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In the carriage, the contessa asked to see it again. “You really asked the Guild of Mages?” she traced the mark.

“I asked a mage of the guild.”

They both seemed to find that amusing.

If a mage saw me, he would see Avery. “What is the Guild of Mages?”

The contessa was politely shocked. “What—? Eliot, where did you find this girl?”

If the Captain was surprised, it did not show. “Much like the Woodcrafter’s Guild, it is a place for mages to learn their craft and gain recognition. It contrasts in that mages are born, not made.” There must have been a question still on my face somewhere, because after a moment the Captain said, “Ask, Miss Avery.”

I had too many unaskable questions. My eyes focused on the spoon. Most of the things I had accidentally infused with fire burst into flame at random, rather than not being able to burn at all. Sometimes, as with my own skin, they burned without being burned. Other times, as every chair I had ever attempted knew well, they quickly became ash. “How could it not burn?” Withstanding was not the same as resisting. “Surely a fire mage would not create something flame resistant?” Was that logic, or only my own experience? “Is that not more of a water property?”

The Captain shrugged, but his eyes appeared darker, colder. “The mage said, quite definitively, that it was a fire mage’s work.”

“Hm? Eliot, you said—”

“I beg pardon, Contessa. The mage I spoke to said that he could not identify the mage, but that it was a fire mage.”

Great.

Not only did they know of missing-journeyman-me, they also knew of fire-mage-me.

“What does it mean, that the mage is unidentifiable?” I looked to the contessa for a hint, but her face was a quiet, polite mask.

I do not trust her.

“It means that the Guild of Mages does not know of him or her. All mages, wherever they are born, are required to register with the guild. This mage did not.”

“Why is it important?”

The Captain made the same face that Thorne had made whenever he decided that I should figure out the answer to my own question. It was a face he made often.

“Provide me with a hint,” I requested tiredly. With a spinning head and hollow stomach, it seemed unfair to make me work as well.

“Mages are registered as students and are required to pass a practical in order to become apprentices.”

Students of other guilds were never registered, and apprentices rarely.

“As an apprentice, what can you do?” Anna asked. Her pleasant tone was insulting.

I could do nothing. I could make spoons. “Oh. Because a mage can do magic without a teacher?”

“Why is that important?” She held up the spoon that could not burn.

I remembered the barn that did. “Magic is dangerous.”

Too simple.

The Captain’s expression agreed that I should try harder.

“Someone could attempt to assassinate the king with a mage.”

Too stupid.

The Captain’s eyes closed with a contained sigh. The contessa gasped.

“Or use it to bribe, threaten, or control other people. A person who owned all the mages would be very powerful.” Like the count.

The contessa took a deep breath. “And a mage alone?” she glanced at the Captain.

I was not doing anything magicky. But if I had wanted to? “They could manipulate others, cause chaos and confusion.” They both watched me, but I did not want to give anyone ideas. The last time I had produced a list, it had been of my own crimes.

“The Guild of Mages ensures that magic is not abused,” The contessa spoke as if to a child.

“The Guild of Mages keeps a record of each mage’s magical signature. Any activity is identified, allowing the guild to maintain a record of each mage.”

“Too much,” I muttered.

“Consider what magic can do. In any case, the local guild only registers activity within Saliz. It does not prevent a mage from using magic, but it does make them hesitate to use it nefariously.”

“If it is that easily detectable, is it even possible for the mages’ guild to not have found this mage?” As soon as I asked, I felt rather silly for it. Obviously it was possible, and I had not felt any strain in hiding myself. All I had to do was not use magic.

“By simply avoiding using magic and other mages, it would not be difficult to remain unnoticed. In Saliz, most children are tested for magic, rendering it unnecessary to check adults. However, many northern cities are not so orderly, and a mage could remain untested all her life.”

“Like in Sorya.”

“And that is barely north and passing civilized.” The Captain looked disgusted. “When you reach Atelis or Narick, it is as though the Mad King still reigns. And those are still the cities. Mostly it is wild country and little villages.”

Essel was even worse, though Atelis had a worse reputation and more visible crime. “It is not so bad as all that,” I said softly, convincing no one.

“You said you were from Atelis?” Contessa Annalize asked.

“I was born near Essel.” Essel was the last real city before the mountains. We had been north of there, by a few hours journey on horseback, practically in the mountains.

“Why did you go to Atelis?” The contessa’s tone was innocently filled with confusion.

I could feel Avery’s smirk. She thinks to catch you lying.

“Essel has craftsman, but they are families. They do not teach outsiders.” The Count owned them all in any case. “Atelis has a school that takes students.” Not that it mattered. They had called me a liar and refused me at the door.

The contessa made a sympathetic face, I thought, but then said, “Why do you not join the guild here? Eliot could find another apprentice.”

What a—

I took a quiet breath. “If I had the skill to do so, I am sure I would have already.” I could take comfort in the fact that I apparently was part of the guild. It was a cold comfort.

Perhaps to keep the peace, or more likely because he did not care or notice the conflict around him, the Captain returned to his earlier point. “Mages from the guilds travel around to seek new students every year, but they can hardly visit every homestead and test every child...”

 

A mage had come to Essel once.

I was only eight and Jaiden had just turned ten, and Mother said we could come with to Essel proper. Little Teigan, light of Mother’s eyes, was getting a piggyback ride from Jaiden under her watchful gaze, leaving Avery and I free to wander.

I was no longer young or small enough for my conversations and games with my imaginary friend to be laughingly overlooked. I had learned to be very quiet in public, which was no trouble at all since Avery and I understood each other even without words.

I looked to Avery to lead, as she always did. Mother would not notice so long as we were back at the inn before dark.

Avery danced ahead, her lithe little form an exact match of my physical body. That day we would learn that I was not the only one who could see it.

But first we saw a fire performance. Avery was delighted, skipping around the fire dancers, weaving through the flames. If anyone else saw them flicker or burn brighter, they thought it part of the show.

We visited the market stalls. I was too well-dressed and chubby to be a beggar, but a baker gave me a scone all the same when I looked hopefully up at her. “Off you go, then,” she shooed me quickly enough to avoid attracting any real beggars.

I was eating my scone when I saw him. He was sitting at a little stall, selling small trinkets. Doorstops, paperweights, doorknobs and the like littered the counter, but it was the man that caught my attention. He was not looking, so I snuck closer. Avery crept closer, too.

His face was very old. Maybe the oldest I had ever seen. But that was not what had made me curious. His hands, aged but strong, held a piece of wood and a strange knife, and peeling away layers of wood.

I inched closer until I was standing at his shoulder, peering around it. By the time a hawk emerged from the wood, I was practically breathing on his arm and Avery leaned on his other shoulder. Even as Mother loudly pulled me away, he did not look up. It was not a few days before he came by the farm and asked for assistance. Then Mother was all too willing to send me with him, though she laughed at the thought of me being of any use.

But in the market Mother’s hand gave my arm a bruise, and her expression was quietly furious. She did not yell, she never did, but I could feel the strength of her disapproval. When Teigan asked to be carried, I was able to escape and play once more.

Avery had wandered off, so first I had to find her. I followed her trail until I spotted her sitting in a tree watching an acrobatic performance. With a smile I picked up my skirts, intending to run and climb into the tree. But then I happened to look across the crowd and saw a man looking right at Avery. I looked back and forth, but there was no mistaking the direction of his gaze, and I knew him for a mage, though I hadn’t the word for it.

By then, Kiva had developed her Talent with plants. I could see it when she was in the garden, spilling from her fingertips into the dirt and plants. Mother never spoke of it, but she had stopped taking Kiva into Essel.

This man was not doing anything, but his whole body glowed faintly. And he was watching Avery. Without knowing why, it scared me. He started to move towards her the same moment I did, but then Jaiden caught my arm from behind.

“Come on, Ave. Don’t be so slow,” he was tugging me away from Avery, and she was distracted by the performance. The mage was getting closer.

Avery, behind you! But she was too far away and did not react.

Frantically, I tried to pull away from Jaiden, looking for some way to distract the man. A cart sat nearby, with a horse tied to it. Horse, run away! A large dog on a chain was growling softly at a cat a few feet away. Dog, break free! A market stall. Fall! A guard. Shout! Anything! Move!

I was never quite sure what did happen, but chaos erupted in the square. Later, Jaiden declared that it was a snake that spooked the horse that started it. The horse jumped, toppling his cart and landing on another and breaking the dog’s chain. Amid the crashing produce, scared, loud animals, and people shouting, Avery, startled, disappeared.

Mother got ahold of Jaiden, and he of me, and we were marched quickly back to the inn, into our cart, and driven home. Mother had not bothered to sell any of our produce.

When I eventually asked who the strange man with the glowing body was, Mother told me not to speak to or of the Devil’s Chosen. She said that magic invites in demons.

She sent me to bed without supper when I asked if Kiva had been chosen. It was the only time Jaiden refused to sneak me anything from the kitchen, and even Avery thought I should not have said it.

Later, a boy from our village told me and some other children that he had been tested for magic by a mage in Essel that day. The ones who showed potential didn’t get to go home.

 

The contessa's carriage dropped us off at the palace. She attempted to convince the Captain to join her for dinner, but he declined. I considered advising her to tempt him to a library or a stuffy meeting, but worried that the Captain might punish me with more law books to memorize.

He headed straight for his office and I expected to be dismissed. Instead, I found myself sitting in front of his desk, waiting.

“There is a puzzle here.” He looked at me and waited.

“Can it be solved after I have eaten?” I was sure I would faint.

He looked surprised and moved from his desk to pull a bell. Oddly, it made no sound. “Service bell,” he explained. “It rings in the servants hall; they will know to bring food.”

I hoped the cook herself would come and bring her ladle to beat him. Gathering my scattered thoughts, I said, “The baker, either by design or chance, learned of the spoon.” Remembering, I added, “Through his nephew. They recognized it, mistakenly, for a Masterwork, or thought it could pass as one, and planned to get it legally. Sort of legally. Who would defend a bunch of homeless thieves? Only it was not a Masterwork, and he was too hasty and too greedy.”

“Mister Reynolds has connections within the Thieves Guild. The attack was personal, retaliation in response to recent misbehavior by the padfoots. I do not imagine that you would know anything about that.”

I could read nothing is his tone.

“But the look in his eyes had nothing to do with greed or revenge.” He set the spoon on the desk—when had I let go of it? “He regarded this as something precious, something he needed to possess. Therein lies the puzzle. A journeyman who has not claimed his seal, but is clearly in Saliz, an unregistered mage that has gone unnoticed, right in front the Guild of Mages, and this magecraft spoon.” He looked at me. “You would not have left your journeyman’s medal in the guild.”

“Not a chance!” I responded automatically, fortunately, before remembering that it was mine. “A craftsman is worthless without it.” I could not help adding, rather bitterly, “Only a fool would leave it.”

“Master Thorne would not have taught a fool. Something is preventing our journeyman from appearing at the guild, but it is not lack of opportunity.”

Does he suspect?

“But the second puzzle piece is more interesting. If there truly is an unregistered mage in the city, the Guild of Mages does not know of it.”

“How would they know? You said before…”

“There are some who can sense and see magic in others. It is a complex thing,” he frowned. “Take our cook. She Charms food, making it a certain temperature or adding flavour. But she cannot sense any magic. She tastes her own cooking as merely good, while to others it is fantastic. Compare that to Bard Oran, who has a Talented voice and can taste her magical cooking. Some who have no Charms or Talents of any kind are able to taste the magic of her cooking and hear the magic of the bard’s stories, while others are insensitive to all magic.” He spoke with an air of studied indifference, and I wondered if he wasn’t in the insensitive group.

“So some mages would see..” I hesitated. I could see the cook’s magic only when it was used. Like Kiva’s ability with plants, and mine with wood, it only showed up in the product, or while the product was being made. But fire magic was a whole different class. Charms were normal, even common, Talents slightly less so. But true magic was rare. With all my traveling, even since coming to Saliz, I had only ever seen two mages.

“Magic is different. A bard’s Talent is only music, or only story-telling. Some hear it, some do not. To those who can taste the extra flavours and hear the pureness of the tones, it is magic. Otherwise, it is simply a skill, a well-cooked roast, a prettily-told tale.”

“But Magic?”

“It is not a subject that can be explained in a sentence or two. It should have been taught in school.”

A trap? “You say that of Essel and Atelis when you, who knows a mage or five and lives in Saliz, cannot explain it?”

He was not offended. “I suppose not. With very few exceptions, all mages appreciate the Charms and Talents of others. Most also sense when magic is being used nearby, and, some, where and by whom.”

“But then how could they not already know of this fire mage?”

He leaned forward, chin resting on his hand. “Only a small number are capable of seeing the potential within others when it is not in use. Evidently, none with that Talent have laid eyes on this mage.” His expression and words did not match. “That, or they did not realize that the mage they saw was unregistered. It is not impossible.” He stood abruptly. “We should pay the Guild of Mages a visit.” He was opening the door before I thought of a suitable response.

I kept my back to the door, and to him. “Did you not summon dinner?”

“Now is hardly the time to waste our energy on food.” He spoke seriously. “Especially if this mage is strong enough to create objects of power.”

I did not know what that meant, but going to the Guild of Mages was out of the question. “The cook will likely be expecting a report on my eating dinner, since I missed two meals already today.” I stared resolutely at his empty chair for fear my real concern was visible on my face.

“As you like,” his voice came from far away, “but you will not have another opportunity to visit. The Guild of Mages is quite a remarkable place.”

I hesitantly turned to look. He was standing outside the open door. Was the cook that scary? “I need food.”

“Then I shall expect your full report, written out, on the baker’s case on my desk when I return.”

“Aww. You upset him.” Avery leaned against the door, watching him go.

He did appear to be leaving quickly, but I doubted it was from any hurt feelings.

I almost went down to the kitchen, but then dinner arrived on the arm of a tired page-girl. She looked curiously disappointed that the Captain was not there, but left the whole platter.

It almost made up for not eating all day. The cook really was Talented.

“Don’t forget to get new shoes.” Avery reminded me. “I’m not coming back until you do. Yours have gotten quite uncomfortable.”

I had to ask a guard where to go. The cobbler’s shop was outside near the stables and doubled as a tannery. It seemed cruel to have the smells of leather so close to the animals that provided it.

The cobbler was out, but his brother the tanner took my measurements and position and sent me away.

Avery kept her word and did not reappear until the shoes did, though she was never far. She was upset about something, but refused to say what it was. Having very few luxuries in life as one born dead, I let her keep her secret.

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About the author

Moonweave

Bio: I dream, I travel, I read, I write, and then I start over again.

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