Stellia jumps up. “What?”
Her parents are on their feet as well. For the first time since Stellia has entered the house, her mother speaks.
“Go with you, My Lord? But where? And why?”
Till whimpers and clings more tightly to her neck.
“He will not be harmed,” Lord Osdath tells her.
“You cannot just take him,” Stellia blurts out.
Lord Osdath’s smile fades a little, and his eyes turn colder still. For a moment, Stellia is afraid that he will chide her for her behavior, in which case she can look forward to far more than a scolding from her father.
“I am here as an envoy of the Council of Twelve,” he says. “Her Holiness Hargis Dratha, Guardian of Souls and Protector of the Sacred Bloodline, entrusted me with the task of identifying children possessed of certain gifts of birth and temperament desirable for her service. It is my conclusion that this boy may be so suited.”
Stellia’s mother sits back down. Till buries his head on her shoulder. Both weep.
“It is an honor!” The Parson clasps his hands before his heart. “A great honor, to be sure!”
“Her Holiness’s service?” Stellia turns to the Parson. “He is too young by several years to be made a novice! Did you recommend him? Without speaking of it to us?”
The Parson’s tongue passes quickly over his lips. “It is not as a novice that—”
Lord Osdath cuts him off. “I require no recommendation, girl. The choice was mine.”
Stellia bows her head. “Forgive me, My Lord. I meant not to question it.” She pauses. Surely it is unwise to say more. That’s never stopped her, of course. “It is just that in our humble knowledge and experience, it has always been the Parson who would determine when a boy was suited for Her Holiness’s service, and who would then—”
“Common tools for common tasks,” Lord Osdath says. “One does not trust a farrier, when there is gold to be appraised.”
“Surely not, My Lord.” Stellia cannot stop herself from glancing at the Parson. Judging by the look in his eyes, the slight is not lost on him.
“The boy truly is an exceptional child,” he says. “I always knew it.”
Stellia cannot hold her tongue. “Did you indeed? You should have told us some time, it would have made us proud.”
The Parson’s expression is full of venom. “I’m hardly obligated to communicate all of my thoughts to you, girl.” Turning to Lord Osdath, he adds, “It is I, after all, who is charged with the education of the village children, My Lord. Who else could better judge the boy’s accomplishments?”
“Then you must know that he’s not ready,” Stellia says. “Will you stand by and do nothing as one of your charges is torn from your parish? His future is in your hands!”
The Parson’s soft features grow pale with anger. Despite the thickness of his lower lip, his mouth is pinched into a bloodless slash.
Hayrolf watches him closely, his piercing eyes glittering with amusement.
Stellia’s father is not amused at all, however. “Hold your tongue now,” he growls. “And sit down.”
The Parson’s color has gone from pallid to crimson. “My Lord Osdath, I must apologize—”
“Enough.” Osdath silences him with a flick of his wrist. “The sooner we leave, the sooner we will know if this child meets the requirements stated by Her Holiness. If he does not, he will be returned to his home.”
“And if he does meet them?” Stellia cries out. “Will we never see him again?”
Silence descends on the room. Stellia’s mother halts in her weeping. Even her father seems to have forgotten that a moment ago he commanded his daughter to be quiet and sit down, and that she has not obeyed. All eyes are on Lord Osdath. Only Till keeps sobbing, his face pressed against his mother’s neck.
For an instant, Stellia thinks she sees something soften in Lord Osdath’s eyes, a glimmer of warmth, of understanding, of pity. It does not last. Perhaps she only imagined it.
He gestures to Hayrolf. “We must go.”
The grim warrior throws open the door and snaps his fingers. The two soldiers enter the house, spears in hand. Lord Osdath nods toward Till, and one of the men takes the boy from his mother. She manages to plant one last kiss on his blond hair, then he is pulled from her embrace. Tears stream from her eyes, but she makes no sound. Stellia would prefer it if she screamed and howled in anguish; heartbreaking as that would be, it would be less painful to see than this mute suffering. Till on the other hand wails loudly and cries for his mother, his little body twisting and contorting in the soldiers’ grip.
His struggle is no easier to watch.
NEXT: Tears and Arrows