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Hermit

Hemarland Island

Three Years Later

 

It came like it always did—a tingle on his skin, faint as the brush of a moth’s wing.

It had been two months since the last time, and Kalen had almost re-learned how to ignore the uncomfortable lack of magic on the island. It was unpleasant, but it had become familiar, like finally getting used to breathing out of one nostril when you’d been sick with a long cold.

But as soon as he felt the tingle, he remembered. He paused right in the middle of the village’s central round and took a deep breath. Yes. It’s not supposed to be like this. I’m not supposed to be so empty.

“Kalen? Why’ve you stopped?”

Kalen shook his head at his cousin. Lander had gone a few steps ahead of him before he realized Kalen wasn’t following. At twelve, Lander had just embarked on what seemed to be a promising growth spurt, and he’d taken to shaving his brown hair short at the backs and sides to mimic some of the sailors in the village. A heavy bag of flour was slung over his shoulder, and as he shifted its weight, flour dust puffed out of it and drifted away in the cool spring breeze.

“Sorry,” said Kalen. “Just a passing thought.”

“Do you need help with the fish?”

“I’ve got them.” Kalen lifted both arms for emphasis, showing off the strings of fresh fish they’d just bought for the night’s supper. They were heavy enough that the strings were biting into Kalen’s fingers and making his arms ache, but how pitiful would he look handing one to Lander when the other boy already had the larger load?

They set off toward home. Lander called greetings to almost everyone they passed. Kalen only greeted the people who he knew genuinely liked him. Past experience had proven that showing warmth where it wasn’t welcome only irritated both parties.

“Guess you’ll be leaving tomorrow,” Lander said suddenly, eyeing Kalen over his shoulder.

“What?”

“You just smiled at Captain Shunda,” he said.

“I did not. I would never.”

“You did. He looked like you’d cursed all eight of his grandchildren on the spot! You’re too friendly all of sudden. That means you're in a good mood. You being in a good mood for a change means the sky will light up soon and you’ll be off to live on top of that rock like some kind of scrawny, ten-year-old hermit.

“I can’t actually curse people, you know.”

“Ha! You’re smiling again. Like an evil, scrawny, ten-year-old hermit.”

“If I wanted to punish him for being rude to me, I’d just fill his boots with pig shit,” said Kalen. “It would be much easier than using magic.”

“Evil!” Lander repeated merrily. “Just like Aunt Shelba. We all shiver in our blankets at night, knowing you’re sleeping under the same roof as the rest of us.”

Kalen felt the smile on his face this time.

Lander really was in a jovial mood today. It probably had something to do with the fact that his father had promised to take him on his first long journey across the sea this year. Uncle Holv was gone right now, hauling cargo between Baitown and some nearby islands, but he’d be back in a couple of weeks.

The big trip to the continent and back would take most of the spring and summer, and Lander wouldn’t return to the village until early fall. The little cousins were already sniffling about how unfair it was that they couldn’t go, too.

“Lander, if I give you money do you think you could buy me some books and scrolls on the continent? They’re bound to have something better there than in Baitown.”

“Well, I’d try,” said Lander. “Dort said he’d take me into the cities and show me around. But I don’t know the first thing about picking out magic books. How would I know if I was wasting your money or not?”

Kalen was too embarrassed to admit that he wouldn’t know the true value of a magic book on the continent himself. He’d never even been to visit the merchant in Baitown who provided the books he’d been learning from for the past three years. His parents set him an allowance for them twice a year after the pigs were sold, and Kalen made requests of whichever adult would be traveling across the island to make the purchase. Usually it was Uncle Holv or his father. Sometimes it was Nanu.

His requests were never purposefully ignored, but they were almost never fulfilled either. There weren’t many magical texts to be had on Hemarland, and there were even fewer that could be easily afforded. In the past, a request for “three books for novice enchanters” had yielded a single book on enchantment intended for practitioners at the high magician level, a runic dictionary that was out of date by at least a century, and a slender book called Cantripy of the Sorcerer Brou.

Kalen still hadn’t managed to make heads or tails of most of the enchanting book, though he re-read it periodically in hopes that he would suddenly be enlightened. He had a few texts like that actually— books and scrolls full of concepts that were too high level for him. He kept at them diligently nonetheless. He’d begun to think that being a practitioner was a bit like being the disciple of some miserly god who never granted miracles.

“I’ll write a letter for you to carry with you to the booksellers,” Kalen told his cousin. “I think on the continent a shop that sells magic books will probably be knowledgable enough to give you the right thing.”

Lander nodded his agreement as they headed into the house.

Seven-year-old Iless was sitting at the family’s long wooden table, her short legs swinging and her tongue tucked between her teeth as she sliced the eyes and rotten spots off of a pile of old potatoes. “Did you get any pink fins?” she asked when she spotted Kalen’s strings of fish.

He shook his head. “I told you it wasn’t the right time of year for them. It’s haddock and leaf gills.”

“And plenty of flour to fry them in,” said Lander, setting the bag on the end of the table. “Maybe don’t chop up the last of the potatoes. Kalen’s going to be a hermit again, and he can take them with him.”

“It’s not like I’m going clear across the island. I’ll still be able to come back home for dinner whenever I need to.”

“Sure you can, but you won’t,” said Lander. He looked around the main room. “Where’s everybody else?”

“Aunt Shelba and Uncle Jorn went to pull the new calf since it wasn’t coming fast enough. And Mumma's out back with Caris and Veern, washing some of the bedding. I don’t know where Terth has run off to.”

Kalen knew ways to help speed things up with the laundry, but Aunt Jayne was the member of the household who was least comfortable around magic. Best not to offer at all, he decided.

Instead, he and Lander went outside to clean and gut the fish.

Sleepy could usually be found wandering near the house this time of year even though the other pigs were all rooting around under the trees a ways off. When the sow caught wind of the fish-cleaning project, she appeared at Kalen’s side, snuffling him hopefully.

“Don’t feed her all the guts!” Lander protested when Kalen reached over to offer some to the pig. “She’s already big as the barn.”

“That’s because she’s the best pig in the world.” Kalen patted Sleepy with a filthy hand.

“You know that piglet that went missing a few months ago? I bet you anything she ate it. Just gulped it down in a single bite.”

“Don’t listen to him, Sleepynerth,” Kalen cooed, feeding the sow some more guts. “He’s just jealous because you’re prettier than him.”

#

Nobody in the family said much when Kalen brought his leather pack downstairs that evening and started filling it with supplies. Iless had left a pile of ugly (but still edible) potatoes and some leathery carrots for him. There was the usual jar of preserved summer berries from his mother. As always, his father insisted on checking the sharpness of his pocket knife.

It was routine but awkward.

Everyone accepted that Kalen was leaving to do wizarn things. They accepted the fact that his bed would be empty and his chores would be left for someone else. But it wasn’t exactly a comfortable acceptance.

His father was a little too full of worry. And, as if to make up for it, his mother was a little too full of forced cheer. Aunt Jayne wouldn’t quite meet Kalen's eyes.

The climax of the evening came when nine-year-old Veern completely misread the room and told a story he’d overheard from one of the neighbors about how the nicest of the hells was full of naked wizarns.

“Well, at least it’s the nicest hell!” Lander said. Then, he slapped his younger brother on the back of the head in punishment.

Kalen shot him a grateful smile.

Lander was the only member of the family—the only person in the village besides Nanu—who was always casual about Kalen’s magic. Kalen had taken his cousin's disposition for granted when he was younger, but lately he’d begun to realize how precious a thing it was.

Later that night, Lander even wandered into Kalen’s room while he was reading a book by light of one of the sun crystals.

“What is it?” Kalen asked, setting Cantripy of the Sorcerer Brou aside. “Is Iless snoring again?”

Strangely enough, the youngest member of the family was the loudest sleeper. Sometimes, Lander would escape to Kalen’s room to get some distance from her.

“Always,” his cousin said in a long-suffering voice. “But I came to remind you that I’ll be stealing your room again while you’re gone, and I want you to heat the floor. Last time you left it cold, and if you behave like that, I don’t see what the point of you is at all.”

For emphasis, he slapped his bare foot down on the edge of the circle Kalen had drawn on the floor in scarlet magepaint.

Kalen blinked in surprise. “It’s not even winter. Why do you need the floor heated?

“Heat is good for backaches!” Lander announced.

“What are you? A grandfather?” But Kalen was secretly pleased. Heating things up with a modified version of the circle from Basic Magical Practices was one of the more useful things he could do, but everyone except his mother and Nanu usually refused when he offered to do it.

“I’ll heat it in the morning before I leave,” he promised.

No need to mention that it would delay his departure by half a day. He didn’t have to do any work on the circle, since he kept it in good condition. But the ambient magic was still too low right now. Only the first threads of the aurora had reached Hemarland. Kalen had gotten better at guessing, and he thought it would be another two days before it appeared in full. And he’d just finished practicing cantrips before Lander entered the room, so his own personal supply of mana was wrung dry.

He’d get the full-body equivalent of a splitting headache if he forced any more out of himself right now.

“Do a good job, and maybe I’ll resupply you with more food while you’re up there doing magical hermity things on your rock.”

“It’s not like I’d let myself starve to death just for the sake of some practice.”

Lander stared at him dubiously.

“I’m not a crazy person.”

“Of course you’re not.”

“I only forgot to eat one time.”

“Just one time,” Lander agreed. “And that one time only lasted three days. It was a perfectly normal thing to do.”

 

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A note from sieley

Thanks to everyone who has commented and followed since the last chapter was posted. And a special thanks to the story's first two reviewers. Y'all rock, and I really appreciate it!


About the author

sieley

Bio: Currently writing a very long story. Reviews welcome. Please do not repost my work on other sites.

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