In all of his twenty-eight years of life, Luca had never met a Magician. He'd only ever read about them in textbooks, or known their feats from the bedtime stories his mother told him.
And here, in the past six months? He'd met two. His father's - Cole - had been the first, and the second was a girl who stood before him right now.
Magicians were incredibly rare, and very valuable. He'd been told they were usually the personal property of Kings and Queens, and treated as their most trusted servants and confidants. They could work miracles with just a word from their Noble partner - but great care must be taken, as they were not able to disobey any commands given.
Any Noble in their right mind would do everything to avoid losing possession of one.
And, yet, the Traders Association - or rather, its chair, Lady Evangeline Prosser - was freely gifting him one of hers. He was their new King, and her family wished to pay tribute. He'd need another Magician - especially if he was to surpass his father's legacy.
That's rather unlikely, Cole had warned.
He shifted in his seat, uncomfortable at this proposition, and looked toward the man who stood to his right. "Your thoughts, Cole?"
Cole shrugged. "You've already heard my assessment, sir," he said simply, gesturing toward the woman next to the Magician. "Move forward as you see fit."
"...All right, I'm curious," Luca leaned forward in his chair as he rested his chin on his hand. It was hard to suppress the urge to be ill. The girl that Lady Evangeline had brought was not much younger than he was - and she was here, being given away like livestock. "You said she's a gift , right?"
"Yes -- Now, smile, and tell him your name, dear heart," Evangeline urged. "He will be your Liege from now on."
"M-my name is Alais," the Magician smiled as she spoke in a quiet, raspy voice. Her smile didn't seem to reach her eyes, and she avoided meeting Luca's gaze. "Please look after me, my King."
Luca noticed how her hands seemed to tremble as she fidgeted with her skirt. Both of Alais' forearms were wrapped in bandages that went up to her elbows - and there were visible spots of blood near her hands. He'd been informed the girl -- the Magician -- had been injured just a few days ago in some sort of accident, but was still suitable to serve.
She avoided meeting his gaze, and he spotted what he thought were tears starting to gather in the corners of her eyes.
She's terrified. Luca felt a pang of pity for her. He could only imagine what this must be like for her.
"You'll have to forgive her, she's not been herself since her accident." Evangeline bowed slightly, motioning for the Magician to do the same. Alais copied the gesture half-heartedly.
"Alais, answer me honestly: what commands do you have presently, and from whom?"
She looked up at him, seeming to be stunned by the question. "I must do no harm to myself or others," she responded after a moment, her tone flat and dull.
Luca watched as she tugged gently at the bandage on her left arm, as if pulling it down to better cover her injuries.
"I may not go anywhere or do anything that is not permitted by Lady Evangeline.
I am not permitted to follow commands other than those given by Lady Evangeline or yourself.
I must not allow harm to come to Lady Evangeline or her household.
I cannot speak ill of Lady Evangeline, her work, or her family.
I must put my effort into learning how to follow commands properly."
"That's quite a list," Luca mumbled to himself, listening carefully as Alais continued to rattle off commands in a dull monotone.
"There was also something I was instructed to forget..." The Magician added as she reached the end of the list. "A-all were given by Lady Evangeline, I... I'm pretty sure..."
Evangeline smacked the girl on the back of her head with enough force that it echoed through the audience chamber. "You dull, worthless weed ," she hissed, "If you can't remember a simple command, then how do you know who gave it?!"
"You know the Obligation as well as any other Noble," Luca interrupted, raising his voice just enough to startle Evangeline. "Though I do wonder what that ‘forgotten' command is...?"
Luca watched as the tears that had filled Alais' eyes threatened to spill over.
"Your Highness," Evangeline bowed slightly, "The girl finds convenient ways to lie--"
"And your thoughts, Cole?" he asked, turning to look at the Court Magician.
Cole raised an eyebrow, seemingly bemused by the situation. "Apparently somehow she's found ways to work outside of a command to speak honestly, Highness. Unusual!"
"Indeed it is. How lucky, though, that I've never believed in those sorts of miracles." Luca tried to sound bored by the circumstance. "But given the situation, I'm worried you're seeking some form of sabotage, Lady Evangeline."
Evangeline blanched. "N-no -- King Luca, I would never--"
"Prove it to me. Rescind every command you have given her, Milady," Luca warned, narrowing his eyes at the other Noble. "Much as I'd like to accept your gift, I'd rather not have to find a spot in the garden for your flowers just to free her from your control."
"Y-yes, of course--" The head of the Trade Association quickly spoke a rescission - causing Alais to fall to her knees in response.
As soon as it was done, he'd heard Cole ask for Evangeline to be escorted from the room -- but missed the entirety of the exchange with his attention on Alais.
Commands had once been described to Luca has being ‘weighty' - and seeing the Magician collapse in such a fashion made him wonder if it hadn't been exaggerated. She seemed so fragile like this...
Wanting to help, he stepped down from the dais and knelt in front of her, offering his hand. "Are you all right?"
She shook her head in response, as a sob escaped her throat.
"I'm... Ah... For your safety and mine... I'm sorry, but I need to give you a command," he managed.
Alais sat up, glowering at him through her now-reddened eyes.
"You may not harm me or any belonging to this household or... Or allow us to come to harm. You may not leave the manor grounds, either." He watched as she wiped the tears away from her face. "So, uh. If you'd like, you can call me Luca. And you're... Alais, right? I just want you to know, you're safe here now."
"...I hate you..." Alais mumbled quietly in response.