The fifteen year old Leora had always planned her entire life around working with her brother and father in their gemsmithing shop. She enjoyed it, she was good at it, and she wanted nothing more than to do it. But fate had other plans for Leora.
On a day like any other, Leora's life was turned upside-down when two strangers visited her and informed her family that she had the power of a Mage—abilities she had always been raised to fear. As they seek to whisk her away and train her in her abilities, Leora must decide whether to remain in the family business, or explore these amazing abilities, and, a potential link to her mother.
Deciding to embrace the adventure, Leora learns that there is a lot more in the world outside her home than she thought. With new allies, challenges, experiences, and problems she never knew even existed, Leora must accept the person she was meant to become or lose everything that ever meant anything to her.
I was helping my family set out their wares as usual in the marketplace when I saw them. Two men stood in full cloaks to guard against the chill of the morning just across the way from our stall. They didn’t seem too interested in any of the wares around them. From the look of their clothes, they were important men, and they were watching me closely.
I kept an eye on them—they didn’t feel right, though I couldn’t say why—but otherwise ignored them, making sure the gems and jewelry in our stall were displayed well, as I always did. My brother, Evann, usually helped me with the stall, but I was on my own this week. A duke’s personal servant had come by two days before and ordered several pretty emeralds to be cut into nonagonal shapes and set into a bracelet. My father and elder brother went to work on it immediately. They even let me help set the stones, as I have a good eye and a steady hand for it. My father was training both my brother and me to be gemsmiths, like him.
I saw them the next morning, as well. They stood in a different spot, but they were there, still watching me. They talked to each other off and on, or at least I assumed they were doing so. I could see their heads turn to each other and their lips move, though of course I couldn’t hear what they were saying over the buzz in the market. They left around midday, and a tenseness I hadn’t noticed was there left my shoulders. It was replaced by a strange feeling in my stomach, not quite a slow churning, like I knew something was going to happen now that they’d left.
That evening, after we’d finished supper, there was a knock on our door. I was in our small kitchen, adjacent to the dining room where the outside door was, and heard my father answer. It was a simple thing to eavesdrop as the two men asked if they could step inside for a moment. My father agreed immediately, and I could tell by the tone of my father’s voice that he felt they were important people. He probably thought they were from the duke to inquire about the bracelet, which had been finished earlier that day, though why they did not come to the market was questionable.
As soon as they stepped inside and declined the invitation to sit, my father asked them their business, though politely. That was my father, very to the point. There was a slight pause, and then the one man spoke. “Where is the rest of your family, good sir?” The man’s accent was recognizable as being from the eastern coast, probably from Pantam or Credall.
My father answered immediately. “My son is in our workroom, checking a necklace we have been designing. My daughter is in the kitchen, as we have only just finished our evening meal.”
There was another pause, and then the first man spoke again. “Your daughter, what is her name?”
My father paused now. He has always been protective of me, and this questioning about our family—about me—was obviously not routine. He remained polite though. My father was never easily provoked. “Beg your pardon, lords, but I would wish you to state your business here. The evening is getting on.”
There was another long pause, and then the first man said, “Has your daughter, good sir, helped you in selling your wares, perhaps getting very good sums for them, even the ones not of the best quality?”
My father was angered at this. “My gems are all of the best quality, my lords.”
The man replied, “Of course. I do beg your pardon.”
“Please, state your business or leave,” my father said.
The man exhaled quietly. “Your daughter is special, good sir. She has a unique talent.”
“She has the gift of magic.”
There was a moment of complete silence. I almost dropped the plates I was carrying to our cupboard, though I managed to set them on the counter. My heartbeat seemed loud in my ears. Magic was a unique talent, oh yes, but it was dangerous. Almost everyone I knew feared it, though in truth even small things frightened the people here. It was the nobles who played with magic, using it to entertain their guests and to punish spies, traitors and those who merely displeased them. The worst possible curses could be put on people, and had been in the past. How could I have magic?
I held my breath until my father spoke again. “My lords...” His voice trailed off. I heard my father take a large breath. “My lords, I don’t understand.”
The man spoke immediately. “Do not be afraid, good sir. What is your name?”
I could even hear my father swallow. “William Adlar.”
The man’s voice was quiet, patient. “William Adlar, you have nothing to fear from us. None of your family shall be harmed.”
There was a note to his voice, something not quite normal, but very soothing. Still, my father’s voice was shaking. “Then why have you come?”
“Your daughter has powers, powers that cannot be taken lightly. We must find out how powerful she is, and what she requires for training.”
At these words I quickly snuck up to the doorway, making myself quieter than a mouse. I could barely see through the crack of the curtain covering the doorway, but was immediately frightened even more. The men were tall and grim-looking. The one closer to my father was thinner, though the other one was taller. My eyes immediately caught the good cloth of their dark cloaks, covering their entire bodies, barely showing their feet, which were in tough, fairly expensive, well-worn leather boots. Both had their hoods pulled up, showing their faces somewhat but not enough to get a really good look.
My father had seated himself in a chair next to the table, one hand clenching the arm of the chair, the other on his knee. His knuckles were white. He spoke slowly. “Perhaps you are mistaken.”
“We are not, good sir.”
“But what does that mean?”
A low, deep voice came from the other man, who had until this time stayed silent. “We do not have time for this, Mikel.” His accent was strange, and I could not place it.
“Steady, Rafael.” The first man’s voice was as smooth as ever. “William Adlar, where is your daughter?”
My father took a deep breath, but before he could answer the other man spoke quickly. “The boy is standing at the door to this room. The girl is doing the same, at the near.”
I hurriedly backed away, knowing they heard my footsteps as I moved. The first man spoke. “Good sir, tell your children to come forward into the room. There will be no secrets kept, and there will be no eavesdropping.”
My father paused. “Evann, come.”
I heard the curtains across the room move and listened to my brother’s footsteps as he walked up to my father’s chair. “Yes, Father?” His voice was defiant, as always when he was faced with confrontation.
“May we also see your daughter?” the man asked.
My brother replied immediately: “I don’t care what you want my sister for. You need not see her. Leave.”
“Boy,” the second man growled.
The first man quieted him with another “Steady,” and spoke to my brother. “Did you hear what we said about your sister, Evann Adlar?”
“Yes, I heard well,” Evann replied, “and I don’t believe it. My sister has been brought up in this life, just as my father and I have. She is young and talented of eye and detail, nothing more.”
The first man spoke. “I know you think we may have little evidence of the fact, but believe us, we have much more evidence than just assumptions. Please, none of you have anything to fear from us, least of all your sister. May she come out and speak with us? We can settle this and be on our way.”
There was another pause, and then I heard my father stand. This, I knew from experience, was his agreement when he didn’t like something but decided to go along with it. He did not call me. He knew I was listening and would come.
I smoothed my apron and skirt with trembling hands and straightened up to my full height, which wasn’t much, especially when compared to my brother or father. I patted my long braid quickly, tucking a loose strand of blonde hair behind my ear, and pushed aside the curtain, stepping into the larger room.
The two men turned their gaze on me immediately, as did my brother and father, who cleared his throat and spoke. “My lords, this is my youngest child, my daughter, Galadriel Leora Adlar.”
Both men bowed slightly as I came to stand beside my father and brother. I curtsied back, feeling frightened but determined to get this over with as quickly as possible. The first man, who seemed older than the other, spoke quietly and respectfully. “Galadriel Leora Adlar. Your name fits you. You heard what we said?” I nodded silently. “Then you know we are here because we know you to have the gift of magic.” Again I nodded, feeling my hands tremble harder, but I clasped them firmly before me, trying to look calm. I did not meet the men’s gazes. I looked at their feet, studying the hems of their cloaks.
The first man spoke again. “Do not be frightened of us, Galadriel. We mean no harm.”
I immediately recognized his words, though I knew my father and brother wouldn’t. I knew he was telling the truth, and grew less frightened. I spoke without thinking, barely more than a whisper, “I am called Leora.”
There was silence, and I glanced up quickly and saw a puzzled look on the first man’s face. I glanced at the other man, but he was only watching me intensely. I quickly looked back down.
“How can you speak that language?” the first man asked.
I hesitated, growing nervous. “My mother taught me.”
“Your mother knew magespeak?”
I stared at him, and I knew my nose wrinkled as I considered what he’d just said. “Magespeak?”
“That’s what we call it.”
“Oh. Well, she didn’t call it that, but she taught it to me.”
“What did she call it?”
“She never gave it a name. She said people spoke it closer to the mountains.”
The two men considered me for a moment, and Evann spoke up. “She’s always been good with languages. That doesn’t prove anything.”
“Not that she can speak it, no,” the first man said. “That in itself is a feat, though. You sound fairly fluent, Miss Adlar. Where is Mrs. Adlar?”
We were all quiet for a moment, then Evann spoke. “She died, nine years ago.” I flinched at his tone.
“Ah. I apologize, and I’m sorry for your loss.” The first man glanced at the second, and I did, too. I was sorry I did—he was still observing me intensely. I looked away again.
“The fact is,” the first man continued, “that is a very difficult tongue to learn to speak, but if you have magic, you understand it perfectly the first time you hear it.”
“What?” I gasped.
“That doesn’t mean anything here, Mikel,” the second man—Rafael—said.
“So you don’t know if she really has magic,” Evann said accusingly.
“We know,” Rafael said.
“You don’t know anything.”
“Evann,” my father said, a warning note in his tone.
“Father, these men can’t just barge in here and accuse Leora of having magic. It’s insane!”
“They can if it’s true.”
We all stared at my father. “What?” I found my voice first.
“Your mother could do magic.”
“She could not!” Evann yelled suddenly.
“Evann, enough, or I’ll ask you to leave the room.” My father straightened up in his chair as my brother fumed but stayed quiet. “Your mother could do magic. She thought you could, too, Leora. She said you responded to her, when you were little and just learning to speak, when she spoke in … magespeak, I guess. That’s why she taught you the language. She said when you were 12 or 13, we would know for sure if you could do magic, and if you had it, you would go to the same school she went to, to learn how to control it and use it.” He deflated slightly. “Then she … died, and I waited. When your 13th birthday passed, I thought she must have been wrong. That’s why I never mentioned it to you.”
I didn’t like this. Not only did speaking about my mother bring back the pain of her death, but his story gave the two men another piece of evidence that I had magic. I didn’t want to be in that room. I wished I could sink right through the floor and have the ground swallow me up.
I stepped over to the table. I needed something to calm me down, and a drink of water was the first thing that popped into my mind. Before I’d even touched the pitcher of water sitting there, however, the water jumped out of the pitcher toward me. It splashed my reaching hand and arm, and I froze, paralyzed, staring at my wet sleeve.
“Did you do that, Rafael?” I heard the first man ask.
“No. She did,” was the reply.
There was no other way to describe what the water had done. It had jumped out of the pitcher. Not splashed, or spilled. It had come out of the pitcher on its own. It was impossible, but it had jumped.
Suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulder. I hadn’t even realized I’d been trembling, but the hand’s touch made the quivering calm, though not completely. I looked up and saw Rafael looking down at me, a touch of concern in his eyes, though his face was expressionless.
“Be still.” His voice was quieter, and comforting. “I know it is frightening, being found this way.”
He nodded at the first man, who turned to my father and brother. “She is in need of training. If she were to go without, she could do serious damage, to others as well as herself. Please, we wish to help your daughter.”
That was when I realized that my brother and father had taken a step away from me. Both were looking at me strangely, as if they were frightened. I looked up into their wide eyes, and I felt my heart skip at least one beat. The looks in their eyes made me tremble even harder, so that I could not hide it.
My brother leapt forward suddenly, pushing Rafael away from me. He grabbed my arm and pulled me behind him. “You’ll not take her anywhere, to any training. We are her family. We can take care of her.”
“Would you deny her the chance to proceed with her gift, enhance it and use it to do good for this world?” the first man asked.
My brother’s face was livid. “There is no good magic.”
The first man was calm as he spoke. “Really, young Adlar? Enlighten us, please.”
“Magic is dangerous,” Evann told him furiously. “We have a right to be afraid of it. Lords like yourselves have been using it on whims, casting curses on people such as us, horrible ones that leave us half-dead, or as good as dead, or begging for death. Terrible things come from magic, things that I will not have my sister be a part of.”
The first man nodded. “I see your side of it, Evann Adlar. Yet you are also wrong. We are not what you consider Lords. We would never place a curse upon someone, excepting just punishment, such as itching hands on someone who has been caught stealing that would burn if they thought of stealing something. We would never cast such curses as you have spoken. That would be a horrible crime.”
“Yes, magic is a horrible crime.”
“No, it is not.” I was amazed at how the man’s voice stayed so calm. “Would you take healing magic out of the world?”
“There are herbs and natural medicines that work.”
“Perhaps, but some wounds are too grievous for medicines. In those situations, magic is relied upon. And there are other ways in which magic is good.”
My father spoke quietly. “Magic can be addictive, I’ve heard said.”
“Yes, it can. We will teach your daughter to be aware of that and how to prevent it.”
My brother started to speak again, but my father beat him to it. “Be quiet, son.” He turned to me, and I could see in his eyes that his mind was made up. “Leora, it is your decision. You’re old enough. You have the right to make up your own mind. Would you go with them?”
I bit my lip, suddenly struggling not to cry. I wanted to run to my father and throw my arms around his neck and beg him not to let the men take me. I couldn’t move. Something in my head was making me stand still and think. A strange voice in my head hinted that I could learn things from these two men, things no one else could teach me. I did not want to go with them. I wanted to stay home, to become a gemsmith like my father. Somehow, though, I knew that I couldn’t. Not after what the men had said, and what I had felt when the second man touched my shoulder.
Breathing deeply, feeling as if I was about to pass out, I stepped away from my family—my beloved father and brother—and turned to the men, my hands clasped in front of me again. “Where will I go?”
The first man looked at me, a kind look in his eyes. “You will come with us to the north, where we will start your training.”
“The mountains?” Evann’s voice broke in, and my father gave him a look to remind him to stay quiet.
“Yes, near them.”
I hesitated, biting my lip again, and then turned to my father and brother. “I will go with them.”
Things after that were a blur. The two men promised to return at dawn, and I was to pack and go to bed. My father and brother did not speak to me. I knew my brother was angry. I didn’t know how my father felt. I just hoped I would see them in the morning before I left. I didn’t know when I was going to see them again.
That night in bed I stared up through my window at the night sky. There were a few wisps of clouds, but I could see the stars clearly. They were beautiful, twinkling brightly. I wondered what I was doing, saying that I would go with these two men whom I didn’t even know. They were probably playing a trick on me. They had to be lying. I did not possess magic. I could not possess the thing so many people feared, the thing I feared so greatly.
I knew a moment later that I was only lying to myself. My mother had been able to do magic. My own mother. My father said so. How could I not have known? I remember my mother teaching me that language—magespeak, they’d called it—but I had never thought it might be special. She hadn’t said it was. The fact that these were the first two people I’d met who also spoke it only lent credence to their idea that I could do magic.
What would that mean for me? Where was I going? How did I even know this was the right choice? What was I going to do without my father and brother? I was leaving home. I had just turned 15 barely a month ago, and I was leaving home. How could I be leaving home?
There was a small part of me that was thrilled with the idea that I was leaving. I was going to see the world, more than I had ever really dreamed. I’d always wanted to visit places, but I’d never even been to the next canton. Even though I was afraid of magic, the fact that my mother had been able to use it made it seem safer to me, or at least more acceptable.
I thought back to the whole exchange around the dinner table, thinking over what everyone had said. The second man—Rafael—intrigued me. He also scared me. He’d said little, but when I had frozen and thought I was having an attack of insanity, he’d touched my shoulder. He had calmed me with a hand. I wondered what he had done, but I knew I had felt calmer, strengthened, when he touched me.
I could not sleep. Finally, I gave up trying, put on my robe and went downstairs to the kitchen. I made several foods for my father and brother out of everything we had. Three loaves of bread, several dozen cookies, a large pot of stew that needed only to be reheated when it was to be eaten, other long-lasting foods. I even made breakfast for them as the night approached morning: flatcakes, something I rarely made. I prepared little for me to take, only one loaf of older bread and a jug of water. I snuck three cookies in as well, unable to help myself. While the cookies had been baking, I did the laundry there in the kitchen, in the large kettle. Everything I could get my hands on, I washed, all the time wondering: who was going to do this for my family when I leave? Who was going to cook, or clean the house, or wash their clothes? Would our neighbors help at all? Would anyone help?
Finally, the cooking and baking done, I did not know what else to do. All was ready for my journey. I would not ask my father to let me ride my mare. We had three horses, though Mazer, my father’s horse, was old and fairly useless. Maybe he could sell Celia, my horse, if times got rough. She would bring a good price, as she was sure-footed and not easily startled, and very pretty. I could not ask to take a horse with me, even old Mazer.
I sat down at the dining room table with a piece of paper and a quill in front of me. It was the only thing I could think of that I still needed to do. Yet I could think of nothing to write. I sat there for a long time, my mind wandering back to worrying if my family would be all right, until finally I picked up the quill and wrote. I was no master with my father’s quill, which I had chosen to write with, and I know the note was not very well written, but I needed to tell them something.
Father and Brother,
You will always be dear to me. Please, be safe. I do not know what I would do if both of you were not here to welcome me back when I return.
I made myself write when, though inside I was thinking if.
I do not want to leave, but something inside me tells me I must. I promise I will come back someday. I will try to write. I am afraid of what is coming, but I also need to find out. Please, do not worry about me. I will keep myself safe. I will return, someday. I will always be your loving daughter and sister.
It wasn’t much, but it was something at least.
Dawn was coming. I could barely see the stars out of the window my bedroom. I pulled on my longest cloak, one I had received only a few months ago as a birthday present. It was a dark black-blue color, the color of the velvety night sky when a storm is coming, and had cost my father an eighth of the amount of the bracelet the duke had ordered. It was the most expensive gift I had ever received. I had to wear it, to remind myself of home.
I came downstairs with my small bag packed full of my belongings, which was really not very much. I set a small, worn doll on top of my note. The doll was one of my favorite things when I was small, and I had carried it with me everywhere. You could no longer make out the face and the bright dress was now a dull reddish color, but hopefully it would remind them of me. Next to that I set the present I had been going to give my brother on his birthday, which was only a month away. It was a knife, a smallish four-inch blade, not exactly expensive but not cheap either, with a metal hilt covered by warm brown leather. It had a red ribbon tied around it, my brother’s favorite color these days, and I knew he would not mistake it for anything but a birthday gift. I had no gift for my father, but I would find one and send it to him before his birthday arrived, I promised myself that.
The sun’s first rays were appearing over the horizon when I heard hoof beats outside our door. I picked up my bag and was about to open the door when I heard footsteps behind me. I turned to find both my father and brother standing behind me. I felt tears form in my eyes, and I bit my lip again. We all stood there for a long few moments, and then my brother stepped forward and wrapped his arms around me. My father followed, and for a moment I was comforted. My family still loved me. I knew how much this hurt them. It hurt me even more.
Finally, my father pressed some coins into my hand, and then both stepped back, pulling away from me. I turned and quickly walked out the door, shutting it with a small snap behind me.
Facing the two men, I discovered there were only two horses. The second man from the night before motioned for me to get on behind him. I hesitated, and then allowed him to pull me up. The first man took my bag and tied it to his saddle. Then we started forward.
I wrapped my arms around the second man’s waist and turned my head to look back at my house. Then we turned the corner of the street and it was gone, just as I was telling myself to memorize everything about it.
We rode out of the city walls and turned to the north. I laid my head against the man’s back and closed my eyes. Where was I going?
Mikel and Rafael
We traveled a great distance that day, though I didn’t see much of it. I dozed a lot. I didn’t think I was really that tired, but something about the second man seemed to relax and comfort me, much as he had when he put his hand on my shoulder the day before.
We stopped that night to eat and drink. Rafael helped me down and then dismounted beside a small stream. I was stiff and walked around a bit before sitting. I realized then that I was immensely hungry and hadn’t eaten much of anything since the night before. I almost got up to get my bag when a hand appeared in front of my face holding a flask. “Drink,” Rafael told me. He said nothing more. I took the flask and tilted it up to my lips. An acrid taste entered my mouth, and I gagged. Both men were watching me, and I made myself swallow what I had taken and handed it back, my stomach churning.
The first man opened his saddlebags and pulled out several small packages. Both men sat down beside me, and each unwrapped one. Inside were two small pieces of flat, tan-colored bread, a piece of some kind of cheese, a piece of dried meat, and a small clear bottle filled with water. The second man handed me a package, and I slowly unwrapped it, hearing my stomach growl with hunger, though it still felt upset. I didn’t want to seem impolite, so I did not wolf my food down, though I wanted to. I had never tasted anything like these foods before, but they didn’t taste unpleasant.
He nodded, finishing his food as well. Then both men stood up and put away the wrappings and the bottles in their saddlebags, and they mounted again. I paused, and both gave me a strange look. “We have far to go,” the second man said. I sighed quietly and pulled myself up behind him. Again I wrapped my arms around his waist, and we started off.
The sky that night was void of clouds, and the stars and moon were very bright and lit our way. I kept my arms tight around the man’s waist, not wanting to fall off as I slept. We traveled until dawn before stopping again. We ate and drank, and then got back on the horses and traveled throughout the day.
That evening, we stopped and dismounted near a clump of trees. I watched as the men quickly and efficiently tethered the horses and then took out more food. They handed me the flask again, but I shook my head and handed it back, feeling my stomach jerk at the thought of drinking the stuff. The two men glanced at each other, and then Rafael reached out, grabbed my hand and forced me to hold the flask. I sighed, but managed to take a sip. As I was starting to take a second sip, my stomach rebelled, but I managed to hand the flask back to the man and run behind some trees before I was ill.
“I’ve never seen anyone react to it that badly,” I heard the first man say.
“Maybe she has a weak stomach,” Rafael replied.
I hung my head, shame-faced, as I walked back to the men. They didn’t say anything more as they set up camp. We ate the same food as before, in much the same manner, and my stomach was fine. After we finished, they gave me a blanket and told me to get some sleep. I was not very tired—surprisingly enough to me—but I lay down anyway, using the blanket as a pillow and my cloak as a blanket, and closed my eyes.
I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I heard was the men talking quietly.
“She seems to like you well enough.” The first man was speaking.
“She is comforted by my magic, that’s all,” Rafael replied.
“What happens when we reach the Valley?” the first man asked. “You will no longer be around her. How will she be comforted then?”
“By the others around her with magic.”
“She is different than the others, Rafael. You can’t have failed to see that. You say she’s comforted by your magic. How can she be, if she cannot feel it herself? None other at her level of training can feel magic. Don’t you remember at the market? She was choosing goods to buy, and paused on the ones that had been magically enhanced to look brighter and better. The merchant tried to sell her those, telling her that they were expensive to make and that it was a steal at that price. She shook her head and told him pointedly that the cloth was a lie, and walked away.”
“I remember,” Rafael said quietly.
“Who else would know that other than someone who can feel magic? I wouldn’t doubt that she could probably see it, if she tried, once she starts her training and is around it enough.” There was silence for a moment, with only the sound of the breeze in the grass. “Rafael,” the first man said, “she needs special training, and she is most comfortable with you. I think you should teach her.”
“No. Teaching is for old men, wizened with age and experience.”
“Not all teachers are that old.”
“None are as young as me, Mikel. I am only a year past my trials. I’m not ready.”
“You can’t always be ready for some things to happen.”
“Mikel, please, don’t bring this up with the Council. I’m not ready.”
“Rafael, do you forget the training you received? You were a special case....”
“My teacher was twenty years older than I am now.”
“Still, the Council will see how comfortable the girl is with you, and she’ll be assigned as your student, your being ready or not makes no never mind to them.” There was another pause. “If I’m not mistaken, you don’t seem to dislike her.”
There was another, lengthier pause, and then a hand touched my arm. “You are awake, Adlar?”
Slowly, I turned and sat up. “Yes,” I replied quietly.
Rafael removed his hand from my arm and sat back. His dark brown eyes flashed slightly, as if angry. “How much did you hear?”
I hesitated. “I heard you from the part about being able to feel magic. I did not understand any of it, though I do remember the market incident. You were watching me then, too?”
“You saw us watching you?” the first man—Mikel—asked immediately.
“Yes, while I watched my father’s stall.”
The men exchanged looks, Mikel’s being pleased about something. “I told you.”
Rafael folded his arms within his cloak. “I am not ready.”
“Then make yourself ready.” Mikel turned back to me. “Sleep again, Adlar. We will travel at dawn.”
I lay down quickly and turned my back on them, having much to think about. They didn’t speak again. I did not get much more sleep, but watched the stars twinkle across the sky.
We rose at dawn and were quickly on our way. We traveled the entire day and night again, stopping in between, and then stopped just before dawn. We ate quickly, and then Mikel handed me my bag. “Take out only what you need.”
“What?” I asked. “Why?”
“We will sell the rest.”
I gasped and clutched my bag to my chest, but Rafael spoke. “You don’t need all of that, Adlar. Small things you may take with you, things you can fit in a pocket. Your clothes aren’t suited to our work. All student mages wear the same clothing, provided by us.”
“Why?” I did not want to give up anything. “Why must I give away all my clothes? Can’t I just keep one skirt?”
“You will not wear skirts after today,” was the reply.
I gasped again. All proper girls wore skirts. Only women who became soldiers didn’t wear them, and some women who worked in smithies, but I had said I’d never wear pants.
“Our work is hard and strenuous sometimes, Adlar.” Rafael’s voice cut into my thoughts, “not fit to be done in skirts. Now, take out only what you need, quickly. We want to be in the city by the time the morning is halfway gone.”
I opened my bag and drew everything out. What would I take with me? I bit my lip. All these things from my home, everything that reminded me of my family, would be taken away from me. I searched through my belongings with my eyes, and then slowly took up three things. One was a tiny wooden, four-pointed star given to me by my parents on my name day. Next was a small five-pointed star-shaped crystal, from my brother. Practically worthless, but pretty, he’d found it, polished it up a bit, and given it to me when I was still small. It was his first real act of kindness toward me that I could remember. Finally I pulled out a small folded square of yellow fabric. It was a piece of my baby blanket that my mother had sewn for me while I was still inside of her. The rest of the blanket was used for dust rags now, but I had saved this piece to remind me of it. I stowed these in a pocket on the inside of my cloak, and then slowly put everything else back into the bag.
Turning back to them, I handed the bag over. The first man smiled slightly at me. “Come on, then. I’ll ride ahead, take care of these and get some new clothes. Rafael, meet me at the Center when you get there.”
We mounted up, me behind the second man once again, and started off. The first man rode quite a bit faster and soon left us behind. I felt myself tiring again, but struggled to stay awake. I wanted to ask some questions. It was then I realized that I did not know what I should call him. “Umm, sir?” I said hesitantly.
He barely turned his head. “Yes?”
“What is your name?”
“What do you think my name is?”
“Well, the other man—Mikel—called you Rafael, but what is your full name?”
He nodded, as if to himself. “It still amazes me that you understand so much.”
I paused. “So much what?”
“Of our language.”
“No, Adlar, our language. It’s yours too, as a mage. You are one of us, aren’t you?”
“Who are you?”
He sighed. “I thought you knew more. Has no one told you about us?”
I paused again. “You know magic. I was taught to hate magic. Magic can torture and disfigure and... kill.”
“Magic can also heal and do good things, Adlar.”
“Yes, you said that, but...”
“Be quiet for a moment.” He seemed to collect his thoughts before saying more. “What do you know of the people who do magic?”
“They are hired by rich people, lords and such, to perform duties.”
“Many of which would be considered too dirty to handle themselves, am I right?”
I nodded. “My brother has said that.”
“So that’s all you know? You know nothing of the training, the skill it takes to perform magic safely, or...”
His voice trailed off, and I shook my head. “No.”
“I see.” There was another minute of silence. Suddenly the horse stopped moving. I was about to say something when he swung me down and then dismounted himself. “Be silent,” he told me. “Show me your hands.” I raised my arms. “Palms up.” I did so. He pushed his cloak back off his arms and raised his hands, his fingertips touching mine, palms down. His brown eyes concentrated on our hands, and I was about to ask a question when he turned his hands palm upwards.
I blinked. A tiny light stood on both outstretched palms. He quickly cupped his right palm with his left, and when he pulled it away, the tiny light had grown larger, as if the first two had combined. It shone brightly, even in the early morning sun.
Smoothly, he took a step forward and placed his hand above mine again. Then he slowly turned his hand back over, and I felt a small tingling touch my palm. When his hand moved away, the small light was shining in the middle of my left palm. I held it closer to my eyes, and to my amazement it grew in size.
“Don’t let it grow any more,” Rafael said quietly. I nodded at him, still examining the light. To my shock it grew even more, and I pulled my hand away from my face. It stopped growing. He took a small step forward, and I looked up at him. “Magic?” I managed to croak out.
He nodded. “It’s called magelight. Something useful, if you’re in a dark place.”
An idea popped into my head, and before I could think, I cupped my hands, one over the other, and willed the light to separate. Very carefully, I drew my hands apart, both palms up, and was amazed to see the light had actually separated and remained now as two smaller lights, one in each hand.
I looked back up at Rafael, and saw a look in his eyes that scared me. It wasn’t shock or fear. It was partially disbelief, and something else was there too, something like... I had no idea what it was. Quickly, I closed both my hands into fists and lowered them to my sides. I felt the tingling of those small lights on my palms for only a second more, and then it was gone.
Instantly he leapt forward, grabbed my hands and pulled them up to look at them. I examined them as well. No marks of any kind to reveal what had just happened. Nothing at all.
He let go after a moment and took a step back, his composure reestablished. “That was very good,” he said quietly.
“Did I... do magic?” I asked.
“Yes, and more. You cancelled my magic. That usually takes many months to master. Though, to be fair, I wasn’t prepared to fight against anyone else’s magic.”
“So... what does that mean?”
He turned and mounted his horse again. “It means,” he said, extending his hand to me, “that you aren’t the kind for normal training. Come, we must make up lost time. Mikel will be expecting us.”
I hesitated as he pulled me up behind him. “You never told me your name.”
There was a moment where he said nothing. Finally he replied, “Rafael Mordican.”
We reached the city of Eltena several hours later, near midday. I remember hearing about it from my father. He told me that it was the last large settlement before the mountains. I had always wanted to go there before, and my father had always said, “We will, someday.” We never had, and now I was there, without my father or brother.
Rafael exchanged a few words with the guards at the two large, heavy iron gates. Then we rode inside, and I was able to study the people and buildings and compare the differences to those back home. Rafael didn’t speak to me until we reached what Mikel had called the Center. I did not know what that was. It was not in the center of the city, but off to one side. When I asked, Rafael did not reply. I did not ask again.
Finally the horse stopped in front of a large, dark building. It was unremarkable, except that it was just as tall as any other building in the city and it looked very sturdy. I followed Rafael inside, almost running to keep up with his long strides.
Mikel was waiting for us inside the door. He nodded at me, handed me a large package wrapped in nondescript paper and led me to a small room just inside a narrow corridor. He and Rafael waited outside. At least they are trying to be polite about it, I thought grudgingly. I could always get more skirts, I told myself as I pulled my clothes off and dressed in the ones found in the package.
When I finally emerged, the men looked me over and nodded approvingly. Mikel had gotten me dark brown pants that thankfully covered all of my legs down to my ankles, tough black leather boots, an oatmeal-colored shirt with laces at the neck (the same kind of shirt that my brother wore—it made me think of him), and a coarse brown vest. Also in the package were a black jacket, black pants, a pair of knee-length brown trousers, brown slipper-boots (all of the fashion, nowadays, something to wear when you weren’t riding horses or working outside), a black shirt, a white shirt, black vest, and another cloak; all in black. I hesitantly took off my old cloak and put the new one on, then tucked my worn cloak back into the package with the extra clothing.
After I came out, Mikel bundled up my old clothing and went off, while Rafael steered me down another corridor into a larger room. A middle-aged woman stood there, a pair of scissors in her hand. “Come on in, Rafael,” she said pleasantly, a large smile on her face. “Who’s this?”
“Leora Adlar,” Rafael replied quickly, pushing me fairly gently toward the chair. I stood rooted in place, however.
“Come on now, Leora,” the woman said kindly, seeing the look on my face. “We’re just going to trim your pretty hair. Can’t have it so long when you’re in training, you know.”
I could not speak. They wanted to cut my hair?
“Adlar,” Rafael said quietly, a warning note in his voice.
Even my mother had not allowed her hair to be cut when she was accepted to become a soldier. She had always had beautiful long hair, the same color as mine. I turned on Rafael angrily. “No,” I said quietly, trying to keep my voice calm and failing. “You are not going to cut my hair.”
“Adlar,” Rafael repeated more sternly. I merely folded my arms across my chest and glared at him. He returned my gaze, but I would not look away.
Suddenly the woman laughed. “Got a match for you there, Rafael,” she said with a grin. She strode forward and placed her hand on my arm. “Take your cloak off, love. Let me see this hair of yours. Don’t worry, I won’t cut it yet. Let me just take a look at the dear stuff.” After a pause, I did as she said, and she fingered the end of my long braid, which was not quite long enough for me to sit on. “Now, this isn’t so bad, Rafael,” she said.
Rafael scowled. “Everyone going into training has their hair cut short. Her hair will grow back.”
“Oh, Rafael, leave her be. She seems fiery enough to put up one hell of a fight if we try, and you’ll probably have to knock her out to have it done at all.”
“That can be arranged.”
“Rafael Mordican,” the woman said harshly in a scolding tone. “Do not speak threats like that in front of me.”
Rafael and I both nodded, though Rafael frowned fiercely. “Very well. At least trim it a little. Middle of her back. Fair enough?”
“P’raps. Let me talk to the girl. Wait outside; we’ll find you in a bit.” Rafael nodded and left quickly, almost stalking out, and the woman turned to me. “Now, will you sit down?” She indicated a stool near the wall. “Come on, let me just look at it. Would you object to a little trimming? No large changes, just an inch, maybe. There are some rough ends right now, I can see already, but that’s all I’ll fix, I promise.”
I bit my lip, but slowly nodded. I hoped she didn’t notice the look on my face as I sat down on the stool.
The woman undid my braid quickly and brushed it out smooth. Then she sprayed it with water and combed it out again. I closed my eyes as she picked up her scissors and bit my lip again when I heard the first locks of hair being cut. I kept my eyes completely shut until she announced that she was finished and had braided it again, this time in a different style that she gently explained how to do. Then she wrapped it around my head and, with three large pins, tucked the end under and secured it.
“This way, it will be up and out of the way, and Rafael can’t complain,” she said, winking at me.
Finally I pulled on my cloak, trying not to look at the hair on the floor surrounding the stool, as she told me I could go find Rafael. I paused at the door, and then turned back to her. “I cannot thank you,” I told her, my voice surprisingly calm.
She merely nodded at me. “Not to worry, love. Run along now.” She turned her back, grabbing a broom from the corner. I quickly walked out the door.
I found Rafael talking with two others, a man and a woman, near the doorway. With some shame, I noticed that the woman’s dark curls barely reached past her shoulders. Then I straightened my shoulders a little. They hadn’t taken my hair from me. They could take my clothes and most of who I was away, and remove me from my home, but they wouldn’t take my hair.
I paused a few steps away from the group and remained silent.
Rafael saw me and took in my still-long hair, wrapped around my head, and frowned immediately. The man and woman noticed as well, but the man merely smiled and the woman winked at me. They stayed talking with Rafael for another minute, and then bid goodbye to him. The woman paused before walking away, placing her hand on my arm. “Good luck with your training,” she said with a strange accent I’d never heard before. Her skin was a little darker than mine too, though not exactly tan. Her eyes, a pretty dark brown, smiled at me. “Try not to take it too hard what Rafael speaks to you. He is worthy to put your trust in.” I managed a weak smile and a nod, and she walked away with the man.
“Come,” Rafael said, turning towards the door. I followed him outside, where we found Mikel waiting with three horses. He was mounted on one, and Rafael swiftly mounted the other.
“Are you sure she should ride on her own?” Mikel asked him. “She may not be able to stay awake.”
Rafael frowned. “If she is to be my student, she will learn to keep up, to stay awake when she needs to, and not to sleep whenever she feels like it.” He gave me a hard glance, but I met his eyes fairly calmly.
Mikel nodded at me, smiling a little. “Come on then. Leora, if you ever feel like you are about to fall asleep and can’t keep your eyes open for another moment, tell us please. Rafael may not admit it, but we do not want you to injure yourself falling from your horse.”
I nodded, but did not speak.
Review by Rachel Simons, Stressed Rach
Reviewer: Cody Flatt, Two Full Time Jobs
Reviewer: Megha Saraf, Makeup and Beauty Treasure
Reviewer: Christina Mellone
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