The Blight of Muirwood (Legends of Muirwood #2)(3) by Jeff Wheeler

The Aldermaston slowly stood and walked to another chest. He gently opened it. “You say nothing?” he asked.

“I am too…I am too startled to speak. What about my duties in the kitchen?”

He looked closely at her, squinting. “You will be replaced with another helper. It happens often enough. It would not be possible for you to do both duties, Lia. You must learn to fight, to hunt, to handle animals.” His gaze penetrated her soul. “You will memorize the secret tunnels beneath the grounds for errands that I will send you on. Be one of my advisors, like Prestwich and Pasqua. And Martin. You are to be one of the Abbey’s defenders now. Since you are so talented with the Medium already, you will even handle some of the outer defenses, the stones that warn us of danger. The stones that defend us. That is a duty that Jon could never fulfil because the Medium never heeded him. You are different.”

Become a hunter? Her? The thought of leaving the kitchen made her ill. Leave Pasqua and Sowe again so soon? Her experience with Colvin in the Bearden Muir and Winterrowd was hardly a fortnight ago and she finally felt safe again. Now the Aldermaston ruined it with his words. Yet at the same time, she was excited, thrilled, that he trusted her despite her youth. That he needed her. That the Medium needed her.

Her mind was so full, her question came out a little foolishly. “Has there ever been a girl before?”

“Pardon me, Lia?”

“As your hunter – I mean, as the Aldermaston’s hunter. Has it always been a boy?”

His eyebrows furrowed. “Does that matter?”

It was difficult to explain her feelings. “What will everyone say? They will wonder why you chose me and not someone strong like Getman Smith, or some other wretched like Asdin who you trust with messages.” They will mock me, she thought, her eyes boring into his.

He was quiet a moment, his expression beginning to twist into annoyance.

“Fools mock,” he answered gruffly. “Tongues wag. Babies cry. And goats bleat.” He reached down into the chest he hovered near and pulled out a bundle of soft blue fabric. “They would fuss and fret no matter who I set in that position. Many did the same when Jon became the Abbey’s hunter. But only because they do not understand that I did not choose him. Neither did I choose you. Muirwood is guided by the Medium, not by me.” He paused and studied her face. “Tomorrow, the training begins. Tonight though, you must dance.” He approached and handed her the bundle, which she discovered to be a new cloak and dress.

His voice was thick with emotion. “I cannot believe you are old enough for the Whitsunday festival. I knew this time would come. I always knew it. The night of the storm when you stole the ring. I was so angry with you, that you stole something valuable from my chamber. A gold ring. Yet the Medium forbid me to reclaim it from you or to chastise you. You still wear it around your neck. The Medium was aware that you would need it. And you did, in the Bearden Muir. Just as it is aware that you need this experience now. Here, take these. Your old cloak and dress are fit for rags now. Pasqua has been telling me for some time that you are still growing. And since tonight is the maypole dance, we thought it best if you and Sowe had new dresses and girdles. Go child. Return in the morning for the sword and the rest instead of bringing me my breakfast.”

Lia bit her lip. “Does Pasqua know?”

The Aldermaston shook his head. “Not yet. She will know tonight, and I will tell her.”

Lia took the soft bundle and hugged it to her chest. Her feelings swarmed, threatening her with tears, but she clenched them back, refusing to cry in front of him. For a moment, for an instant, she had hoped he was going to tell her that she could become a learner at the Abbey. Colvin had promised her that. Would he not have made the arrangements for her to start when the new first years arrived? More than anything, she wanted a tome of her own and the implements of scriving. She wanted to read about the mastons of the past and how they had learned to tame and be tamed by the Medium. That was what she wanted, not becoming a hunter. The experience in the Bearden Muir still haunted her dreams at night. She never wanted to go back there.

Closing her eyes, Lia nodded and turned away from the Aldermaston, uncertain what she should be feeling towards him. Gratitude? Dismay? Trust? Betrayal? Why were her feelings always so tangled and confusing with him?

She hurried out of the manor house to the kitchen. The sun was low in the sky and sinking fast. The festival would begin soon. Everything in her world was about to change.

Desperately, she wanted to talk to someone, to spill her feelings and know she would be listened to. Someone who knew about facing their fears and rising above them. Her heart wrenched with confusion. It was not Sowe she wanted to tell. It was Colvin. She was grateful that she would see him soon. For word had spread all day that many knight-mastons who had received their collars and spurs at Winterrowd had come to celebrate Whitsunday at Muirwood.