“Welcome back to Whitehall, Lady Barb.”
“Thank you, Grandmaster,” Lady Barb said. “It’s good to be back.”
He didn’t say another word until they were in his office, surrounded by the most complex and powerful wards in the Allied Lands, and they both had a glass of wine in their hands.
“I understand that you had a chance to observe our Child of Destiny in Zangaria,” he said, bluntly. “What do you make of her?”
“A bundle of contradictions,” Lady Barb admitted, after a long moment. “She’s smart, but she seems to lack practical knowledge and awareness. She’s powerful, but she seems almost reluctant to use that power. She’s loyal to her friends, to the point where they can get her into trouble. Where does she come from?”
The Grandmaster lifted an eyebrow. “What makes you think she comes from anywhere special?”
“Her … attitudes, for want of a better word,” Lady Barb said. “I was given to understand that she was brought up in a sorcerer’s tower. She simply doesn’t act like any of the other children I’ve known who had sorcerers for fathers. At times, she can be more caring and sympathetic than anyone else, but at other times she simply doesn’t realise that there is a problem. She acts more like a visiting tourist than someone who belongs in Zangaria.”
“Where she was ennobled, after saving the lives of the Royal Family,” the Grandmaster said, dryly. “But you’re right. She doesn’t come from here at all.”
Lady Barb listened, feeling a growing sense of unreality, as the Grandmaster explained.
“Lady Emily was kidnapped out of her world by Shadye,” the Grandmaster told her. “She’s from another world.”
“Impossible,” Lady Barb said, when he had finished. “There are no such things as alternate worlds.”
“It isn’t a very well studied branch of magic,” the Grandmaster said, shaking his head. “But yes, alternate worlds do exist – and Lady Emily was taken from one.”
“And saved by Void,” Lady Barb said, unable to hide the bitterness in her voice. “Do you trust him with a girl of unknown potential?”
“No,” the Grandmaster said. He looked down at his desk. “Why do you think I was so quick to agree to allow her to come to Whitehall?”
Lady Barb studied his face for a long moment. “Do you trust her?”
“I think that she is a decent human being,” the Grandmaster said. “On the other hand, some of her virtues are also weaknesses. Do you realise that she is intensely loyal to her friends?”
“You mean she might be loyal to Void,” Lady Barb said. “Do you trust him?”
“With great power comes great instability,” the Grandmaster said. “And a certain lack of concern for everyone else.”
“That isn’t an answer,” Lady Barb said.
“We know very little about Emily’s life before she was kidnapped,” the Grandmaster said, ignoring her. “I believe that it wasn’t a very happy one, as she has shown no particular interest in returning home. On the other hand, her life here hasn’t been very happy either.”
“She’s wealthy and famous,” Lady Barb pointed out.
“She was targeted by a necromancer for death – and then enslavement,” the Grandmaster countered. “One of her father figures is a rogue half-mad sorcerer. Another – Sergeant Harkin – died at her hand. She had no choice, but she still took it badly.”
“I’d only heard rumours,” Lady Barb said. “Is that true?”
“In a manner of speaking,” the Grandmaster said. “She really had no choice.”
He explained, briefly.
Lady Barb listened in disbelief. “She knows how to perform a necromantic rite?”
“It isn’t difficult to master the theory,” the Grandmaster reminded her. “Do you like Lady Emily, personally?”
“I could,” Lady Barb admitted. “She’s a decent person – and I honestly don’t think that she intended to cause problems for the Allied Lands. But on the other hand … there’s a sense that she thinks she knows what is right, always. She has a touch of Void’s arrogance without the willingness to believe that the ends justify the means.”
She shrugged. “And when the time came, she slipped into the castle to save Princess Alassa – her friend – and the rest of the Royal Family,” she added. “Someone like that shouldn’t be dismissed easily.”
“True,” the Grandmaster agreed. “Will you watch her?”
“I only agreed to stay at Whitehall for a year,” Lady Barb said, in some irritation. “You know how I feel about Healing. But yes, I will watch her.”
“Good,” the Grandmaster said. “Because, just like her Guardian, she’s a rogue element. And rogue elements cause trouble.”