The Moment of Truth

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The Sorcerer punched his thigh, watching the girl leave. 

He bellowed through his nose while she took the spiral out of his Caverns two stairs at a time. He had waited for too long to claim this one to allow her to slip away. 

He glimpsed the liquid cloud of second sight. The vial was on the top shelf carved in the eastern wall, resting beside a small cauldron. 

Perhaps he could see something useful.     

He took them both to the table and sat on the sofa, resting his palm where the girl had been. He savored the heat she left behind until the image of her was clear in his mind. 

Then he emptied the vial into the cauldron and closed his eyes. His face smarted from the smoke rising to form a cloud above his head. 

The Sorcerer cast his mind and heard the girl’s labored breathing before he saw her running through the trees. 

She came out of the woods at the river, close to where he had found her the previous morning just as she was about to jump.

This time she wasn’t alone. 

On the other side of the river was the giant gray stallion, the one that ran wild in the Abandoned Valley. Although he was a mammoth among horses, his glossy coat blended with the rising light and the girl didn’t see him until he pulled his head from the water. 

She glowed when she saw him, the radiance in her face surprising the Sorcerer before he remembered that summer when she rode in the Abandoned Valley. 

The handsome young Horse Trainer had always accompanied her on a splendid gray colt. This must be the same animal. 

The girl called out. 

The giant equine looked at her for a moment before turning away. 

As the animal ran for the far reaches of the Abandoned Valley, the Sorcerer saw the crest of the Patron seared into its left flank.

The girl shook her head and turned towards her father’s manor. 

The house was high enough to view the fields, orchards of unborn peaches, and forests of the family estate, as well as the village to the south. 

The manor was backlit by the coming sun, and the household would be coming awake to start the new day. 

The girl stretched her limbs to their limit and fled. 

She didn’t stop until she came to the garden of lilies encircling the house. 

The top bulbs peeked at her from above her head, but the girl had her gaze fixed on the massive door carved from the wood of peach trees. 

With her flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes, the girl could have been a refugee at the gates of sanctuary.

Then she touched her hair. 

The coil had come undone when she fell in the river, the golden tresses hung loose and tangled to her waist. 

She looked over the stains on her gown and paled, her fingers touching the remnants smeared across her face. When she faced the front door again, the shine dimmed from her eyes. 

The girl took several deep breaths before following the path to the portico. Her hand shook reaching for the knob.

All was quiet when she stepped in.

She made her way down the hall running through the center of the house. 

One door opened to a salon on the west side, while the one on the east was closed. 

At the end of the corridor, twin doors opened to the dining room. 

From the west side, two servants swept in from a second door, which the Sorcerer assumed to be the kitchen. 

Their arms were laden with a basket of steaming bread, a cutting board with a round of cheese, a tray of sliced oranges, and a silver pitcher of coffee. 

They seemed unaware of the girl’s presence, arranging the breakfast at the far end of the table near the lone place setting. 

From the parlor, the rising sun shone through the eastern windows, gleaming along the wooden floors to fade away before the stairs.

The sudden creak in the floor made the younger maid start and look up. 

At the sight of her Patron’s daughter, she spilled the tray of oranges. 

The other servant turned and scowled at the stains on the pristine linen.  She opened her mouth to scold the other, but closed it when she saw who stood just beyond the doors. 

The Sorcerer suspected this must be the girl’s personal maid when the woman curtseyed. 

She looked over her mistress, taking in the ruined gown, unkempt hair and grimy face, and paled more than the younger maid.

The servants looked at each other and back to the girl, all three standing motionless, a temporary tableau of panic until the heavy tread coming down the stairs spurred them to action. 

The older maid hurried to place the tray of oranges over the soiled tablecloth, the younger poured a stream of coffee into a china cup, and the girl turned to meet her father. 

The Sorcerer also held his breath, knowing that what he wanted depended on the Patron’s reaction.   

His boots appeared first as he stepped down from the landing. 

The Patron would be working in the fields again that morning. He was dressed in peasant garb, and there was a permanent cake of mud around the soles of his boots. 

His torso still held vestiges of the formidable strength he possessed when he had claimed this estate as a young man. His large hands were calloused from years of hard work, the mark of a farmer. 

Yet his hands were also those of a nobleman, his fingers scrubbed each day, his nails rounded and clean of dirt. 

The Patron stopped when he saw his daughter, eyes wide with surprise. 

He opened his mouth as if to speak. 

Then his gaze dropped. 

As he took in the girl’s appearance, he flushed and his lips clamped in a tight line. 

He shook his head, flicked his eyes away, and descended the last stretch of stairs, to step past the girl to the dining parlor. His manner was stately when he claimed his seat at the end of the table.

The girl stared after her father, the high color draining from her cheeks.  Her lips trembled and empty swallows rippled down her throat as she fought to regain her poise.   

The maids shifted their regard between their Patron and his daughter.  He said nothing until he had taken a few sips of coffee. 

Then he placed a few orange slices on his plate and reached for the bread, nodding at his daughter with a glance to her maid.

“I think she needs to attend to her toilette.”

“Yes, Patron.”

The rigid features of the older servant relaxed.  She left her position at table to approach her mistress and curtseyed to her again.

“Would you like me to draw you a bath, Miss?”

As the last of the liquid cloud dissipated, the polite smile and empty eyes of the aging lady’s maid faded from the Sorcerer’s mind, yet the well-modulated voice lingered. 

Miss, he wondered, frowning. Miss. 

How strange that her own maid should address her in such a common manner, even if she was the only person in the entire village who spoke to the girl. 

His eyes snapped open. 

He’d forgotten the Patron had never given his daughter a name. 

The Sorcerer of the Caverns leaned back into the pillows of blood red velvet, smiling up at the bright sky at the end of the tunnel. 

She would be back.