I grasped my thumb and pulled. It separated at the knuckle with ease.
“Wow!” said Emily with eyes as big as saucers. “That’s brilliant! How’d you do that?”
“It’s simple, watch.” I turned my arm so my palm was facing her then bent my thumb back.
“Now, take your other hand and put your index finger over your other thumb like this. Now when you put them together it looks like a normal thumb. See.”
“You’re so good at tricks. Do you have another one?”
I reached into my pocket and pulled out my lucky coin.
“OK. Now you see it. Abra-ca-dabra! Now you don’t.” The coin disappeared from my hand.
“Bring it back now,” she said giggling.
“Right, let’s see. Abra-ca-dabra!” I flourished my hands and nothing happened. I feigned surprise. “Huh, where could it have gone? It should have worked, I don’t under….” I reached behind the young girl’s ear and pulled back my hand to reveal the coin.
“Amazing!” She clapped and bounced up and down. It was darling. “Can you show me more tricks Master Johan?”
“In due time little one, in due time. For now though what do you say we go and get something to eat and I’ll teach you how to make the cook’s food disappear.”
She pouted and crossed her arms in mock defiance.
“Please, I remember the rules. I won’t tell anyone the secrets, I promise. I’ll do extra chores. Please?”
“Alright fine, but I really am hungry and if we don’t get downstairs soon, Cook will toss out the leftovers, then we’ll both be starved,” I said with pretend anger. “I’ll show you in the kitchen.”
We started down the hall to the stairs when I heard a most terrible noise.
“Emily, go into my study and shut the door. Do it now and don’t open it for any reason. No matter what you hear don’t open the door. I’ll come get you when it’s safe.”
She stood there staring at me in shock and disbelief.
“Run, Now!” I waited until she was inside and the door was shut before running to the main foyer.
The Queen and her man-at-arms stood waiting. They were obviously concerned.
“Master Johan, where is Emily?” the Queen asked.
“In my study. I’m the only one who can open the doors without being reduced to a pile of basic elements.”
“Are you sure?” asked Martin. “I would have bet a year’s wage that the enemy couldn’t have gotten this far and now look. Is your magic what it was?”
“My magic may be in question, but I assure you the study is safe. The wards on that room were placed there centuries ago by the first wizards. In fact my queen, I recommend you adjourn there now yourself. Martin and I can handle things.”
Martin grunted his approval and began to lead our queen upstairs to my study. With the queen and princess safely locked inside Martin turned to me.
“Are you sure of this?”
“Quite. Once Callahan gets here we will surrender the castle to him. I have made arrangements for Emily to live.”
“What of the queen?”
“She will be publicly disgraced and executed as planned. And what of you, are you prepared?”
Martin’s look was one of grim determination.
“I am prepared to die in defense of my queen, if that’s what you mean.” Martin unsheathed his sword and placed it across his chest in salute. “Our families have served this house for two hundred years. I know what must be done. I know righteous vengeance must be felt in the blood of the royal line so we may once again wield the old magic our families once governed. It doesn’t mean I have to like it though. So yes my brother, I am ready to die tonight.”
I clasped Martin’s hand. It seemed an inadequate gesture but it was all we had. The banging began at the front gate.
“Here they come,” said Martin.
The front doors exploded open with the unnatural force of a fetid wind. It blew up the stairs and struck us as if it were a fist. The enemy’s first battalion flooded the hall and charged toward us. Heads exploded as I cast the first volley of spells. Martin charged the remaining horde. He dispatched several of the attackers before falling in battle.
“Enough!” Callahan’s voice bellowed from below. “The wizard lives.” He ogled the castle interior taking inventory as he approached.
“Open the doors wizard and you and the wee girl live. You have ten seconds.”
I had to play it close.
“It will take longer than that, Callahan. You’ve won. I should think a few more minutes wouldn’t kill you.”
I felt my skin part as Callahan’s knife sliced across my cheek.
“Shut your mouth!” He was mere inches from my face. His spittle pelted me as he talked through clenched teeth. “Open the door now or die where you stand. The queen dies out here or in there from starvation. I don’t care, but if you want the little girl to live you’ll open the door now!”
I opened the door to my study for the last time. The queen stood with Emily behind her.
“My queen, I have failed you. Emily will be safe. Callahan has agreed to let me take her in exile.”
“It’s good to show a conquered people some compassion,” said Callahan. “After all, they will soon see their queen hung, drawn and quartered.”
“Master Johan, you have done well. Protect her with your life.” The queen brought the princess from behind her dress and pushed her towards me. “I love you Emily”
“I’ll see you dead before I’m twenty.” Emily stared at Callahan as his smile slowly faded. Vengeance boiled deep within the girl’s blood. I could feel ancient magic awaken in me. Callahan screamed and threw himself at her. I grabbed her young arm and with a loud pop the two of us disappeared from the castle.