Griffin in the Tomatoes, Letter IV

This is the last of a four-part short story. The first letter is here.

March 10, 19–

Baron,

I will never cease berating myself for forgetting that Kathrine does social magics—and after that I will never, ever cease berating myself for assuming Rhysdaal makes the same mistakes I make. I promised you a full explanation, and as I wish never to repeat my mistakes again, I shall discipline myself by writing it down in black and white.

The day you sent your letter I was out assisting at a difficult birth all day and when I received your letter I was bone-tired. That’s not an excuse for what I did, only an explanation. I read until I saw that Kathrine had arranged some small magical presentation for your birthday and I lost all common sense.

I was convinced that it was up to me to go and right the wrong and fix the damage done.

Foolish, foolish, foolish. I, of all people, ought to know that there is no excuse for not following a griffin’s instructions when it comes to magic, but I threw on my hat and my cloak and ran out the door exactly like some demented fishwoman. I said to myself; I have ruined everything—exactly like any of it rested on my shoulders at all in the first place! And you nearly died for my arrogance.

Because you see, what Rhysdaal and I knew and you did not was that your guest was a particularly foul kind of Fae called a Red Cap. Red Caps are not common, but they have two distinct tells: first, they are immortal as long as they keep their red hats soaked in the blood of their victims, and second, they increase their strength (both physical and magical) when they are in the presence of human magicians. It is possible to isolate a Red Cap from any human magic residue until it is too weak to overpower its victim. Without blood, its hat dries out and it dies on its own.

This was the reason I had to stay away from Rushdon House. I also could not speak to you about this because it is a touchy business accusing a fae of anything, and Rhys and I did not want to bring a fairy war down on you and your wife’s heads. I mean no offense, but you are a particularly easy person to read and we feared that Mr. Hastings might understand something in your manner.

All of this vanished from my mind as soon as I heard that Kathrine’s magic was set to go at a scheduled time. Illusory social magics are not powerful, but they might easily be enough for Mr. Hastings to overpower you, and with no one in the house to hear any cry for assistance, you would be helpless.

My horse was still saddled from my midwifery business, so I threw myself on her back and was galloping down the road in moments. I cannot tell for sure, but I think that Mr. Hastings sensed the moment I crossed the boundary onto your lands. That, I believe, was when he raised such a ruckus calling you up to the attic—sufficiently far enough upstairs that Rhys would have difficulty fitting round the bends and passing through the locked doors.

I ran into a completely silent house. No butler, no Kathrine, no maids. And no Rhys. That was the most terrifying thing. Red Caps are vicious creatures, and even a creature as large and powerful as a griffin can be overcome by a trap. I shouted for Rhys and heard only echoes. And far away, some scuffles and bumps.

Up the stairs I went—all three flights—and down the hall to a locked door that thudded with impacts. I was not thinking straight, even then. Instead of getting a poker or some physical implement, I said a word and blew the door straight off its hinges.

Dramatic, but fatal. I saw the change come over Hastings even as the door fell away. Even as you planted a nice right hook in his midsection (very neatly done) the residue of my magic hit him and he swelled, his muscles bulging, his height telescoping. Everything turned. In an instant, you were pinned and there was blood everywhere and the knife flashing in the light again and again.

I have never been so horrified or so helpless. Kathrine, who is a better friend than I deserve, would be right to hate me, as I was almost the instrument of your death. I couldn’t do any more magic, obviously, and against a creature as hulking and powerful as Mr. Hastings then was, I had no chance of physical attack either. I did the only thing left to do; I screamed for Rhys.

The window shattered and he was there, all wings and teeth and terrible paws. In a moment, he had knocked Mr. Hastings off you and was shaking him like a terrier shakes a rat. I saw Mr. Hastings’ hat tumble to the side and I ran for it and threw it on the fire. It burned.

I didn’t stay to watch; I ran out of the room because the longer I stayed the stronger the Red Cap got. It pained me more than I can say to leave you lying there bleeding alone. Fortunately I met Kathrine coming up the stairs, just home from the city, and sent her up to fetch you out at once. I may say, you have a treasure of a wife, to regret her pique and come home just in time to save your life. But you already knew that.

And that’s the most of my tale. I need not mention the vast amount of stitching up you required, or how long it will be before your scars fade. Kathrine says neither of us come out of this situation looking very impressive and I must agree with her. I imagined myself more important than I am, and you ignored the very specific advice of your own magician! A sorry lot the both of us.

Sincerely,

Margaret Saylor,

Magician at Attendale, Yewsford Village

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