From the cover
The sorcerer arrived on a Saturday.
Sarah, barely six years old, squeezed my hand as we walked the school corridors toward the headmaster's parlor. I'd allowed her to wear her gray cloak indoors because the morning fires hadn't yet been laid. Fog pressed in against the high windows, darkening the stone hall. For Sarah's sake, I kept a smile on my face. My fear could not win today.
"Will he beat me, Henrietta? I mean, Miss Howel?" She often forgot to use my last name, but I'd only become a teacher two months before. Sometimes when I stood at the head of the classroom to give a lesson, I'd look at the empty place on the student bench where I used to sit, and feel like a fraud.
"A sorcerer would never harm children," I said, squeezing her hand in return. Granted, I'd never met a sorcerer, but Sarah didn't need to know that.
She smiled and sighed. How simple to reassure her. How difficult to reassure myself, for why would a royal sorcerer travel to Yorkshire for an audience with a child? Was the war against the Ancients going so poorly that he needed young girls, armed with sewing needles and a little French, for the front lines?
No. He had heard about the fires.
We entered the parlor to find two men seated before the hearth, sipping their tea. This was the only heated room in the entire school, and I rubbed my numb fingers in appreciation. Sarah raced past the men to warm her hands and, embarrassingly, her backside before the fireplace.
"Miss Howel!" our headmaster snapped, leaping up from his chair. "Control that child at once."
I motioned Sarah back to me, and we curtsied together.
"Good day, Mr. Colegrind," I murmured. Colegrind was a pale, hook-nosed gentleman with gray whiskers and a gray personality. When I was five, he'd terrified me. Now that I was sixteen, I found him repulsive.
He frowned. "Why does Sarah wear her cloak?"
"The fires haven't been lit, sir," I said, stating what should have been bloody obvious. Dreadful man. "I didn't want her shivering before our illustrious guest." Colegrind sniffed. I gave him my least sincere smile.
The other man, who had been surveying our scene with a cup of tea, rose to his feet.
"It's all right," the sorcerer said. "Little girls must keep warm." He knelt before Sarah. "How are you, my dear?"
This man couldn't be a sorcerer. I'd always pictured the royal Order as being filled with humorless men who wore simple robes and smelled of cabbage water. This gentleman was more like a grandfather from a storybook, with a shock of curling salt-and-pepper hair, dimpled cheeks, and warm brown eyes. He swept off his cape, trimmed with sable fur, and wrapped it around Sarah. She hugged herself.
"There, now," he said. "Just the right fit." He nodded to me. "You're very good to take such care of her."
I lowered my eyes. "Thank you, sir," I mumbled. As he stood, I noticed something hanging in a sheath by his side. It was the length of a sword, but it had to be his sorcerer's stave, the great instrument of his power. I'd heard of such things but never glimpsed one. I gasped without thinking.
Agrippa patted the handle. "Would you like to see it?" he asked.
Bloody fool, I was supposed to be unnoticeable today. For once, I was grateful for Colegrind's interruption.
"Master Agrippa," Colegrind said, "shall we proceed?"
The sorcerer guided Sarah to a chair while I remained by the wall, invisible as always. Schoolteachers don't stand out naturally, and I...