The sound started softly — a mere rumble, an unsettling suggestion of movement that interrupted the chirping birds and the crackling fire. As the rumble grew, it shifted into the more tangible pounding of hooves on ground. This familiar sound signaled nothing but misfortune; it was the sound of visitors.
Sophie Lawrence peered cautiously through the curtain of her bedroom window. Mostly hidden, she watched as a single carriage followed by two uniformed riders made their way up the gravel driveway of her family’s country estate.
The carriage was like none she’d ever seen before. It was made completely of black and grey metal. There were no windows, no ornaments, no decorations whatsoever. So uniform was the design, she couldn’t even make out a door.
Her grip tightened on the heavy damask curtain as the carriage continued to thunder its way toward their home. It was pulled by four intimidatingly muscular brown horses. Never in Sophie’s life had she imagined she could be absolutely petrified of horses, but these beasts were nothing like the sleek, sophisticated Arabians in her father’s stables. These were war horses, horses bred for pulling supplies into battle, horses bred to pull a carriage full of dangerous prisoners.
She supposed that she was soon-to-be the dangerous prisoner.
Sighing, she closed her eyes tightly, her mind running wildly, trying to piece together the day’s events that had led to this moment. Earlier that morning over breakfast, a letter addressed to her father had arrived. Their butler, a punctilious sort of fellow with a romanesque nose — and a propensity to put said nose into business with which it sorely did not belong — entered the room.
“An urgent correspondence has arrived for you, sire. It is from the innkeeper in town,” he announced and offered the letter to her father.
After the letter slipped from his porcelain hands, he gave the family a perfect bow and retreated to the hallway just out of sight. Sophie knew exactly why that particular section of the hallway was his favorite place in the home to stand: it had excellent acoustics. He could eavesdrop upon the missive’s contents.
While Sophie had been busy with her musings over the butler, her father, the Earl of Munton, donned his reading spectacles. They had been sitting on the breakfast table, discarded next to that morning’s paper. The Earl opened the sealed envelope with a quizzical brow.
As he read the letter in silence, his face began to darken. His eyes narrowed, deepening the lines of crows feet that plagued their edges, and his lips turned down in an ever-deepening frown that caused Sophie to grip the table in anticipation. She was moments away from interrupting his reading, when he glanced up and removed his spectacles.
“We’ve been found out.” He sighed and tossed the letter onto the table.
“Whatever do you mean, my dear?” the Countess questioned, her toast in one hand and a marmalade-covered knife in the other.
“John Bagby has two men in the king’s service staying at his inn. One of his servants overheard them mention Sophie’s name last evening when she brought them their dinner.”
“May I?” Sophie asked, gesturing to the letter.
The Earl frowned deeply, as was his custom when Sophie asked to read. She was all too aware that he detested the very thought of allowing her to read anything but frivolous fiction, but this seemed to call for an exception.
“Please, Papa,” she begged, eyes searching his face.
“Oh, if you must,” he replied and handed it to her.
She opened it with shaking hands and quickly scanned its contents. It read:
As I recall, you have offered to reward me handsomely for any information pertaining to guests coming through my inn who might be looking for the charmed. I think I’ve got the sort of information as what you’re asking for.
Two fellows, one young and one old, arrived last evening, asking for a room. As you know, we’ve the finest rooms in town, nothing suspicious there.
Anyway, they tell me they have a team of horses and a carriage about two hours behind them and to have some space in my stable saved for them. Nothing out of the ordinary; that’s a pretty usual request, and I’m sure you’ll agree with that, My Lord.
As it were, about an hour after I showed them to their rooms, I sent my girl Bessie up with supper for the travelers, just as I would do under normal circumstances at that hour.
When Bessie returned to me, I asked her what she heard and saw in the room. I do this with all my customers, My Lord, nothing wrong with keeping a close eye, as I’m sure you’ll agree.
Right, well, my girl Bessie, she told me she heard these two fellows discussing some young lady named Sophie, and I got to remembering that that is the very name of your lovely daughter. Seemed a coincidence to me, so I went off to my room to sleep.
Well, this morning, I awoke bright and early to feed my rooster and hens myself, as is my custom, for I quite enjoy it. As I’m walking to their little coup, I happened to see the so-called carriage these two fellows had me prepare for out in the yard. Wouldn’t you know it, it’s a prison carriage for the charmed.
I went back inside and wrote you this letter, right quick, My Lord. I do believe this is just the sort of information you have asked me for, so I’ll have my messenger wait for my payment in your esteemed kitchens before returning to me.
“He’s dreadfully long winded,” remarked Sophie, tossing the letter onto the breakfast table.
“Yes, but that’s neither here nor there, my dear, for I fear you’ll be leaving us shortly, possibly even this very day,” the Earl replied.
At this, the Countess gasped. “Are you quite certain? Is there no chance that these men are just passing through?”
“There is a chance, I suppose, although slim.” The Earl stood and straightened his coat sleeves. “Rencraft!” he called, knowing the butler would not be far.
True to form, Rencraft waltzed through the door, lips pursed and eyes gleaming with glee at the drama he’d just witnessed. “You called, sire?”
“Yes, I am going to the kitchens to ask the messenger a few further questions. I need you to fetch my wallet from my study and bring it posthaste.” The Earl turned to his daughter, and remarked, “I suggest you retire to your room for the time being.”
“I’ll join you,” said her mother, and as soon as the Earl left the room, she added, “Let’s not pack your things just yet. I’m sure all of this is just a coincidental misunderstanding, sweet. Let’s not worry ourselves.”
“I’m not so sure,” mumbled Sophie, as her mother took her arm in hers and led her to her rooms.
And, as she had suspected, it had not been a coincidence as the Countess so hoped. A mere two hours later, Sophie heard the thundering sound of a heavy carriage being pulled by horses. After rushing to peek outside to confirm the worst, she turned to her mother. “They’re here,” she announced, worry causing her hands to shake.
The Countess said nothing in reply. Instead, she placed the needlework she had been pretending to do aside and got up from her favorite spot in Sophie’s room, a particularly plush armchair in front of the fireplace. She joined her daughter at the window, took Sophie’s previous spot behind the curtain, and looked out.
“My heavens. It looks as though his royal highness has sent General Malume himself to collect you. He’s the king’s brother, you know. What an honor,” she said, her voice dripping with anger and sarcasm.
Sophie gave an indelicate snort and left the window. She crossed the room to her armoire in search of her valise. “The king must believe that I’m quite powerful. He must not know what my charm is or I’m sure he would not have gone to all this trouble.” She began to stuff items from her vanity into the dark green bag.
“Just because your charm, your magic power, didn’t manifest as a physical strength, that doesn’t mean you aren’t powerful, darling.”
Sophie paused her packing to consider this. “You’re right. Although, you must admit, Mama, my charm has proven to be dashedly useless thus far.” She grabbed her silver and boar bristle hairbrush and dropped it into the bag.
“Useless thus far? Possibly. Useless in the very near future? I think not.”
“I guess we shall see.”
“We shall. I think it’s best that I go down to the drawing room to greet our guests. Take your time to finish packing your valise. I’ll send for some servants to pack your wardrobe.” The Countess, not knowing quite what to do, grabbed her daughter’s hand, squeezed it reassuringly, and left the room.
Hello, dear reader! 🥰
Thank you so much for taking the time to read The Power of Knowledge.
If you liked this chapter, please consider clicking the heart below and liking it! 🎖
Also, I’d love to hear what you have to say about Sophie and her charm! Please comment below with any feedback or feelings you have. 💖