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1

Enchanted vines slithered up the side of Creaky Manor, encircling Lincoln Harbinger’s office window. A spell on the glass bent physics for the sake of Harbinger’s privacy and secrecy. An observer could only see through the panes from about a foot away. Any further and one saw the old, stately home but focusing on the domicile’s interior clouded their mind. Many thought they were going blind and ran for tonics or a reversal spell to cure them. A few experienced witches and mages who had underestimated the dud Harbinger found themselves locked inside the spell’s charm but knew it would wear off in a couple of hours.

Today, a little black bird flew and rested on the sill. The vines lashed forth, whipping and wrapping around the frail creature. Helpless chirping pricked the air. White buds bled to purple, releasing their flowery perfume. A stillness. A silence. Then with a final pulse, tiny bones broke, the vines unraveled, and the bird was gone.

Harbinger, sitting in his chair, observed this severity. Malevolent intentions deserved a relentless response. When Mrs. Daridill snooped for details on her divorce, the vines swatted her away. When the youngest of the Felfen children climbed up the vines, he was allowed to reach the window. Looking inside, the child saw Harbinger spin around and look right at him. Shocked, he fell back. The vines were rolled out, covered in soft flowers. The boy lay in the bed of petals and was gently returned to earth. Harbinger lifted the window and told the child to wait. After a moment, he opened his front door and said: “Your father will leave your mother alone. I will make sure of that.” He closed the door. He heard a loud “Thank you!” then went back to his work.

Later as the Head of Harbinger, key solicitor of Newton, walked the streets, he noted the condescending stares. This was a not-so-good day, a day that hinted of when he first arrived in town. Then his adolescence came raging back into memory as a woman spat in his face. Mrs. Felfen beat her fists against his chest, her cheeks flushed. “How dare you tell my child things that don’t concern him!” Harbinger thought this ridiculous. He replied: “The affairs of a man mean more to his son than anyone else, even his wife. If he doesn’t have one, then the burden goes to his daughter.” A conservative stance on an ideal, as all children, regardless of gender, learned from their mothers and fathers about the world, but the truth was there. Children lived forever with the feelings of their parents’ actions. Mrs. Felfen finished her show for the sake of her family’s already troubled social position and ran away crying. Her tears were for her children, for her husband, and now for Mr. Harbinger. She had betrayed her family’s only knight. Motherhood mandated sacrifice, but she had never thought her dignity would be bleeding on the altar.

When Mr. Harbinger arrived home, he wrote a note:

Dear Sarah Felfen:

I apologize for my intrusion on your parenting. I never meant to suggest that your manner of childrearing was inadequate. I was only trying to give you one less concern during your family’s troubled times.

Sincerely,

Lincoln Harbinger, solicitor

P.S. I will add to your bill the necessary remedies for my bruises.

He had written this letter for two reasons. One, politeness was a virtue. Two, Mrs. Felfen now had evidence of their altercation. Gossip was a blotchy phenomenon. This would quickly heat up any cold spots. If anyone denied her family charity or service on the grounds of their association, she could cry her rehearsed tears, argue she was just a frazzled and manipulated cog in a devious machine, then show the letter to crystalize the waterworks in the town’s heart. In fact, she became a heroine: the woman who gave His Dud Superior the beating he deserved.

His town was an oddity in this way. As revolting as his presence continued to be over the years, he was always given the space to argue for others. He had even considered that their disdain made them listen and accept his logic. They were so hypersensitive to everything he did on the merits of finding something to condemn him, that he became immune to the necessity of reputation. No one could say anything that had not already been said. No one could hate him any more than he had already been hated. The fires burned lukewarm. In the town’s view, he was a tolerated nuisance who sometimes made sense but acted like God. The pearl of his existence rested in these conditions. Today, though, a bird had died. His daughter was due home, and a bird had died. An omen? A threat? A black bird had died.