Nanu watched the boy.
It had been nearly two months since she'd given him the book. He had been reading and re-reading it with an impressive level of obsession ever since.
Well, what of it? she’d thought at first. Winter is long and boring in Hemarland, and children will follow their curiosity to strange places.
She hadn’t been surprised to spot him trying meditation—or his own peculiar version of it—in back of his family’s pig barn. Nor had she been shocked to see him stomping the pattern of the book’s basic magical diagram into the snow on the beach one afternoon.
A boy playing at wizarn was only a bit more unexpected than one playing at sailor or warrior. Nanu was too old to get herself worked up over such things.
Still…something about Kalen's dedication to the play-acting caught her attention. And she began to watch. His first magic circle did nothing of course, though he squatted beside it waving his hands over it for nearly an hour. The one he built the next day was no better. Nor was his third.
But the very fact that he had built a third at all made Nanu wonder.
Kalen was a good boy. He loved his family fiercely, and he was smart—not merely clever for his age, but truly intelligent in a way that showed promise for what he’d be one day. But that very cleverness combined with the coddling that came of him being Shelba and Jorn’s only child meant he had even less patience for tedium and failure than the average young person.
Nanu knew this from their lessons. He read well enough, but he found writing difficult and boring. Only half of his letters were legible, and he refused to improve them.
But after Kalen's first failure with the diagram, he began to design the magical runes with extraordinary focus and care. Watching the process, Nanu had half a mind to drag him by the ear back to her house and force him to write his letters just as accurately.
When the attempt failed to produce any results again, the boy stood staring down at the pattern with a frown on his face, head tilted to one side. He looked annoyed, but not nearly as frustrated as Nanu thought he should.
Though the light was fading, he trudged down the beach and began stomping out the pattern in a fresh spot.
Why? wondered Nanu. She stood above him, watching from the rocky trail that led down to the shore. Why does he think it will work when it hasn’t yet? Why does he have such faith? Why such patience in this matter when he has so little in others?
Nanu cupped her hands over her mouth and called out, “Small man! It’s near dark. Get yourself back up here!”
Startled, the boy leaped into the air. As though he’d been caught doing something wicked, he began hastily scrubbing the designs out of the snow.
Kalen raced up the slope toward his reading teacher, cold air stinging his lungs as his fur-lined boots pounded the frozen earth. Was he in trouble? And, if he was, how much trouble?
He had been given Basic Magical Practices of the Leflayr Family to learn reading, not magic. What if Nanu was angry? Worse…what if she took the book away?
She’ll definitely take the book away, Kalen thought with dread.
Why hadn’t he copied the words somehow so that they couldn't be taken from him? Could he pretend that drawing out the magic pattern from the last chapter of the book was writing practice? He knew that magical runes and the continental letters were not the same thing, but perhaps Nanu could be persuaded that he didn’t know?
All too soon, he reached the place where the old woman stood. He bent over his own knees, breathing deeply, trying to come up with an excuse.
“Well, small man, are you so determined to be a wizarn that you’ll practice for hours in the snow with nary a result to show for it?”
Kalen looked up at her wrinkled face and dark brown eyes. “Teacher Nanu,” he said, “I needed…”
He didn't know how to explain it, and Nanu wasn’t the sort to provide an answer for him.
“I needed to do it,” he said finally. It was only the truth.
“Why?” asked Nanu.
“Because I needed to.”
Nanu raised her eyebrows at him.
“Because…because the aurora’s not here right now, and it’s like I can’t…” Kalen stared at her helplessly.
The last aurora had stayed for days, shifting and swirling through the sky over Hemarland like a gift from the gods. It had introduced Kalen to the wondrous feeling of steeping himself in magic until he felt ready to burst with it. He’d practiced “inviting” the magic in every chance he got, until it was as natural as breathing.
The power flowed through his body, following shapes and patterns inside him that he could neither control nor understand, but it felt good for those shapes to take form. Kalen had wanted it to last forever.
Then, the aurora had disappeared, as it always did. And the magic in the air around him began to fade. And now, even the patterns inside of him had grown weak. Empty. He felt like a sail hanging limp from the mast instead of billowing with strength.
“It’s like I can’t take a deep breath,” he said finally to Nanu. And wasn't that the best explanation for it? This feeling…like he was trapped underwater, hungry for air. “I thought if I could make the spell circle work, I could breathe again.”
Kalen clasped his hands in front of him, smiling hopefully up at the reading teacher. She didn’t look angry. Maybe she wouldn’t take the book from him after all?
Maybe, instead, she would give him an answer.
Nanu stared at him for a long time before speaking. “Small man, that is not how a practitioner’s circle works," she said at last. "You put the magic from yourself into it. It gives nothing back but what it’s designed to. And this one is designed to give off heat. Even if you could make it work, it would only pull magic from you, not put more of it into you.”
Kalen clenched his fists together tightly. “But then what am I supposed to do?!” he cried. “What if it’s months before the aurora comes back? What if it’s years?”
He honestly thought he might die of the waiting if it took that long.
Nanu was giving him the strangest look. “Is drawing in the magic of the world so very important to you all of a sudden? You didn’t even know what it was until I spoke of it. Even if you are a natural-born wizarn, at your age and with no experience, you can’t have tasted much of it.”
“It’s the most important thing I’ve ever felt,” Kalen said adamantly. “You’re…you understand, don’t you, Teacher Nanu? You feel the magic, too. You said so! It floods into you, and it rushes through you like the river after the snow melts, and you feel like you could do anything at all!”
Nanu didn’t answer him. Her face was even stranger now.
“Isn’t there…don’t you have a book that will help even if the aurora isn’t here?” Kalen sounded desperate even to himself.
“There is no such book,” said Nanu.
“Maybe a scroll, then!”
Nanu placed a hand on his shoulder. “Kalen,” she said, leaning down to look him in the eye. “What do you see when you look up at the aurora?”
“The same as you said!” he replied eagerly. “The light moves through the sky, and it’s usually green or blue, but there are places like deep cracks in it full of every color you can imagine. And you can feel them, too, when you pay attention. All the different colors. And the aurora presses on you from the outside all the time while it’s here, like it’s trying to get in. I thought it was a bad thing that might hurt me, so I always shoved it away before, but then I read the book. I tried letting it in instead, and it was like—” He opened his mouth wide and sucked in a huge breath of air, pointing at his own chest for dramatic effect. “It makes you feel as big as the whole world!”
“I see.” Nanu hesitated for a moment. “That sounds…enjoyable. But you’re just going to have to wait to experience it again. If you do manage to move your magic into the circles it will only drain you and make you feel worse.”
Kalen’s shoulders slumped. “But, Teacher Nanu!”
“We will talk about it tomorrow,” she said. “When you come for your writing lessons.”
“Did you think I would not notice?” Nanu said with a smile. “A boy who can devote himself to carving runes in the snow can devote himself to his letters.”
“Will we really talk about magic, too?”
“I have said it, haven’t I?” Nanu sounded a little irritated.
“Is it all right to do that?” Kalen asked, feeling more hopeful now. If Nanu said it was all right, then maybe he had been worried over nothing? “What about my parents?"
“What about them?”
“What if they’re mad I want to learn wizarn things?”
“We’ll talk about that tomorrow, too. After you show me you can write something readable for a change.”
Nanu watched the boy go, waiting until he was out of sight to release the frown she’d been holding back.
So that’s how it is, she thought. And not a soul in the village to understand it or deal with it but old Nanu half-wizarn.
“Bah!” she said to the setting sun. “And I'm not even half of one by the reckoning of anyone on the continent. Not even a spark to light their eyes!”
Nanu had studied magic for eighteen months, decades ago. She had learned under a poor practitioner in Baitown who’d never made it past the magician stage. She’d pursued it for exactly long enough to realize her talent was small and the price for developing it was higher than she wanted to pay.
But, apparently, she had learned just enough all those years ago to recognize a prodigy when she saw one.
For that was what Kalen was. The way he described magic wasn’t how Nanu would. Nor was it how her teacher had, all those years ago.
No, he sounded more like that woman who came some years to study the aurora…the sorcerer who Shelba hoped might give her a child. But even that woman had never spoken of feeling the separate colors—the different threads of magic that lit the sky.
Jorn had gone and pulled a gods’-gifted prodigy from the sea. And now Nanu had to figure out what to do with it.
She couldn’t tell anyone what the boy was, save perhaps his parents. The great families of the continent wouldn’t spit on a weak wizarn like Nanu if she were set on fire, but they’d go to great lengths to acquire a true talent. Especially one so young. And not a soul on Hemarland would be able to stop them from taking him away.
Mayhap when he was a teenager the danger would pass. They liked to train a practitioner from early youth, those families did. He’d hold less attraction for them if Nanu ruined him with her clumsy teaching for a few years.
Unless he had some highly sought-after inclination. Gods knew what they would do if the boy was gifted at light magic or mind magic or any of the other valuable and rare talents. Better that he never be officially tested at all.
She turned the matter over in her head, staring out at the sea.
The one blessing was that Jorn and Shelba were not nearly as superstitious about wizarns as some folk. They would listen to Nanu’s advice. They would at least believe her when she said that the boy must be taught something.
Nanu could have lived her whole life without knowing anything of magic, but she doubted Kalen was the same. She’d seen that light in his eyes. He had obviously touched a high that she could only guess at. He would chase it. And he would hurt himself if he had no direction at all.
Or he’ll blow up the damn village, she thought grumpily.
Idle boys were trouble. Idle wizarns were worse. Put the two together, and no doubt something catastrophic would happen.
Nanu should have charged Jorn more than a single pig for the reading lessons. The next few years were going to be a trial.
Kalen thought that he’d been in trouble for wanting to learn magic, but he didn’t seem to be.
Over the next week, Nanu came to his house to have private conversations with his parents several times. Aunt Jayne and Uncle Holv had joined them for the latest one. And though all of the adults kept giving Kalen concerned looks, they never said anything against his sudden interest in the subject.
Then, Shelba called him out to help muck the big barn one afternoon. The work was unpleasant but familiar, and Kalen set to it with a will. (He was trying very hard to be agreeable when it came to his chores, so that his parents would be agreeable when it came to his newfound passion for becoming a wizarn.)
Halfway through the task, when Kalen took a break to coo over Sleepy and her piglets, Shelba set aside her shovel and said, “So, you have a powerful wanting in you, Nanu says. One that shouldn't be denied.”
“Yes,” Kalen said, rubbing a black piglet under the chin. “Teacher Nanu says maybe if I work very hard I can learn some magic. I don’t mind working hard.”
“Hmph." His mother crossed her arms over her chest. “I’ll remind you that you said as much next time this job comes around. But…Kalen, are you sure?”
“Yes!” He didn't even try to hide the eagerness in his voice. He turned to her, beaming. If she was asking, then it meant she had already decided it would be all right!
“You understand that learning wizarn ways will make you different from the other people in the village. A few of them won’t like it too much. And you can’t unlearn a thing, so you can’t undo it.”
“I’ll learn to do helpful things with magic,” he said. “Like heating up the long houses in winter. Or the bathing tub.”
As far as actual spellwork went, Basic Magical Practices of the Leflayr Family only included instructions for how to heat things up or how to make sparks. Apparently, the family was known for its fire magic. Kalen had decided after much consideration that a heated bathing tub would be the way to his mother’s heart.
“Even if you only do helpful things, some people won’t like it.”
“I won’t be friends with those people then.”
“Ha!” Shelba smiled at him. “You are a son who takes after his mother. All right. I won’t be friends with such people either.”
“So…I can learn magic with Nanu? She can teach me?”
“She will. You must do exactly as she says, though. You mustn’t go off experimenting, since it might put you in danger. If I find you've disobeyed her, I'll make you sleep out here with the pigs."
Kalen nodded, trying to look obedient.
"Nanu will teach you wizarn ways, and your father and I will buy books for you. She says you’ll need many of them.”
“Will I?” asked Kalen, scarcely daring to believe the words. He would have his own books? His own magic books! No other child in the village could say the same. “How many?”
His mother shrugged. “As many as a few pigs can buy, I guess. Nanu and Uncle Holv will get them for you in Baitown this spring, so you have to master your reading by then.”
“I’m very good at it already!”
“And how do you know you are?” asked Shelba. “You’ve only ever read one book.”
Even his mother’s lack of confidence couldn’t dampen Kalen’s mood. He went back to cleaning the barn with a thousand wonderful thoughts buzzing through his mind. He would feel the aurora again. He would learn how to pull the magic into himself even when the lights weren’t in the sky. Maybe Nanu didn’t know a way, but surely, if he had enough books to read, Kalen could find one.
The next day, when he arrived at his teacher’s house, Kalen found Nanu waiting for him with the writing stone in front of her. He thought it would be another boring writing lesson, but instead, the stone was already covered with Nanu’s own words. She had made a list of random things.
Kalen pondered it, trying to figure out what the words had in common.
“It’s a list of different types of magic,” said Nanu.
“There are so many of them!” Kalen was delighted.
“Bah,” said Nanu. “This is only a bare few. The wizarns of the continent have been doing magic for so long that it is divided up into more types than I know. These are just the ones I think we might be able to find books for in Baitown. And if not, your Uncle can find them on his travels.”
“Can I learn them all?”
His teacher snorted. “You can’t. Most wizarns study one type of magic for their whole lives. When they reach the higher levels of the mage or sorcerer rank, mayhap they’ll pick up a second discipline. Or if their natural inclination is useless, they’ll study a different specialty from the beginning.”
“Which one do I get to learn, then?” Kalen gazed hungrily at the list. He didn’t know what all the words meant, but surely each held its own mystery and power.
Nanu tapped the writing stone with her finger. “Normally, a young wizarn is tested to see what type of magic best suits them. Such testing is expensive, though, and it will be hard to come by on Hemarland. Mayhap you’ll discover your inclination on your own one day, but for now, I think you should choose whatever you think suits you best from this list.”
They went through it together, Nanu explaining what she knew about each type of magic. She herself was inclined toward fire magic, which was why she’d studied the Leflayr book as a girl.
Sound magic was interesting, since the wizarns who practiced it could change their voices or make them carry across vast distances.
Alchemy was appealing as well, though Nanu marked it out as soon as they came to it and apologized for teasing Kalen with it. “Even if you’re a natural talent at it, you have to be rich as a king to buy the supplies.”
Body magic was magic one performed on one’s own body, to strengthen muscle and bone so that you could run faster and jump higher than a normal person. You could also make yourself hear and see better. Nanu seemed to think Kalen should be very interested in this one, but he wasn’t.
“I can hear and see just fine,” he protested when she kept pointing out all the ways body magic would be useful to him. (He was small and sickly. It was cheap to perform. It was very common, too, so books would be easy to find.) “I want to learn how to shout so loud they can hear me in Baitown. Or how to turn the ocean to ice and back again. Not how to run faster.”
He also rejected rune magic, since it sounded a lot like studying reading and writing until the end of time and never actually doing anything with it.
Sacred magic would involve requesting things from the gods by using special rituals. Kalen liked the sound of this, since having the gods on your side couldn't be a bad thing, but Nanu seemed a little wary when he expressed an interest in it. Eventually it was crossed out just like alchemy.
Trying his very best to sound like it was just an idle thought, Kalen said, “What’s the name of the magic Megimon Orellen used?”
“What?” said Nanu.
Kalen hoped she couldn’t hear his heart pounding from her seat next to him. “The wizarn who made the famous map. You said he could travel all over the world.”
“That’s spatial magic,” said Nanu. “I’m surprised you remembered the mapmaker's name.”
“Maybe I should learn that one.”
Kalen forced himself to breathe normally. If wizarns had magical inclinations that ran in families, then it stood to reason his own would be the same as someone who shared his forbidden last name. He’d probably be much better at that kind of magic than any other.
Nanu shook her head. “Sounds like an interesting magic to learn, I’ll grant you. But spatial magic is rare. Hard to find books for something like that. And since it’s mostly associated with one of the big families, there’s a good chance that the best texts are kept secret by them anyway. You'd have to ask them for their books, and sure as anything, they'd say no.”
“Nevermind then!” Kalen said hastily even as he tucked this information away in the back of his mind. “I don't want to learn that after all.”
In the end, Kalen narrowed his choices down to water magic and enchanting. He chose the first because he had easy access to lots and lots of water, and it just seemed practical to make use of it. And he selected enchanting because Nanu said that his wizarn coin (which he had begun carrying around again after ignoring it for a couple of years) was likely an enchanted object of some kind.
“It’s probably a hybrid of enchanting and luck magic, actually,” she said when Kalen pried it out of its bone case and showed it to her. “You definitely don’t want to learn luck magic, though. It’s completely useless.”
“So water magic or enchanting,” said Kalen. “Which is better?”
Nanu shrugged. “They’re both good, to my way of thinking. It should be easy enough to find books for either.”
“I can’t decide between them. So I’ll let the coin choose.”
Nanu rolled her eyes, but Kalen decided to ignore it. “I’m going to imbue this with magic now,” he announced.
“Do you even know how?” Nanu said. “And where did you hear a word like imbue, anyway? We haven’t actually talked about—”
The large gold coin began to glow faintly in Kalen’s hand.
Without the aurora filling him up to the brim, Kalen felt empty. But he wasn’t. There was still a little bit of something moving around inside him. Something that he thought must be his very own magic, instead of the power that had come from outside.
He’d been practicing with the coin in secret, and he’d finally figured out what Tomas Orellen had meant when he said you had to put a little bit of yourself inside it.
He’d also discovered that it worked better if he tried to make the trickle of magic inside him flow in the same shape as the elaborate pattern on the coin. He’d really only managed to make it into a vaguely circular tangle instead of a proper shape, but that was when the coin had started to light up for the first time.
“Should I study water magic?” Kalen asked aloud trying to put the idea into the coin with his magic as well as his words.
He couldn’t tell if it worked or not, but he flipped the coin anyway. He caught it out of the air in his palm.
“What’s it say?” Nanu eyed the coin doubtfully.
“This is the no side,” said Kalen. “So I’d better study enchanting instead.”
"Easy as that, eh?"
"Of course not," Kalen said primly. "I've been practicing my imbuing for days now. I'm a very hard worker."