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At last the heat had waned and it was turning into a pleasant season, or so I foolishly believed. I walked out the front door of the receiving hall and into the sunshine.

I did it in a pretty little frock the seamstress, Mirelle, had recently delivered with a wink, as if I might have been hiding a handsome young man in that closet of mine. Having only interacted with the ancient cobbler’s older brother, the runner Mereditt, who was about ten years, and the Captain, it was a laughable idea.

But it was pretty, and perfect for the weather, so I thought, why not? Perhaps I could make new friends, or meet a handsome young man.

‘Why not’ found me strolling down streets I had never visited, where fancy mansions were guarded by gates and patrolling men.

The sight of them alarmed me enough to enter the first path away from the open road.

I followed the grassy path that wound between bushy hedges hoping to find a spot of shade. At a corner like any other, the hedge vanished, revealing the beautiful flowers twined around the wooden arches, and stone paths that went running around and across the little river-pond to the island, and all the colors and the pretty birds chirping. It was as if the city did not exist in that peaceful oasis.

How much Kiva would love this! Avery smiled at it all. I hope she never sees it.

The garden ended with a stone wall up which roses climbed and down which ivy fell.

Is it not a house? Like the manors Anna has described.

Some spots of colorful glass made holes in the foliage, but otherwise it was too decorative, too natural to be a real house, and it did not occur to me that it could be occupied.

He saw me first. Until he moved and spoke to me, I did not see him at all. He was wearing navy blue that stood out sharply against the floral background, framed by a greenish-blue glow. And yet he was so at home sitting on his stone bench that he blended in with the scenery.

Being foreign, he knew little of Niare’s guild regulations and registrations. He could not have guessed who I was, or that I was at odds with the local laws. Unaware of that, the shock of seeing that glittery sparkle of Magic had me running in the opposite direction.

But the dainty little slippers that went with the dress were not made for running, nor was the form-fitting dress designed with that purpose in mind. Fortunately, the garden path was very clean and soft.

The young man was kind enough to help me up and not make any comments about my less-than-dignified appearance. “I am sorry I startled you,” he spoke with a strange lilt.

“I did not mean to be so startled.”

Instead of calling for guards or dragging me away to be hung, he kept hold of my hand and led me back to the bench he had been sitting on. “Rest here,” he said kindly. “You are gone white.” He released my hand and sat next to me with a concerned expression.

My heart quivered, my skin tingled, and my mind was blank.

Say something.

“Are you—” going to call the guards now?

“Sebastien de Vior,” he said, with a strange expression.

“Pleased to meet you,” I could not hear my own voice over the drumming of my heart.

“Also I.” He looked at me expectantly.

Was it the beauty of the flowers, or the serenity of the little river that flowed beside us? “I am Avery.”

Aevlin! Avery’s voice inside my head was like a whisper-shout. Did you not see the glow?

A different name would not stop the Captain from knowing my face when he was called in for questioning, so there was no reason to change mine.

We sat silently, watchfully, each with entirely different expectations which continued to be unfulfilled.

He knew it first—relief lit his eyes, and then his whole face burst into a sunshine smile that dazzled.

I smiled back, feeling pink.

He laughed, and I did too. “I see,” he took a breath. “You are—not one of them.” He spoke slowly, as if struggling to create the words.

Was he also a secret mage?

He had stopped glowing. Had he glowed, or had it been a trick of the light and my own surprise?

As the threat of arrest dulled, my heart slowed to nearly normal and my ability to reason returned. Even if he was a mage, he would not automatically know me for the rogue fire mage.

I must have looked conflicted, because Sebastien reached over and took my hand and said sweet, encouraging words. Followed by the much less comforting, “Why is your magic weird?”

“What do you mean?” I tried to take my hand back. Avery stopped breathing and made herself smaller.

“It is different, it..waves. It does not…It is not…” he could not find the words to describe it.

I could only hope it was weird because of my lack of training and not any strange inheritance I might have received from Grandfather. Or Avery. But Sebastien seemed confused, not alarmed. And he expected a response.

Softly, I said, “My Mother would not let me be trained,” because it was true, and probably sad. So I said it while looking very sad.

“That is dreadful!” Sebastien looked sad, too. And concerned, and then horrified. “That is nonsafe.”

“I have learned what I can, here and there,” I said with a bright, hopeful-only-honestly-sad smile that I had learned was very effective in increasing the helpfulness of beholders. Preparing myself for the worst, I asked, “Do you attend the Mages Guild?”

He shook his head. “I cannot. I am not—” he could not think of the word.

“Qualified?” I asked. I had read that the Mages Guild only took exceptional students, and handed the rest off to lesser magic schools. All Mages had to register with the guild, but that did not mean they would have access to it.

He nodded. “I am not qualified. Are you?”

I shook my head, relieved that I was not exposed after all and wondering if I should not have given a different name.

“I will you teach,” Sebastien was still holding my hand.

“Would you?” If I had known then that Vior was an island country south-east of Niare and that ‘de Vior’ was what the royal family was called, I would have reacted differently. "I would...I would really like to learn." I heard the wistfulness in my voice and tried to breathe it away, choking on air. "It would be nice," I said, as if it were a cup of tea or a break from work.

 

Sebastien’s teaching left something to be desired. He probably felt the same about my learning.

He spent several minutes pacing around the garden before he returned to the bench with eyes full of ideas. “Magic is everywhere, in air, in flowers, the whoosh! Of water. It grows, it life is.”

I looked at the flowers and the water, but it all looked the same as ever.

“Look. Really look,” Sebastien left to pluck a flower and came back to give it to me. It was a pretty blue thing, shaped like a chain of little bells, but still just a flower.

He frowned and his eyes searched the garden. “Water! It feel, it taste.” He pulled me after him to the bridge.

I followed his example and knelt by the little pond, swished my hand through the water and declined his suggestion of drinking it.

He sat back on his heels. “The air. Can you it feel? Drink, see, it believe magic.”

I did not realize that his grammar was simply a product of his native language, so I thought that he was so annoyed with me that he had forgotten how to speak properly. “Okay…” I inhaled deeply. Avery roused herself to try with me.

He tried again, but as he grew more frustrated, so did his verbs. “It all over flow. In people. Feel it.” He put my hand over his heart, but the only pulse I felt was his, steadily thump-thumping.

But then there was something else.

It was very slight, just a whisper I could not quite catch. Then it was gone and I did not know what it had been. It was as though, for just a moment, the world had been sharper, more real. And then it faded and everything was a bit dimmer and duller. Only it was normal, as it had always been.

Sebastien smiled, relieved. “You saw. That is good. I know not one can not see to teach.”

It must have shown on my face. “Yes,” I whispered. “Yes!” I laughed. “Oh, I want it to come back. I did not see it properly.”

He stood, holding out his hand to me. “It will. It takes time, but it will be easy, later. Then you will be able to see it always. You will see what I see.” He smiled, and I tried not to pout as he pulled me to my feet.

Sitting on our stone bench with birdsong and water burbling for accompaniment, Sebastien taught me to breathe.

That is, he told me to breathe very slowly and consciously while focusing on nature, which is what he thought would help me to sense the magic around me. He tried to explain something of force and essence, but only confused us both and exhausted himself.

Looking defeated, he declared lesson one over, saying that he would think of another way to teach me.

I was not certain if I should leave, if the lesson was over. Since I had come to be outside, and it was such a nice day, I stayed on the bench. He stayed, too.

Feeling shy, I asked, “Do you come here often?”

“I live here,” he pointed at the de Vior mansion.

"So it is a house." Not a decorative wall.

"It has the house shape, but not the heart of one."

Not noticing the quality of his clothes or the softness of his hands, I assumed he worked for one of the Families. It did not help that he did not seem happy to be living in the beautiful manor house.

Anna would know whose house it is.

“You do not like it there?”

He shrugged, “It is not home.”

I nodded, perfectly understanding his feeling and even more convinced of my incorrect supposition. How was everyone? Did Kiva still flirt with the neighbor boy? Would they marry? He was at least twenty-two years, and she nearly twenty. Did Jaiden still laze about on the river, holding epic grudges and ignoring life around him? Was Teigan exploring my old play places? Caught up in nostalgia, I said dreamily, “Some days, I so long to wander the orchards of Willow Falls, and swim in the river where the water is shallow and the fish are friendly.”

We both gazed into the pond, but there were no friendly fish to be had.

“Father thinks fish are dirty,” he looked disappointed, too.

“I suppose they are.” Mother had always made me bath before re-entering the house whenever I swam in the river. If it had not required too much attention, she would have stopped me swimming altogether. “Still, I like them.”

“At home we have! So many big fishes. In the big waters, not the private ones.”

“I think the palace garden’s pond has fish.”

“Does it? I will watch.”

I nodded uncomfortably. It did not seem likely that a gardener’s apprentice, for that was my guess, would be allowed into the palace garden. It was not a place that the public had access to. “Tell me about your home,” I said, to shift his thoughts away from the palace and its illusive gardens. “Where would you go first, there?”

“My home?” he seemed to not understand the question. “I go home in Winter.”

“What do you like to do there? For fun.”

“For fun? I play with my sisters, sometimes.”

“I have a little sister,” I smiled. “She is so cute, only eight—oh! She must be almost ten now.”

He smiled, “My sisters—”

“Sebastien?!” The angry seeking voice of an older man broke the peaceful mood.

“I go!” he whispered to me, standing quickly. “Five minutes you wait.” He walked, fast but dignified, toward the manor house.

I waited some minutes more than five before I realized that he was not coming back.

 

Having a friend was a new, exciting experience. I had made friends with the padfoots, but I understood that they accepted me because I was of use to them. There was nothing that I could give Sebastien, so when I returned shyly to the garden the next day and found him on the same bench and saw his face light up to see me, I could not help but be happy.

“You came,” Sebastien stood and motioned for me to join him on the bench, waiting like a gentleman until I sat down.

“Of course,” I smiled back and sat daintily on the bench. I was wearing an unnecessarily fancy blue sun-dress because all my requested casual summer clothes had been mysteriously replaced by pretty, womanly options. I felt self-conscious, and slightly paranoid that the bench might be dirty. “I was quite bored at the palace—there is never anyone to talk to.”

In retrospect, Sebastien’s clothes were much higher quality than mine, though he took no notice of the bench at all. “I understand your feeling. There is no one here at all, to talk to or not to talk. I wish I might leave.”

“Just leave, then!” I spread my arms wide as if to fly away and breathed in the sunshine. “Let’s both just leave.”

He laughed and half-sighed and said, “That would be nice. We could the ocean sail and swim with friendly fishes.”

“All the world to explore! And no one to stop us.” We smiled at each other, and I felt silly but so cheerful.

We walked several circuits around the gardens while he instructed me on breathing techniques. “Step one is to sense magic. If you cannot sense it, you cannot use it. You must grow your—what is the word?” He gestured.

“Awareness?” I offered.

Right or not, he agreed. “Open your heart and mind to the soul of the world—” etc. I could not accurately explain his musical way of speaking, or the various ways he tried to help me understand magic.

I was not terribly successful, but Avery said it was working for her. She had always been the stronger and cleverer twin.

I ignored the warning pangs in my stomach, but I could not ignore the dizziness of my head that made it hard to think or talk, let alone to understand such a foreign concept as the natural magical forces. “I should return,” I sighed, covering pain with frustration.

“Will you come back?” Sebastien asked.

I smiled brightly. “Of course!” As long as the Captain stayed busy, I could easily keep visiting the beautiful garden and the kindly boy that waited in it.

Since I had not thought to bring any money, I had to walk the whole way back to the palace, and by then I had missed lunch and dinner. The cook would have had a fit if I had not told her that I had spent the day out with a friend. She even tried to tease and find out if there was a boy as she supplied me with enough food to feed three. I neither confirmed nor denied, but my embarrassed smile earned me an extra roll. Avery found her interest annoying, but I could not imagine that life was very exciting for a palace cook.

For several days my life was made unexciting by a delivery of books from the Captain and poor Mereditt who had to sit and watch me study them. I wrote a paper on food quality, and with it Meredith left at last.

 

The next morning I slipped out early to avoid any similar inconvenience.

“Did you practice breathing?”

Sebastien and I sat side by side on the bridge with our feet dangling in the water. That had been my suggestion—those dreadfully pretty slippers were making my feet ache.

“My sister and brother and I used to do this all the time, when I was younger. We had a little stream like this one, and on hot summer days we would kick off our shoes and—” I could almost see us all, laughing and splashing about. Before the fire. Before it all changed.

“You did not practice.”

“I am sorry,” I felt for a moment like I had ruined my chance at having a friend, but then I realized that he was still smiling at me. “I really meant to practice, but I was very busy yesterday.” And very watched.

He just made a sound with his tongue that I took to signify disappointment, but in a non-serious way. Then he apologized, “I hindered your story.”

“I don’t remember it,” I lied, kicking at a rock.

He looked away and said, “My sisters and I always played together, too. When I was younger.”

“How many sisters do you have?”

He was quiet for so long, I nearly spoke again. “Five.”

I felt my eyes widen. I had thought my family was big. Six children, and only one boy! “What are your sisters like?”

“I know not,” He said sadly. “I have not for years my family seen. Only this year I can home go.” He reached down and played with the water, watching the ripples made by his fingers. Had I offended him? But as I watched, the rippled formed into a vague image of children, laughing and playing.

“Can I do that?” I asked, amazed.

“No.”

“Oh.”

“It is a different essence.”

“Oh! Your magic is water-based.” It made sense, that a fire mage would not be able to play with water as he did. Looking closely, most of the children looked more like boys. “They are your sisters?”

He nodded, so I tried not to be judgmental. They all looked around Teigan’s age. They could grow up to be pretty. Or that was just how they appeared in Sebastien’s eyes, he maybe did not see them as girls.

“Is one you?”

He let one one the forms grow brighter, creating a clear image of a younger Sebastien before letting it rejoin the others.

He is well handsome for such a homely child.

“You all look so—happy.”

“This was us, years ago. Before I come here.”

“Why did you come here alone? You must have been quite young, then.”

He looked uneasy. “It was necessary.”

Perhaps it was money troubles. Six children was a lot to feed. “Are you the oldest?”

“No. Dominique is oldest, then Andrien and Daniele. Next me. Julien and Ariele are youngest.”

His family gave their children such pretty, strange names. “I am in the middle, too.” No one knew our names, or so I thought, and I felt perfectly safe saying, “Kivalya is the eldest, she is almost twenty, and then Jaiden is just turned nineteen. I am seventeen, and my little sister, Teigan, is ten. How old are they?”

I think he is older. Jaiden’s age. Avery studied Sebastien.

“I am seventeen also,” he smiled. “I will this year eighteen be. Dominique is twenty-four. Andrien and Daniele are both this year twenty. Julien and Ariele are sixteen and fifteen.”

I was close.

Sitting with my feet dangling in the little pond, I was an average girl of seventeen years next to an average boy of seventeen years. I felt pretty.

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A note from Moonweave

Language is fascinating. It seems like if I understand someone, I will not notice or remember grammar/word mistakes even if I am sure they did not speak perfectly. But if I do not understand, I am more likely to remember exactly what they said. Perhaps because then the words are just words, rather than dissolving into meaning?


About the author

Moonweave

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

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