No one likes to be disadvantaged—to be born a loser. It means you have no magic. You’re indelfy, the underside of civilization. Everyone knows they are nothing. They’ll spend their whole lives wearing ratty old coats handed down from charitable cousins, working for the right to live in a slum, forgotten by everyone who matters.
Bernard intended to change that, even if it meant bending a few rules. The plant he was carrying into the Duke’s presence was one of those rules. “It bloomed today,” he announced when the Duke looked up.
“Magic?” the Duke asked, squinting at the scrubby green bush Bernard held.
He nodded, and hefted it so the Duke could get a better look at the elegant yellow flowers peeking around the leaves.
“It will be ready to invoke within a week. We just need Amy now.”
The cold expression masking the Duke’s face softened a little. “Does she know what you want from her yet?” he asked.
Bernard winced. “I was going to talk to her about it today. She can be hard to pin down.”
He meant for more than a few minutes, if ever, but the Duke nodded with more confidence than Bernard felt. “She’ll listen to you, Invoker.”
Bernard bowed awkwardly around the plant and then turned toward the door, but before he could make it out the Duke’s voice stopped him. “You will be able to pull this off, won’t you?”
His voice was strained, and for a moment the Duke showed his age. It was unnatural to see weakness in him. He looked like a chewed up old fox, even in his human form. He wasn’t supposed to look old.
“Is something wrong?” he queried.
The Duke nodded, and lifted a thick yellow envelope with the seal of the Western Stronghold on it. “I hope you’re swift in convincing her, because without her help I have three days to live.”