Henry didn’t know for how long he had slept, but the crimson light of sunset was streaming in through the curtains of his westward-facing window when he awoke. He felt disoriented, but refreshed, and the sick feeling was gone.
The dog, Raif, was still dozing on the mattress beside him when he rose. He took care not to disturb the creature as he eased himself out of bed and onto the floor.
The room was warmer than he had expected it to be, but it wasn’t yet warm enough for him to go about in naught but his trousers. He collected his tunic from the floor and pulled it on before stepping into his boots and buckling them up the sides. It was only then that he noticed Fiona, slumped in an armchair beside the hearth, clearly asleep. Her freckled face was a mask of calm, framed in a torrent of hair so fiery red that it rivaled the flames of the fire beside her.
A tingling shiver—similar to the familiar touch of magic—ran up his spine. For a moment, he was tempted to draw near, so close that he might feel the warmth of her body upon his skin, to breathe in the smell of her, but he tore himself away from that idea and trudged through the curtained archway that led to the balcony outside of his room.
Lord Henry Thomas Mantoux Edmund of Carvil, mage, murderer and overall nervous wreck, rested his elbows atop the balcony wall and hated himself. What was wrong with him? He still clutched Seymour’s pocket watch in his palm, and the talisman’s sacredness had not faded in the least. And yet—and yet here he was, falling for someone else.
Then he snorted at the foolishness of his own thoughts. Mere hours before, someone had tried to murder him, and now his chief concern was over his simultaneous obsession with both his mentor’s niece and a male Aechyed. Stupid. Shallow.
But of course, Henry had always been stupid and shallow. Why should he be surprised about it now?
Henry began to laugh—quietly, mirthlessly, inexplicably. He caught himself on the lip of the balcony wall before his legs could give out from the force of the fit, letting the pocket watch clatter to the balcony floor as he threw his hands forth in search of support. The rough, rounded stone bit at the skin of his hands, but still he put more pressure into the action, desperately fighting to remain upright.
Too late, he realized that, as a result of his fit of hysterics, he was loosing control of his magic. His hands burned as his power struggled to escape; sparks danced at his fingertips. But he could not stop it, not any more than he could stop his freakish laughter. The magic forced itself through the flesh of his hands in icy barbs, tearing his skin, spilling his blood upon the cold sandstone. A cry of pain punctuated his silent snickering, and he reared back, pressing his bleeding palms upon his knees.
What had happened? Never before had spell, charm or curse injured him as he had cast it. What was different?
One look at the balcony wall was enough to answer all of his questions.
There were several thick, thorny cables of plant-life running along the top of the wall, draping themselves to and fro over it, creeping ever forward like a strange sort of worm. The briars had sprung from the stone beneath his hands—it was their thorns that had punctured his skin, not his magic; although, that was a disputable point, as it was clearly his magic that had caused their genesis.
Fascinated, he watched as the briars climbed the walls of the Castle Carviliet.