The hood was itchy and smelled faintly of mothballs and other more unpleasant scents. I could see nothing through the thick black material, my world was tuned to faint sounds and unexpected touches. My knees ached; they had been pressed against the cold concrete floor for what felt like hours but could just have easily been minutes. Time seemed to flow above and around me, completely bypassing my current blight. I felt utterly alone as I knelt amongst the wizards, waiting for their verdict and my own fate.
I had woken like this, not knowing where I was or even who stood around me. I had screamed for a while, but it did nothing but serve to leave my throat raw and dry. I could feel thick tears gushing down my cheeks, as if the very water in my body sensed the danger and attempted to flee before it was too late. After the screaming I attempted pleading, desperately calling to anyone who could help me. I'm not sure how I knew I wasn't alone in that room but I felt it with a certainty.
It wasn't long before all attempts at speech had left me exhausted and I fell silent and waited in my own private torment, my own thoughts the only company. Each horror of the night flickered through my brain as if it played highlights over and over again.
Eventually, I heard the low murmurs before I realised people were speaking, I couldn't tell what it was they said; their voices nothing more than whispers and muffled still further by the thick material of the hood. I twisted my head attempting to identify which direction they came from, but before I could manage it the hood was suddenly yanked roughly from my face.
I blinked quickly in the sudden glaring light and it took a moment for my eyes to adjust before I could make out any details of the room. When I did I wished for the hood once more, anything to hide from the men that stood before me. I was knelt in the middle of a cold stone room, the walls lit by torches that flickered all around me. The room was circular, a low wooden bench sweeping across the wall in front of me. Upon the bench sat three men, each staring towards another man that stood in front of me.
He was wearing a deep purple robe and he was as old if not older than the other man I had seen. His face was warped into a sneer, his expression filled with contempt and I had the distinct notion that he hated being here.
"Warlock.." his voice was clipped and precise, no effort wasted on emotion of any kind. "You stand accused of breaking the third law of magic. How do you plead?"
I stared at him, my hands bound behind my back. I felt small and alone before these men and could only stammer incoherently. "Wha? What?"
"Do you deny it?" His voice cut through my own attempts at speech.
"Please, I don't know what you are talking about."
"You broke the third law of magic. You forced another to do your bidding by entering their mind, and when a Warden of this council sought to arrest you another breach occurred. Warlock's like you deserve nothing but death." He spat the final words, clearly disgusted by the entire matter.
The door behind me opened with a clatter, footsteps crossing the floor towards me. All eyes snapped towards the intruder and I craned my neck to see who it was. I couldn't move enough to see but after a moment he spoke and it was no longer necessary.
"She clearly knows nothing of the laws Merlin. She had never even heard of magic before and yet you believe that she was somehow trained to act in this way?"
The figure in blue jumped to his feet almost as soon as the door was opened, his long strides taking him quickly across the floor towards me. He intercepted Harry a step behind me and spoke in a whisper that I could just about make out.
"Harry, don't do this. You are already at odds with the council and I cannot protect you forever."
"This is the right thing to do and you know it. She is barely ten years old, how can she be a Warlock? Come on, you don't seriously believe this do you?"
The Merlin's voice cut through the conversation, interrupting matters with a sneer. "Regardless, ignorance of the law is no defence."
"No? Then perhaps we had better go about searching for a defence instead of condemning an innocent girl to death." The Merlin's face showed a brief flicker of anger at these words, it lasted only a moment before he turned and moved over to sit at the bench.
"Then please, pray continue and defend the Warlock."
"Harry, be careful, the rest of the council is away. He holds all of the votes for those absent. There is nothing I can do here."
"Relax old friend, I've got this." The man in blue moved away from us at this, his head low as he sat once more on the bench.
Harry came round to stand before me at last, his eyes did not once look at me so I couldn't tell how confident he really felt. All I knew for sure was that the Merlin was glaring colding towards me and my only hope was this boy who seemed to live a life constantly at the edge of danger.
"When I first met this girl tonight she showed a complete lack of knowledge concerning magic. She knew nothing of circles, warlocks, wardens or the laws. Yet I cannot deny that she is not a mundane, this is clear."
"Ha, so you admit it!" the Merlin clapped his hands together in satisfaction.
"I admit she is no mundane, but nor is she what we would deem normal. I could sense no aura around her, she showed none of the signs of any practitioner I have ever come across. Even Morgan could sense nothing until she actively drew on her source."
"This proves nothing, she cast that spell and thus is guilty of breaking the law."
"She is ten at the most, how could she even have access to her source? Most Wizards don't achieve such ability until they reach thirteen at least and a Wizard has unlocked their abilities. And even then, to produce a strike capable of breaking through a Warlock’s mental defences? Surely this is not possible."
"The purpose of this trial is not to ascertain how she learnt such abilities. The case is simple - did she break the law and if she did she is sentenced to death."
Harry had stood defiantly before the other wizards throughout his speech but at the Merlin's words he seemed to deflate somewhat. His head turning towards his friend and finding no solace.
I accepted it then, knew that I could do nothing more. Third time and the luck finally ran out. I had no tears left to shed and instead resolved myself to fix the man responsible with a stare filled with all of my contempt and rage. I assume the effect was somewhat ruined by the muck and streaks of tears that coated my face. I know it didn't achieve anything because he didn't even look at me.
Suddenly the room seemed to freeze, all motion stopped from everyone I could see. Even the flickering of the candles ceased to exist. I couldn’t even muster surprise anymore; the night had been filled with too many strange events for me to find anything new surprising.
“Hello,” I ventured, my voice sounding strangely muted as if it was travelling through thick material. I didn’t really expect an answer, but I had to try. “Hello.”
“Hello Lily,” the voice came from behind me and I snapped my neck around sharply to try to meet whoever was speaking. “We meet again at last.”
“Who are you? And what do you mean again?”
“True, you were very small the last time we met.” The man moved around in front of me and of all the things I had seen tonight he was the strangest. He had brilliant green hair that grew in spikes atop his head and yet seemed perfectly maintained as if he had only just arranged them fashionably. Something that I couldn’t define told me that he wasn’t exactly...normal. I know, I know. That doesn’t really sound sane after all the things I had seen. But even compared to all that, he was...different.
He moved around the room, staring into the faces of the wizards one by one, none of them even fluttered an eyelid.
“We don’t have long I’m afraid so I will have to talk quickly.”
“I still don’t know who you are.”
“Well, you could say that I am your guardian angel.” His voice was deep and melodious and he flicked his wrist as he spoke to add to the drama.
“You’re an angel?”
“Well, not in as much as the literal sense. You could also say that I am your uncle, on your father’s side.”
“You know my dad? How can that be, he doesn’t know anything about magic does he?”
“What? Of course he does.” The shock snapped through my new layers of anti-surprise, apparently I could find new levels. My ‘uncle’ fortunately didn't seem to notice as he was suddenly deeply interested in Harry. Eventually he seemed satisfied as his eyes snapped back to mine and his focus seemed to envelop me, “What, oh you mean your mundane father. No I mean your real father. He is my brother. Now hush, we need to get you out of this mess.”
As he finished speaking Harry moved at last, his eyes flashing at the frozen wizards around the room. Before he even turned to look at me and the new comer he gave a large sigh, “Just when I thought life couldn’t get more complicated the Fae get involved.”
“That’s no way to speak of me Harry.”
“Look, I don’t need any more complications right now. Tell the queen that I don’t owe her anything.”
“For once wizard she has sent me to ask a small favour of you. She seeks your assistance in ensuring that the girl lives.”
I’d had enough, they were talking as if I wasn’t even in the room and I knew that they would continue if I didn’t speak up. “Oi, I’m right here you know. What are you two babbling on about?”
The two of them twisted their eyes towards me and Harry nodded towards the other. “He is one of the Fae, judging by his arrogant attitude and the fact that everyone doesn’t seem to be moving I would say that he is pretty high up in one of the courts.”
The Fae bowed deeply at this. “What’s a Fae?”
“A fairey.” Harry didn’t even batter an eyelid at this so I assumed he was serious.
“What like Tinkerbell?”
The Fae winced sharply. “I am a Lord of the Winter Court of the Fae and would have killed you for such an insult if you were not so important to the Queen. Also your father is my brother, so I suppose he would be annoyed if I killed you.”
“Why does the Queen want her to live?”
“She is important Harry, just accept that and save her. The Queen will owe you.”
“Who is my father?” but before I even finished the sentence he had vanished. The others in the room began to move once more and it seemed they had spotted nothing of the conversation that had taken place for the Merlin still stood waiting for a response.
"Never get involved with the Lords of Fae,” Harry muttered under his breath and I’m sure that only I could hear it, “I claim the right to be her mentor and seek a place at the Academy." The sentence was quiet, spoke in a measured tone and the entire room seemed to take a breath as it ended. The blue robed figure shook his head gently in dismay, unable to meet his friend’s eye.
"He can't do that!" Morgan spat from the bench, venom filling his voice.
The Merlin ignored the outburst, his eyes locked on Harry. Slowly he leant forwards his fingers interlocked and steepled before him, "Do you know what this means Akers?"
"I know and I accept."
"Then so be it, she will be your apprentice. Morgan will be tasked with ensuring that you follow procedure. This meeting is adjourned; until we meet again...I'm sure it won't be all that long."
The Merlin strode out of the room without a backward glance, I saw the small smile that spread across his lips as his cloak whipped past me. The sight sickened me, this man had never met me before and yet he seemed to loathe me. I shuddered as one by one each of the Wizards stood and moved past me, none even looking down at me as they left. Eventually only me, Harry and the blue robed councillor remained. He gained his feet slowly, a pained expression crossing his face as he struggled to look towards us.
"Harry, what have you done?" his voice was a mere whisper, barely audible above the flickering of the torches.
"I have done what the council should have, I have spared the life of a young Wizard that shows potential."
"We are at war Harry, whether the world accepts that or not. We do not have the luxury to spend on potential risks like this. We are spread too thin as it is."
"It is exactly because we are at war that we must," his voice rose as he spoke, the fire of determination filling his words with a passion that had been lacking. "If we resort to branding each new Wizard that makes a mistake as a Warlock then we are no better than the enemy. We are killing without remorse, killing the very people who will save us in the end!"
"You are still young, you didn't see the last war. You didn't witness the horrors, the fear. You cannot understand."
"Maybe I don't, but if murder is the result then maybe I don't want to." He took two swift strides to stand by my side, a hand gripping my shoulder. "Look at her Thomas, tell me that she is a killer and I will abide by your decision."
I swallowed nervously, my eyes opening wide in shock once more. I was unsure how much more of this I could take but the hand on my shoulder squeezed a little tighter and I felt the warmth that flooded from the connection.
"No I cannot say that,” Thomas bowed his head once more, failing to meet my eyes. "But Harry, how could you offer your life for hers? You know that Morgan will take any opportunity to say that you have failed and condemn you both to death."
"I know old man, so we will just have to ensure that we don't fail won't we."
Suddenly the bonds that held my hands were cut and I could move them once more. My shoulders ached from having been pinned behind my back for hours; slowly I rubbed some sensation back into my wrists as I stood. My hands were black with soot; thick rivers of sweat had mixed to create a layer of muck that contrasted sharply with the thick bands of red across each of my wrists where the rope had cut into my flesh. My hands trembled slightly as I stared at them, unable to look at either of the Wizards in the room.
"Come on, let's get out of this room and find somewhere a little more comfortable to discuss some things."
Thomas led the way, striding from the room with confidence. Harry followed but stopped at the door when he realised I hadn't moved from the spot. Slowly he turned back to look at me.
"Lily? Are you coming?"
"I want to go home." Now that everything was over I found myself filled with a rage, all of the fear had faded away to be replaced by red hot anger. "I want nothing to do with any of you. You came into our house and set it on fire,"
"Technically the fire wasn't..." his voice trailed away as he caught the expression on my face.
"You took me away without even telling my parents I was alive. You locked me in a room and discussed having me executed."
"On the bright side, you weren't executed. I know that it doesn't seem like much of a bright side but in the years to come I'm confident that you will look back on this as an important point of the night."
"MY PARENTS DON'T KNOW I AM ALIVE!" My voice filled the room, colliding with the stone walls to echo again and again. He didn't even flinch. It was annoying.
"That would be one of the things we have to discuss. I left them a note explaining matters."
"You explained all of this in a 'note'?" I asked him dubiously.
"Well, maybe not all of this but definitely most of it. At least some of it was written in the note. I may have glossed over the whole trial issue and Warlocks and generally everything to do with magic in any way whatsoever. But the fact that you lived was expressly written."
"What did the note say?"
"Well the exact words aren't important. People always say that it is the thought that counts right? I definitely thought about it, I can remember because I thought the post-it was an unusual pink colour."
"What did the note say?"
"It was very eloquent, short, but beautifully written."
"Tell me exactly what the note said." My voice was cold and level, each word punctuated crisply to leave no uncertainty.
Lily definitely not dead. Just to be sure taken to hospital to check.
I wasn't sure if he was joking or not, I wanted him to be and that was why I strongly suspected that he wasn't. Nothing had gone right so far so why should this. I moved across the room as quickly as I could. Stepping out into a hallway that was lit in both directions by torches. No windows could be seen anywhere and I had no idea which direction to move.
"You will want to take a left." His voice was soft behind me, the amusement evident.
It served only to stoke my anger further and I turned to my left, striding confidently down the passage with his footsteps following behind me.