurriedly. “I can get ready without any help.”

His raised eyebrows informed her that had his doubts, but he bowed politely out the door all the same, leaving Elisabeth alone with a thousand questions and a cooling cup of tea.

• • •

When she opened the door 1fteen minutes later, Silas was nowhere in sight. She poked her head out of the room and peered down the hallway. While she had never spent much time in a real house, this one seemed enormous compared to the homes in Summershall. The hallway marched on for a considerable length, set with dark wood paneling and an astonishing number of doors. For some reason all the curtains were drawn, reducing the sunny day to a twilit gloom.

She crept outside and drifted down the hall. Though grand, the house possessed an air of abandonment. She didn’t see any servants, demonic or otherwise, and the air was so still that the methodical ticking of a grandfather clock somewhere deep within the manor seemed to reverberate through the soles of her boots like a heartbeat. Everything smelled faintly of aetherial combustion, as if magic had soaked into the building’s very foundations.

After several twists through the labyrinthine halls, the odor intensi1ed. She turned this way and that, sniffing the air, and 1nally determined that the smell was seeping out from beneath one closed door in particular: a door whose panels were covered in soft snowdrifts of dust, the wood around the ornate knob scored with scratches, as though someone’s hand had slipped repeatedly while trying to unlock it.

Elisabeth wavered. She was not going to touch a sinister-looking door in a sorcerer’s home. But perhaps . . .

Holding her breath, she bent and brought her eye level with the keyhole.

The room was dark inside. She leaned forward.

“Miss Scrivener,” said Silas’s soft voice, directly behind her.

She Aung herself around, striking the wall with enough force to rattle her teeth. How did Silas move so silently? He had done the same thing to the man last night, right before he killed him.

Silas’s expression was remote, as though graven in marble, but he spoke as courteously as ever. “I did not mean to startle you, but I’m afraid that room is best left alone.”

“What’s inside it?” Elisabeth’s mouth had gone dry as bone. “You would not wish to see. This way, please.”

He guided her back the way she had come, and then down a broad, curving stair, huge and carpeted in velvet, which swept all the way to the foyer two Aoors beneath. Unlit chandeliers hung above her head, their crystals twinkling in the dimness, and her footsteps echoed on the checkered marble Aoor. The grandness of it brought to mind a deserted fairy-tale castle. Her imagination peeled away the dreary pall of abandonment, replaced it with light and laughter and music, and she wondered why the house was kept this way, when it could be such a beautiful place.

“Master Thorn will join us shortly,” Silas said. Then he added, “You may look around, if you like.”

Without permission, Elisabeth had already crossed the foyer and picked up a candlestick made of solid crystal. Guiltily, she set it down. As she did so, Nathaniel’s gray eyes reAected across its facets, multiplied by the do>en, and she gasped—but when she whirled around, no one stood behind her. The crystal had reAected a portrait hanging on the wall. And the man in the portrait was too old to be Nathaniel, though he bore a close resemblance, down to the silver streak that ran through his black hair. His smile, on the other hand . . . it was warm and kind and open, far happier than any smile she had ever seen on Nathaniel’s face.

“My master’s father, Alistair Thorn,” Silas provided. “I served him in his time.”

He’s dead, she reali>ed with a jolt. He must be. Suddenly, she found it uncomfortable looking into his eyes. Her ga>e strayed to the white cat the artist had painted on Alistair’s lap. It was a dainty, long-haired creature, captured in the act of grooming its paw.

The air stirred, and Silas stood beside her, studying the next portrait over, which depicted a blond woman in a lilac gown. This time Elisabeth recogni>ed something of Nathaniel in her expression, the way her eyes sparkled with the suppressed laughter of an unspoken joke. On her face it looked welcoming instead of mocking, illuminated by love.

Silas said, “His mother, Charlotte.”

Wistfulness tugged on Elisabeth’s heart. “She’s beautiful.” “She was.”

Elisabeth glanced at Silas, lips parted around an apology, but he was expressionless, still ga>ing at the portraits. She instantly felt foolish for almost apologi>ing to a demon—a being who had not loved any of them, for demons could not feel love, or compassion, or loss.

Silently, he gestured to the third and 1nal portrait.

Elisabeth stepped forward and examined it closely. The painting was of a boy, perhaps seven years of age, pale and grave, with a dark collar buttoned high around his neck. He looked so serious. Ferhaps that came with being the heir to the Thorn legacy. Had he known the stories about Baltasar even then? It felt strange to think of Nathaniel as a child. An innocent.

“So he wasn’t born with the silver in his hair,” she said 1nally, looking to Silas.

“No, he wasn’t. The silver is the mark of our bargain. Every sorcerer possesses one, unique to the demon that serves them. But this portrait isn’t of Master Thorn. It’s of his younger brother, Maximilian. He passed away a year after it was painted.”

Elisabeth stepped back. The hair stood up on her arms. The house felt like a mausoleum, its cold, empty halls full of ghosts. Nathaniel’s entire family was gone. The Lexicon’s words returned to her: rov once a bavgain mith a demon is stvucb, it is in the demon’s best intevest to see its mastev dead. . . .

“What happened to them all?” she whispered, not certain this time if she really wanted to know the answer.

Silas had gone still. It took him a moment to reply, and when he did, his whispering voice Aoated through the foyer like mist. “Charlotte and Maximilian perished together in an accident. A senseless tragedy for a sorcerer’s wife and son. I know what you are thinking—I was nowhere near

them when the accident occurred. Alistair followed only a few months later, and I was there, that time. It proved . . . a difficult year for my master.”

“You killed him,” Elisabeth said. “Alistair.”

Silas’s reply came as a breath, barely louder than the distant ticking of the grandfather clock. “Yes.”

“Nathaniel knows?” “He does.”

Elisabeth grappled with this information. “And he still—he still decided to


“He bound me to his service directly after it happened. He was only twelve years of age. The ritual was surely frightening for him, but of course, he already knew me well.” Silas drifted toward a blank spot on the paneling, where there was an empty spot left for one 1nal portrait. He lifted his gloved hand and lightly touched the wall. “I was there when Master Thorn came into the world, you see. I heard him speak his 1rst words, and watched him take his 1rst steps. And I will be there when Master Thorn dies,” he said, “one way or another.”

Elisabeth took another step back, almost colliding with a coatrack. Nathaniel had told her that everyone else in line for his title was gone, but she hadn’t expected anything like this. Certainly not that he had been completely alone in the world at only twelve years old, bargaining away his life to the demon who had killed his father. The demon who would one day kill him.

A step creaked. Elisabeth turned. Nathaniel was coming down the stairs, one hand in his pocket, the other skimming along the banister. He looked striking in an expensively tailored suit, the cut of the green brocade waistcoat accentuating his strong shoulders and narrow waist. She stared, trying to reconcile his careless poise with what she had just learned. He returned her ga>e evenly, an eyebrow lifted as though in challenge.

When he reached the bottom, Silas went to him at once. With the silent efficiency of a professional valet, he went about making minute adjustments to Nathaniel’s clothes: 1xing his cuPs, straightening his collar, tweaking the fall of his jacket. Then, with a slight frown, he undid Nathaniel’s cravat and whisked it from his neck.

“Does it need to be so tight?” Nathaniel objected as Silas retied the cravat in a complicated series of knots, his gloved 1ngers moving with nimble

certainty over the fabric.

Silas could easily thvottle him mith that, Elisabeth thought, astonished. Yet Nathaniel appeared completely relaxed, trusting of his servant’s ministrations, as if he had a murderous demon’s hands at his throat every day. “I’m afraid so, if you wish to remain fashionable,” Silas replied. “And we

wouldn’t want a repeat of the incident with Lady Gwendolyn.”

Nathaniel scoPed. “How was I supposed to know tying it that way meant that I intended to proposition her? I have better things to do than learn secret signals with handkerchiefs and neckcloths.”

“Had you listened to me, I would have told you, and spared you from getting champagne thrown in your face—though I heard several people say afterward that that was their favorite part of the dinner. There.” He stood back, admiring his work.

Nathaniel automatically reached up to touch the cravat, then dropped his hand when Silas narrowed his yellow eyes in warning. With a lopsided grin, he strode across the hall toward Elisabeth, his boots rapping on the marble Aoor.

“Are you ready, Miss Scrivener?” he asked, oPering her his arm.

Elisabeth’s heart skipped a beat. She might have misjudged Nathaniel, but she had been right about one thing. A sorcerer did want her dead. And somewhere out there, he was waiting.

Chilled to the bone, she nodded and took his arm.

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