May 1, 2027.
Dawn came. Although she waited until her cell’s alarm went off, she’d really already been awake for over an hour. Her first day. Ella rose and put on the jacket.
It fit perfectly; His Majesty’s tailors had been careful to insure that much. Dad had worn an identical jacket before her, and his father before him, and his father, and his father, and his father, all the way back to when Charles II rejected the advice of his astrologer and refused — because everyone knew that if the ravens ever left the Tower of London, England would fall — to remove the ravens from the Tower of London. Instead, King Charles removed the astrologers to Greenwich, appointed the Ravenmasters, and blinked, good Protestant that he was, at their own old magics.
In 2007, her Aunt Moira, fresh from her stint in the Royal Army, had become the first woman Ravenmaster. When Dad had retired from the Yeoman Warders, tired, he said, of early morning trips to Smithfield Meat Market to buy beef for the birds, Aunt Moira had taken over for him. There had been, for the first time in centuries, no male heir to assume the role. Rafe was grown, but still more like a child than a man, and childless Aunt Moira had, as everyone admitted, served faithfully and well in the Adjunct General Corps. Bullied, at first, by men who resented a woman Yeoman Warder, Aunt Moira had persevered, fed the ravens, smiled for the tourists, and, at night, done the Tower Magic that no one outside the family would ever discuss. And she had pressed Ella’s shoulder and said, every time that she saw Ella, “You will be Ravenmaster when I go.” Ella had dutifully turned away from the Royal Navy and done her stint in the Royal Army, instead. The Tower magic required it.
The hat. Ella wasn’t sure if it dated from Edwardian times or even earlier. But Dad had put an identical, if larger, one on his head every morning, just after bacon, tea, and eggy bread, and just before heading out into the world to earn the money that kept Ella, Rafe, and Mummy safe and secure. The hat actually looked good over her straight bob, and it made Ella feel taller and more suited to her role. Ella remembered Aunt Moria wearing the hat over her chaotic black curls, and she remembered Aunt Moria taking the hat off, whenever she stepped through the doorway and and hugged Ella and Rafe, just before handing a tin of tea or a jar of jam to Mummy and heading over to hug Dad, sitting by the fireplace, watching one cricket match after another. “How’s Merlina, my own true love?” Dad would ask Aunt Moria, and, “She misses you and your role in the rites,” Aunt Moria would always say. Mummy would always look busy.
The patch. Ella ran her fingers over it, just above her left breast. The embroidery showed a raven’s head rising above the Tower. Bran, the Blessed. At least, that was what it meant to the family and to the few odd historians — young men with lisps from Scottish Universities and old women in tweed suits from obscure corners of Oxford — who understood or guessed at the old magics. Bran, whose name meant Blessed Crow, who died saving his sister from a wife beater, and whose head, facing France, was buried beneath the Tower of London. Ella’s finger caught on a stray gold thread.
Her cell phone rang. “Ella, get here now,” Brandon said. “The ravens are missing from the bird boxes at Wakefield Tower. They’re already saying it’s your fault.”
/To be continued.
Picture found here.