The Second Level

Only Lord Lewis had a key to the second level of the peel tower, so Teague was forced to get the baron’s attention by thump-thump-thumping on the ironclad, oak door of his workroom. “Your Lordship,” Ezra shouted through the stout, oak barrier, “please open the door and accompany me to shelter! A windstorm more fierce than any I’ve ever seen before is upon us, and the entire household fears for your safety! Please, my lord, open the door!” 

Ezra pounded on the door until he heard the scuffle of footsteps draw near; then the clunk of iron latches, unbolting one by one, from top to bottom; and then finally, the groan of rusty hinges as the door slowly swung partway open. A man’s face, harshly silhouetted with coal-black shadows and lightning-bright illumination from a source out of Ezra’s view, thrust itself into the crack in the door and angrily demanded, “Who is it? What do you want!”

Teague was taken aback by the man’s challenge, and stared aghast at the haggard face of the lord of the manor, Baron Charles Lewis. Ezra had known Charles ever since he was born in this very house. He was a precocious boy, bright and caring, and beloved by the entire house staff. But now, Charles stared at Ezra as if he were a stranger, or worse yet, an enemy. 

The shadowed eyes that stared at Teague were wild and bulging, and constantly glancing warily, hither and yon. And for the briefest of moments, while the baron’s gaze was turned elsewhere, Ezra thought he saw the glint in the baron’s eye move of its own accord toward him, peruse him up and down, and then turn away in disdain. In the next moment, the glint was gone.

Suddenly, for no apparent reason, the confusion and wariness on Lord Lewis’s haggard face was replaced by recognition and calm. “Oh, Ezra, it’s you,” Charles said, convivially. “What brings you here on such a blustery night? You know I’m not to be disturbed when I’m conducting my studies.”

Lord Lewis’s abrupt change in behavior made Teague think back to when Charles was a little boy growing up in the manor house. Charles was always clever, studious, and old beyond his years; albeit prone to solitariness. But when his mother died while he was so young; and his father could not manage simultaneously being a grieving widower, responsible liege lord, and loving parent, Charles was left to become introverted and lonely. At the sight of the sad, but once smiling and engaging boy, the house staff effectively “adopted” Charles, and tried to care for him like a son.

“Yes, My Lord, you have indeed said no one without important news should disturb your studies,” said Teague. “That is why I could send no lesser personage than myself to inform you that a furious and distressing turn of weather is assailing the manor. I instructed the staff to secure the rest of the household, and then hie to the storm cellar for safety. Meanwhile, I have come myself to personally escort you to shelter.”

Ezra was well aware of his lordship’s investigations of the unknown. Even as a child, Charles was forever wanting to know the “why” of things. Throughout his life, Charles had joyfully and voraciously pursued knowledge. His clever ways of thinking had already produced devices and projects that were improving the barony beyond his father’s wildest dreams. Yet, if there was any fault in Lord Lewis’s endless studies and experiments, it was that his explorations of the natural and the supernatural were a ready excuse for not exploring relationships with his peers, or meeting new people and making close friends, or even falling in love and experiencing its joys and heartbreaks. Charles was a brilliant man, but on the subject of people, Charles was still as untutored as when he was a boy. 

“Shall we go now, my lord?” queried Teague, hopefully.

“What? Go and hide from a harmless little breeze?” replied Lord Lewis.

Teague had trouble hearing his liege over the howl of the “harmless little breeze” outside the manor. Still, Charles seemed unperturbed.

“Thank you for your concern, dear Teague, but I cannot leave now,” said Charles. “I have too much work to do,” he explained, as he nodded over his shoulder at a hotchpotch of half-finished experiments festooned with tubes, flasks, sigils, and talismans. “Hide in the cellar with the house staff if you wish, Teague, but I’ll be quite all right here.” And with that, Lord Lewis slammed the door shut.

Ezra pounded futilely on the workroom door for a while, but Lord Lewis did not respond. The chamberlain shrugged his shoulders in resignation, and sighed. He had done his best. If the lord of the manor wished to ride out the windstorm amidst his books, devices, and magic charms, thought Ezra, that was his prerogative. Teague, however, had no such desire. 

Ezra spun himself around, and hied down the stairways and corridors of the manor as swiftly as he could. As he teetered through the shadowed hallways of the manor in his black uniform suit, only his pale bald spot could be seen bobbing and receding in the dark. In the end, Ezra Teague and the house staff spent the rest of this tale in the safety of the storm cellar—which when there was no weather emergency, was normally the wine cellar—calming their shared fears with several medicinal bottles of vintage brandy.

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