François Echessier never liked Reeve Guignery. There was always something a little off about him, something a little strange. But everyone seemed to love him, adore him and worship the ground he walked on. François was the third son of a medium man with a moderate estate and middling social influence. He had no chance of inheritance. He didn’t have a religious calling, and he didn’t have an ounce of magic in him and so he was stuck as an assistant and apprentice to the Reeve in an out-of-the-way magic academy for girls.
Realistically, out of all the assignments he could have gotten, this was a good one. His mother had hoped he would assist the Bailiff at Château de Truie, but he had no desire to roll in the muck with pigs. Madame Esmée Echessier was terrified of magic, and rightfully so, for her eldest sister had met with an untimely demise at this very school.
At the Académie de Magie, François had his own room in the tower overlooking a picturesque courtyard. He worked as a scribe and an apprentice to the Reeve and sometimes helped with guard duty at school events. But François knew he was capable of greater things. He was destined for it. Mostly, he just kept to himself.
He knew he was in love with Juliette from the first moment he saw her. She differed from the other students. Somehow she was softer and deeper than the other girls. Juliette was quiet and delicate spending most of her time in the great library.
The academy’s library was enormous, filled with shelves upon shelves of books, towering over the vast chamber. Some said that in all the lands, only the boy’s academy had a larger collection of knowledge. Comfy chairs and pillows were strewn everywhere, and bright sunlight streamed through stained glass windows. The best part was the isolation it provided. You could sit in there all day and never see another soul. Often his scribe duties placed him in the library, and he liked to watch her, as she pined over books and tomes.
But despite Juliette’s isolation, she genuinely cared for people. She would help one of her fellow students learn a spell or incantation that they were struggling with, and she was wiser than anyone he had ever met. The thing that drew him to her the most was that she actually saw people, even the ones that were invisible to everyone else. She would give the serving girls an extra hand if they had too much to carry or take the time to talk in her bed so the maid didn’t have to do it. None of the other students seem to know the help existed.
Most of the students loved François as much as they loved Reeve Guignery. François had the advantage of being young and handsome. He would give them a wink or a smile, and they would all come swooning. He found it unnerving. Many of the women back home treated his father like that, they relished the power he had (albeit minimal), they would whisk him into secret corners, with their honeyed words while his mother was left alone. His father relished those trysts, and his mother tolerated them.
François’ window had the perfect view of the courtyard outside of the dormitories, and Juliette’s room was directly across from him. He loved to watch her and the three roommates living in that room. One girl, her name inconsequential, studied sun magic and so they would have the shades open all day to let the bright light in. Juliette practiced lunar magic. This meant the drapes would be open at night as well.
And so François would watch their laughter and fun from afar. He would watch Juliette cry to the moon and wish he could comfort her. Instead, he would find some giggling empty-headed student to have his way with. He would never sully Juliette, for he knew he could be no better than his father. He would never wish his mother's despair on Juliette.
François observed other things from his window as well. In his free time, he would use spare papers and inks to record observations. It was fascinating how routine and predictable life was. He didn’t have to watch long before he knew every detail of all the academy’s inhabitants.
Headmistress Pauline would often try to seduce Reeve Guignery into her bed chamber. It was painful to watch. But the Reeve was not inclined towards Pauline. His interests lay with the students.
It was on the solstice that François noticed small deviations in the Reeves’ schedule. Just after sunset, the man would find a quiet bench in the courtyard and sit. The students loved Reeve Guignery and every now and again one girl or another would sit down next to him and they would have a conversation and then the student would leave.
It all seemed pretty ordinary, but something didn’t feel right. François’ gut told him these girls were in danger. And so François noted each student that would sit and chat with the Reeve and mark the date and the time.
Mathilde Ray was the first to go missing. Mistress Pauline was distraught with tears and Reeve Guignery was serious in his attempts to find her. François offered his observations and notes. But neither the reeve nor headmistress paid them any heed. His notations put Reeve Guignery as the last to see poor Mathilde.
In the end, they proclaimed that adolescent love brought Mathilde and a boy from the boys' Academy to run off together. It was not unheard of for this to happen, and that one was a flighty girl.
They paid Mathilde’s family recompense and security around the academy got tighter.
François didn’t think Mathilde had run away from the academy. He didn’t think she had even liked boys, as he had frequently seen her and Leah kissing behind a stone column.
He had also seen Mathilde sitting with Reeve Guignery often. The reeve liked to place a hand on her shoulder, and by the end of their conversations, it had crept its way down to stroke the inside of her wrist.
Mathilde had been one of Juliette’s roommates. Juliette seemed to take her disappearance hard. François watched from his window. He would see her tears and attempts to speak with her friends or to headmistress Pauline. She didn’t think Mathilde ran away either. Juliette was devastated, and no one seemed to care. François did. But he couldn’t bring himself to comfort her.
Shortly after, Juliette started sitting with the reeve. François watched as Reeve Guignery would listen to her and comfort her, his hand disgustingly close to her thigh, with only a thin layer of fabric between his hand and that soft skin. François couldn’t hear the words they spoke, but it was wrong. His face heated, and he could feel the pound of his heart beating against his sternum as red rage painted his vision.
Everything changed when Juliette went missing. François had been watching on the day she disappeared. She had been sitting on the bench next to Reeve Guignery, tears pouring down her face. He put an arm around her and gave a tight squeeze. To the outside world, it looked innocent. But François knew the truth.
Before long, she had risen, most likely to head back to her chamber for curfew. The Reeve remained on the bench for a moment watching as she disappeared into the academy. Then he rose and left the courtyard a different way, pace brisk and with purpose.
That was the last time anyone saw Juliette before the disappearance. Again, the reeve and the headmistress blamed it on running away with a boy. But François knew Juliette would never do that. She was different.
François went to Mistress Pauline when she wasn’t busy trying to seduce Reeve Guignery. She smiled and gave him a quick pat on the head.
“It’s so nice of you to take an interest in these girls’ lives, but Henri would do nothing like that.”
François shuddered at her intimate use of Reeve Guignery’s name. That man had her enthralled in his spell and she would be of no use.
And so François was alone. And being alone solved the problem alone.
It wasn’t hard getting a moment with the reeve, as he was his apprentice. François Echessier wasn’t a large man. In fact, he was quite slender but he was strong and lithe.
Guignery was alone in his office, going over papers when François entered the chamber.
“I just need to get a few books”
François made his way around behind the desk and pretended to shuffle through the great tomes behind. Earlier, he had stolen an extra string from a lute in the music wing.
He snuck up behind the Reeve, and looped the string around his neck, twisting and pulling it taut.
Large hands grasped at the wire, trying to pull it away, but François Echessier was quick. Guignery screamed silently, mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water, gasping for that last breath that would never come.
François Echessier watched entranced, as a tiny line of red formed around where the string had cut into the fatty flesh on Guignery’s neck, and shuddered in euphoria as the last bit of life drained out of the reeve.
When François left the office, he went straight to the headmistress.
“Headmistress Pauline, you must come quickly!” He said, voice breathless. “Something has happened! I went to get a book from Guignery and found him dead!”
The Headmistress promoted François Echessier to Reeve the next day. The story put forth was that Guignery had left in a hurry to deal with family issues. Both François Echessier and the Headmistress agreed it was best to not worry the other students.
Two weeks later, Juliette and Mathilde returned. Mathilde had been playing with portal magic, and inadvertently found herself in another realm. Brave Juliette had heroically saved her. It didn’t matter. The former reeve may not have hurt those girls, but he would have, and François Echessier knew he had prevented it.
But next time, he would be sure.