The Choice of Magic - Michael G. Manning
Will, along with most of the other children, followed the carriage as it rolled through the village. Newcomers of any sort were always a major event, but a gilded carriage was big news. He had never seen anything like it before. Unlike a wagon, the carriage was entirely enclosed, and it was constructed with such delicate craftsmanship that it was hard to believe the conveyance was made of ordinary wood and metal.
Whoever rode inside had to be extraordinarily important—and wealthy. The driver was dressed in expensive clothing, and a footman rode at the rear. Both men looked wealthy to Will’s eyes, and if they hadn’t so obviously been acting as servants, he might have thought them lords.
The village children followed in the carriage’s wake like a swarm of friendly—and very dirty—bees, waving and calling to the unseen occupants. The driver ignored them, but a small window in the back opened, the wood panel sliding to one side, and Will caught sight of a pair of bright blue eyes staring curiously out at them.
The moment passed quickly, as a hand appeared with slender yet masculine fingers, and slid the window shut once more, cutting off Will’s view of the girl who had been staring out.
Unlike the children, the adults of the village of Barrowden studiously avoided the carriage, and parents who spotted their own offspring quickly caught them and herded them into their homes. While ordinary travelers or merchants might have drawn a crowd, the ostentatious carriage was a warning sign to them. No one old enough to understand the ways of the world wanted to catch the attention of whatever lord or lady might be within. Nothing good ever came of interacting with the rich and powerful.
By the time the carriage had passed through and reached the opposite end of the village, only a few children remained to follow it. One of the few who remained was his friend and cousin, Eric, who stopped Will by tugging on his arm.
“We should stop here,” suggested Eric. “They’re just passing through, and that man on the back looks mean. He might do something if we keep following.”
Will gave his friend a look of amazement. Usually Eric was the wilder of the two of them. It was rare for him to caution restraint. “Really?”
Eric shrugged. “I have to go home anyway. Dad’s waiting for me to help him.”
That soured Will’s mood. Ever since they had turned twelve, Eric’s time had been more and more restricted as his parents began asking their son to take on more responsibilities. Eric’s dad, Johnathan Cartwright, was relatively prosperous by their village’s standards, making a good living as a wainwright and wheelwright.
Will shared the same last name, since his mother, Erisa, was Johnathan Cartwright’s sister, and had never married, but the similarities between him and his friend Eric ended there. Unlike Eric, Will didn’t have a father, or a trade to inherit. His mother’s work didn’t require much help, and as a consequence he was still relatively carefree—carefree, and with little hope for the future.
“Go home then,” said Will flatly.
“What are you going to do?” said Eric, squinting suspiciously at his cousin.
Will grinned. “Worried I’ll have an adventure without you?”
“As if you could!” said Eric in disbelief.
Will deflated. “You’re right. I’ll just go home. It’s in this direction anyway.”
“Don’t follow them down the road. They might get angry.”
“I won’t,” said Will. “It’s quicker to cut through the woods.” With that, he waved goodbye to his friend and took to his feet, running through underbrush that bordered the village and into the deeper shadows of the forest of Glenwood.
Weaving and ducking through the heavy brush, Will followed a route that was not so much a path as a game trail. Like all the children of the village, he was well acquainted with the territory and he knew the easiest way to reach his destination, particularly since this was his usual way home. He reached the house in less than ten minutes.
His home sat not far from the road he had left, but since the road followed a curving route, he was confident that the carriage wouldn’t pass by for several more minutes. He stopped and hid in the bushes to get one more good look at it when it came by.
Sure enough, he soon heard the sound of horses, and the carriage appeared shortly thereafter, but to his surprise it didn’t pass by his home. Instead, the carriage turned and pulled into the wide path that lead to the