A few nights later, Iven’s father made one of his infrequent visits to the Enclave. Iven borrowed money from the last of his friends who was willing to lend it, trimmed his auburn hair until it was the exact length his father thought of as “proper,” and took the man out to eat at his favorite tavern.
His father was immediately suspicious, but he was tired enough from his travels that he didn’t demand any answers right away.
Iven waited until his sire had downed a mug of beer before he broached the topic he wanted to discuss.
“Father,” he said in his most respectful voice, “aren’t you doing something important with the cotton trade in Kashwin right now?”
His father grunted and eyed him over his second mug. “What’s this about then?”
He really was a very suspicious man. Iven didn’t feel he’d earned this much caution. Well, it was no good to beat around the bush here. Iven’s request was likely too much, and it was definitely too strange. He was enough of a merchant’s son to know there was no real way to ease a man into a dragon’s mouth.
“I need five hundred thousand cotton seeds. And a farmer.”
Iven’s father sputtered on his beer. Then he stared at Iven incredulously, an actual laugh bubbling out of his mouth.
“Five hundred thousand seeds and a farmer,” he repeated. “Are you giving up on magic entirely?”
Iven winced. This next part was key. “I have a new kind of luck spell in mind.”
His father’s mirth ended in an instant. “No. I can’t believe—”
“If it doesn’t work,” Iven said hastily, “I’ll never spend another moment studying luck magic. I’ve already decided…this is the last time. The last time ever if it fails. I promise. I’ll swear it in blood before the family council if you want me to.”
His father tilted his head, eyeing Iven thoughtfully. “What exactly do you think you’re going to do, Iven?” he said, when his contemplation had ended. “Do you think you can bless a pile of seeds and a farmer, and have their yields improve?”
Iven hesitated. “It’s easier than that, but more complicated.”
His father sighed.
“No really!” said Iven. “I…well, I’ve realized that luck magic is useless the way it’s always been done. It’s a complete waste. But I think I can scry the seeds and tell if they’re lucky. Actually, I can tell how lucky they are, which is even better.”
“I’ve never heard of anyone scrying for luck,” said his father in an incredulous voice.
“It works!” said Iven, unable to keep a little bit of his enthusiasm from leaking into his voice. “I’ve been refining a technique for it over the past two months. That’s why Master Enetta finally quit teaching me enchanting. She says I’m hopeless. It’s different from a normal scrying. It’s better to do it using ritual magic, which makes it harder and more expensive. But the thing is, it really does work!”
“You can tell how lucky something is using a scrying ritual,” his father repeated.
“Yes, I can,” said Iven.
“What’s the catch?”
“I may only be a low magician,” he said, “but I know enough to understand it can’t be that simple. Not with luck magic.”
“Oh,” said Iven. “I…yes. There’s a problem. But it’s just the same problem there always is with scrying. It can only tell you something’s past or immediate present. I can only tell you how lucky the seeds are right at that very moment.”
“It doesn’t account for future variables you mean,” said his father. “That’s more than a small problem, Iven. Your seeds could be lucky one minute and unlucky the next.”
“They can. But it’s about likelihood. I think luck magic actually bridges the future variables problem better than other kinds of scrying. Because of its nature. It seems to be working that way so far, at any rate. The things I make lucky don’t stay exactly as lucky as I made them. It oscillates. But overall they’re much luckier than they would have been. Only I need to perform a much bigger experiment to prove it.”
His father held up a hand to stem the flow of words. “What do you mean you make something lucky? You just said you’d given up on that and you were only trying to scry objects.”
Iven’s eyes widened and he leaned forward over the table. “Da—I mean, Father…it’s not exactly making luck. That’s why I need to do something bigger. I think…I might be going a little mad, but I really, truly believe I might’ve figured out a way to find good luck. And then, all you have to do is take advantage of it.”
“For the sake of sane men, boy, please speak the common tongue.”
Iven calmed himself as well as he could. He’d been dying to tell someone what he’d done for the past two months, but he knew he had to be careful about it. If he was wrong, the family would give up on him for good. If he was right, then…he wasn’t sure, but he thought it was very important. The kind of important that shouldn’t be shared casually.
He explained to his father, step by step, what he had been doing. He explained the results. He explained what he thought it might mean for the family if he could truly master this newfound magic.
And his father gradually began to nod along with him.
When Iven was through, his father sat back and crossed his arms over his wide chest. “Blow me down,” he said, “but it’s logical, isn’t it? It’s even simple, when you finally wrap your head around the notion of applying scrying principles using luck magic. I think, if anything, you’re underestimating how important something like this could be.”
“You believe me?” Iven said, a thrill running through him. Nobody had ever believed in his magic before.
“Oh, I think you’ve got to be very wrong about something, my son,” his father said, smiling slightly. “You have to be. Or else someone would have stumbled upon this idea before now and made themselves famous. But it’s honestly too tempting to ignore. I see why you have to test it, and I think you should test it. Though I don’t think you quite understand the logistics required to do what you want. It will cost more in money and family resources than I can give you, but if you let me explain it to the right cousins, we can probably get funding.”
We? thought Iven, so shocked he nearly fell out of his chair.
“Ha!” said his father, pounding one of his fists on the table. “I’m excited, boy! This will never work. But what if it does?”
Eventually, even the council became interested in Iven’s proposal.
Apparently, a boy studying luck magic was a waste. But a boy who swore he could make luck magic work was a calculated business risk.
They gave him the best ritual room in the Enclave. And helpers. And access to all the supplies he asked for, including magical artifacts to boost his power, so that he could do his scrying at the level of a mage instead of a magician.
It was more overwhelming, on the whole, than fun.
A pair of Aunts with knowledge of the agricultural market had been enlisted to help him design an experiment of a much larger scope than he had ever imagined. If the Orellen family was investing a significant amount of money to determine whether Iven was a genius or a cheese-brain, they explained, then they were going to invest a significant amount of money so that the matter would never again be in doubt.
If this failed, and Iven didn’t die of the shame, he was going to take his cheese brain, move to the other side of the continent, and never return.
Finally, the preparations were complete. It was time.
Each batch of cotton seeds was delivered to Iven with a formal contract signed by the council, as binding as any legal document could be in the Enclave. It said that the seeds would be planted where Iven chose, by the farmer whose name he selected from a long list he’d been given, on exactly the dates he requested. At the family’s expense.
If he chose a spot where there was no field, one would be created.
If they owned no land there, some would be rented.
There would be no argument from the family.
All of this was critical to Iven’s theory. He could find good luck as long as he, personally, could control as many variables as possible. Everything beyond his control made the scrying a little less accurate, and there would always be many things beyond his control. But if he could control a few important factors absolutely, then his accuracy should increase.
As terrifying as it was, he needed to be the one in charge.
He sat in the ritual room, a map of the continent spread out before him. Burlap seed sacks had been piled in the center of the most elaborate diagram he’d ever used. (Fortunately, he hadn’t had to plan the enormous thing out entirely on his own. The family specialists had helped him get it right.)
He called on his magic, twisting and turning it down the pathways he’d memorized. Pushing it harder than he would have for other types of spell, overcoming any internal objection with the extra force.
These seeds are bound for Northeastern Kashwin, he thought firmly. Northeastern Kashwin. Northeastern Kashwin. I’m completely in charge of them, and that’s where I intend to send them.
It took a while, but as he went on, pouring more and more magic into the scry, he began to see the seeds in a different light.
They looked a bit pathetic, didn’t they? What a sorry thing to pin his hopes on! The family was right to think he had no brains between his ears.
Hmm…well, that’s definitely unlucky then.
Iven released the magic, taking a deep breath to collect himself.
It wasn’t like any other kind of scrying he’d heard about, but it had such an obvious effect. Clearly, Northeastern Kashwin and these seeds didn’t mesh well. He couldn’t tell perfectly how unlucky they were by judging his own feelings, but he knew it was more than a little bit. Perhaps he’d get better at narrowing things down with time.
Taking a deep breath to collect himself, he started over again.
These seeds are bound for Northwestern Kashwin. I’m the boss here. Nobody can argue with me. To Northwestern Kashwin they’ll go!
It was a long process, and Iven became very nervous when the entire country of Kashwin appeared to be bad luck for his seeds. He knew next to nothing about cotton production, and contrary to his expectations, his elders had told him it should be kept that way for the sake of this experiment.
But he had at least heard “Kashwini Cotton” spoken of reverently by people, and the Enclave was sending his father to help organize trade routes there, so it must be a good place to grow the crop. But it felt bad. If he was following his own rules, then he had to cross it off.
What if you can’t scry luck at all? a cruel little voice asked him. What if he was picking up on some other useless piece of information instead?
Still, there was no path out except to move forward now. So he continued on narrowing down the place where his seeds would grow with a dogged determination.
It took a few days to cover the entire continent. And a couple more to narrow down the appropriate date. And one to narrow down the farmer from the list of names.
When he was done, Iven checked all of it twice more. These seeds are going to a hamlet at the base of the Sesh Mountain Range in Nevera, he thought with conviction. They will be planted on the 23rd day of Holy Rae’s month. Farmer Jan Zindor will be given charge of them.
Wow, the seeds were looking really nice now! Iven didn’t know why he’d been so worried. They were practically bursting with life. It was obvious.
“Okay, then,” he murmured, relaxing his magic.
He took up a pen and filled out his part of the contract carefully. When he turned it in to the Uncle who was monitoring his work that day, Iven stared hard at his face, looking for any sign of surprise or disappointment. But the man was completely unreadable as he rolled up the contract.
“I’ll deliver this,” he said. “Take your usual break, and we’ll have a new batch of seeds brought in for you.”
The family had insisted on five different test sites.
It was a frightening amount of responsibility.
A month later, the top Seniors of the Orellen family met in the Enclave’s council room. At the end of the meeting, Senior Dowither brought up the matter of Iven’s scrying. “The boy’s finally finished the process…damnably long and expensive as it was. He didn’t choose a single farm in Kashwin.”
“Are you thinking we should reconsider our investments there this season?” asked Senior Elyna, eyeing him in surprise over her teacup.
“No, I’m merely pointing out the boy’s foolishness. Who grows cotton in Nevera? Do you know how much we had to pay that farmer he selected to get the man to go there? He thought we’d lost our minds!”
“I agree it’s likely foolishness,” Elyna agreed. She had been one of Iven’s main supporters on the council. “But it’s exciting isn’t it? To imagine it working...”
“It’s a little terrifying, to be honest,” another council member said. “Luck magic users are rare. If he’s right…well, we’ll have to keep the other families from knowing at least. And invest whatever it takes to get him to a high-ranking mage level. Low sorcerer, even, if it's possible for him. Scrying is a basic skill but its accuracy increases vastly as you gain understanding. Fifty years from now, he’ll be sitting in this room drinking tea with those of us who are left.”
Senior Dowither snorted. “If.”
If, they all agreed.
Later that year, the outbreak of a certain weevil decimated the cotton crop in the Kingdom of Kashwin.
And in a small hamlet in Nevara, a High Sorcerer who specialized in life magic fell unexpectedly in love with a handsome young farmer named Jan Zindor.
She spelled his cotton field as an engagement present.