Ezra waited in his room to be summoned. The Lady Morgan was coming to the castle just to see him. She was really his mother, but he wasn’t supposed to refer to her by that name. She said she had many enemies who would use such a thing against her and they had spies everywhere. That was one of the reasons his foster mother, Queen Maude, had admonished him to never trust anyone. Oh, the servants knew who Lady Morgan really was. How could they not? But they would never say anything. They were afraid of her. Servants that displeased her always disappeared suddenly. Maude told him they were dismissed from the household for one reason or another. Ezra wasn’t sure he believed that. Maude often told him things that weren’t true.
The sound of horses outside drew his attention. He hurried to the window to catch a glimpse of Lady Morgan and her retinue approaching the inner court. He trembled with more than a little fear. He always studied faithfully and practiced his archery, horsemanship, and swordsmanship whenever he could. He only hoped it was enough. Mother…Lady Morgan wanted him to be the best at everything, but no matter how hard he tried, she was never happy. Sometimes she punished him for being so clumsy and stupid. It was for his own good—to make him stronger. If he wasn’t strong enough or clever enough, he would be of no use to her. He wouldn’t be able to defeat the man who ruined her. She said King Christofer was a tyrant like his father who ruled the land with an iron fist, trampling anyone who opposed him. He also caused grandfather’s death. It was Ezra’s duty to avenge his family and restore their honor. He had to rid the land of this despotic king. But he was afraid she would be disappointed in him again.
More than anything, though, he was afraid of…The Spell. The Lady Morgan didn’t visit often, leaving his training and upbringing to her cousin, Maude. But whenever she did come, she used The Spell. Ezra tried not to shudder, but he couldn’t help it. He was glad Maude and Mother hadn’t seen him. They didn’t like for him to show his emotions. Emotions made you weak, vulnerable. They showed your enemies where to strike. He had to be strong and hard, but… Alone in his room, he couldn’t help the shudders. The Spell was extremely painful. It made his bones crack and pull, his head burn. He gazed in the mirror, knowing the next time he looked his face would be different, older. Mother said she had no use for a child and she was impatient to get her revenge. She knew many powerful spells and potions that were only taught on the Sacred Isle. One of these spells kept her young and beautiful. Another made Ezra older. Every time she visited, she would use magic to make him age a few years more. He was really only five, but anyone would think he was a teenage boy. Afterwards, she would give him a special potion to make him learn and mature faster intellectually and emotionally, too. She said it wouldn’t do for him to look older if he still acted like a child. It always made him terribly ill for days, though.
How old would she make him this time? How badly was it going to hurt? He wanted to make his mother proud of him, to be useful and important to her. Was he a horrible son because a part of him wanted her to turn around and ride away?
His guilty wish did not come true. He was soon summoned to supper. When he appeared promptly a few minutes later, it was to a quiet scene. Lady Morgan, Queen Maude, and King Lot had been talking—he’d heard their voices—but now they were staring at him. The Lady Morgan looked beautiful as always, dressed in such luxurious crimson finery to put even Maude to shame. Appearances were everything, after all. He tried to keep his expression flat as he took his seat. Inside he was desperately worried that he had done something wrong. As the meal progressed, however, he began to relax. The others talked about pleasant things. Mother even smiled at him a few times.
After dinner, the King and Queen left as usual. Ezra assumed he was to go back to his room and study like he always did after the evening meal. His mother’s soft voice stopped him.
“You’ve come so far, my little warrior. But there’s so much more to do. My plans will soon come to fruition—and you must be ready. Are you ready?”
Her calm turned to fury as she lunged towards him, smacking him hard across the mouth. “NEVER call me that! You tell me you’re ready and you can’t even get this one simple thing right!”
Blood ran down the corner of his mouth, but Ezra didn’t move. “I…I’m sorry, Lady Morgan. I won’t do it again.”
“No. You won’t.” She looked him over like a buyer at a horse fair, the calm returning to her. “You’re still too young. You yet have the weak body of a boy—a small chest, easily crushed under an opponent’s weapon; thin arms, too scrawny to wield a man’s blade; gangly legs, too thin to support a warrior’s armor. No. This won’t do at all. I need you older, stronger.” She reached into a pouch hanging from her belt and pulled out a little bag of powder.
Ezra’s eyes widened. The Spell. Not again. Please no! “Lady Morgan. I really am ready. Really! I’ll perform whatever task you set before me. I don’t need any more years.”
She must have seen some of the fear in his eyes. She grabbed his chin forcefully, digging her sharp talon-like nails into his skin. “You’ve done so little to make me proud of you, Ezra. How can I possibly love you when you defy me and hurt me like this? You want me to be proud of you, don’t you? To love you?”
Ezra nodded as much as he could, forcing himself not to tremble in her grasp.
“Then we have to do this, my little warrior. Close your eyes and it will all be over soon.”
He felt her breath as she blew the powder in his face. Then he screamed.
Two days later he awoke to the sun shining in his bedroom window. He knew she was gone. She never stayed to see if he would be fine. The vial of potion was waiting for him on his bedside table. A hastily scrawled note accompanied it.
Train harder than ever, my warrior. Perfect your skills with the sword and dagger. Learn whatever your magically enhanced mind can absorb. In a few years I will return for you. And then you will go to your father. Everything rests on you. You’re the only one who can avenge me now. Insinuate yourself into his circle. Be one of his knights. We will strike from within to ensure the greatest suffering! Then we will all be avenged. If you do not do this, everything will be ruined. Years of planning, years of sacrifice and work for nothing. All my hopes and dreams gone. Do not dare disappoint me.
Ezra got up slowly and moved over to his mirror. The face of a stranger stared back at him. A young man, perhaps nearly twenty years of age. He turned away, feeling strangely afraid of his own reflection. He drank his mother’s potion in one swallow and crawled back into bed. His face firmly towards the wall, away from the mirror, Ezra curled into a protective ball and tried to go back to sleep before the sickness claimed him.