How Bright He Burns
You might think me mad that I never asked to see his true face. What proper woman would act in such a way when a strange man comes to her bedchamber past midnight?
The servants had warned me of the odd things that happened on the moors in the build-up to a full moon, but I didn’t think a wyldling would ever come for me, a governess with barely a coin to her name. Lady Farthing, Lord Farthing, and little Abigail had welcomed me into their home: what more could I ever want? If I wanted to, I could simply exist with the knowledge I was giving Abby a good education until she too became a lady — and then perhaps I could retire to some convent in the north. It wouldn’t have been a bad life.
And, again, what would any wyldlings have wanted with me? I had no magic in my bloodline. My mother had once fancied herself a witch, but my father had stamped that out of her well enough. I still heard her screams in my dreams. Perhaps that was why I went away as soon as I came of age and knew I would have to make a life for myself on my own. No lord was going to show up with a fortune and tell me my fate would be decided by his whims. No, I would not want that life anyway. It would remind me too much of the way my father had cloistered my mother away as if she were no more than a doll to play with at his leisure.
That was why I should have turned away the stranger who had come to my chamber. He did not belong in the hallowed halls of Gallowsway with its impenetrable walls to keep out monsters and mayhem. I could smell the whiffs of smoke and sulfur that belonged to the afterbreath of magic.
“Please,” he said, somewhat forcefully, “I need shelter for a few hours.”
I could have used my talisman — the locket I wore, the one thing my mother had given to me that was blessed with her protection — to banish him from the grounds. His features were all wrong, twisted, obviously the work of some kind of glamour to mask what he really was as a wyldling.
But he was bleeding from wounds on his right arm. His blood ran red, the same as mine or any other human’s. Maybe this quirk, this subtlety, was what made me take pity on him.