The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
The sea took Lander and Uncle Holv away on a clear, sunny day. And not long after, on an afternoon when lightning crackled across the sky and lit the dark water below, it brought the sorcerer, just as Nanu had promised.
Word ran through the village.
Kalen had been attempting meditation in the barn, with Sleepynerth warm at his back. He hadn’t had much time to practice over the past two weeks, but at least his internal magic wasn’t leaking all over the place anymore. He seemed solid inside.
He missed his rock, but Nanu said if he persuaded the sorcerer to lose interest in him quickly, he might find his way back there before the last of the rift magic had passed the island by.
He stretched and checked outside the barn. The rain was more of a drizzle than a deluge at the moment. And that was Clem, wasn’t it? He was heading toward the ocean.
A few minutes later, Kalen was running after Clem and the other village children, eager and nervous to see a small fishing vessel approaching shore.
It wasn’t much of a seafaring ship, so it must have come from Baitown. And all the children knew it bore the sorcerer because it glowed an eerie white against the chaotic darkness of the storm. Everyone pointed and exclaimed, and as it came closer and closer, it was possible to see that the boat cut through the high waves with unnatural ease.
Ogro grew very excited. “Could you do that, Kalen?” he asked, gesturing wildly at the boat with his meaty arms.
“Oh, that would be grand! Could you?” asked a girl named Roa who had bright blue eyes.
Now, the sea was flattening in front of the boat’s bow like a stretched piece of fabric. Everyone looked at Kalen expectantly. He shook his head. “Never if I had a hundred years. I wouldn’t know where to start. Besides, that sort of magic isn’t enchanting work.”
He’d been careful to emphasize the fact that it was his dream to be an enchanter whenever the subject came up among his peers over the past while. Truthfully, if Kalen had a dream regarding his magic, it would be to finally figure out what he was naturally gifted at and study it to his heart’s content.
But this was a small lie that fed into the larger one he’d been crafting with Nanu over the past couple of weeks.
There wasn’t much to it. The story wasn’t even as complicated as the tale of Davvy the Bosun. Kalen only had to minimize “the things you’re curious about and the things that are curious about you” as Nanu put it.
In the story, Kalen no longer fiddled around with all sorts of magic. He only cared about enchanting. He hoped to make money at it one day and be rich and famous the world over. He knew a tiny bit about the fire arts, too, but that was only because Nanu was his teacher. He was smart and had learned to read quickly, but he’d been stuck with his magical education until this aurora arrived.
He didn't have enough books to advance. The enchanted buttons he’d sent off with his cousin were his absolute pride and joy, the sum of all his work thus far.
“I don’t understand,” Kalen said when Nanu had presented this story to him. “If I don’t want to attract the sorcerer’s attention, why say I hope to be rich and famous? Or that I’m smart? Shouldn’t we say I want to be something ordinary, and that I’m the normal amount of smart, and that my buttons were made almost by accident…which they were?”
“We should do no such thing,” said Nanu. “Because nothing sounds more suspicious than insisting you’re ordinary. Most people are polished diamonds in their own eyes, and there are few qualities less interesting than unearned arrogance. A boy enchanter with big dreams and not nearly enough talent to back them up—that’s what you should be. And nobody in town knows enough about wizarns to say you’re anything more than that.”
Kalen had worried that someone in the village would mention his use of cantrips to the sorcerer. He didn’t practice them in plain view of others often, but he had a few times. Nanu assured him that reciting an ugly poem to cool off a cup of water on a hot day was far less memorable than he imagined it to be, and nobody would be inclined to bring it up with the sorcerer in everyday conversation.
Kalen wasn’t sure why, but he felt hurt by this assessment.
As for the rest of it…well, he did understand what Nanu was going for now that it had been explained to him. It would be easy enough to pretend, though he already resented having to do it. And having to give up his precious practice time hurt worst of all.
The other boys and girls around him whooped and shouted as the fishing boat headed directly for the village beach instead of setting anchor or turning toward the cove where the larger ships docked.
The magicked vessel was capable of some very impossible maneuvers. Heedless of the raging waves, it sailed right up to the beach, and it didn’t even run aground when it must have been floating in just a few inches of water.
All the children ran to greet it. Kalen trailed the more athletic ones and ended up arriving at the beach a couple of minutes behind the main group. He stumbled down the steep path with the younger kids, including a sniffling Roa, who’d skinned both her hands and knees when she fell in the rush.
Lightning shattered the sky, and Kalen jumped, staring up into the clouds. The break in the rain wouldn’t last. They would all be soaking wet soon.
“Hemarland always has such delightful weather!” said a pleasant, high voice. “It was a blizzard for three straight weeks the last time I was here.”
Kalen stopped dead, staring at the woman who’d spoken. She had just stepped off the boat onto shore. Her long brown hair, free of any braid or tie, whipped around her face in the wind. She was of average height—though her bearing made her seem taller—and her features were not so much beautiful as they were impeccably presented.
Her robes were foreign garments on Hemarland, but from what little Kalen knew, they were meant to be long and rather shapeless. Hers were tucked and pleated so strategically, Aunt Jayne might well rip them off her and disassemble them for the pattern. The outer fabric was a soft, sunset orange with an inner garment of embroidered pale yellow. And she wore matching slippers that were surely being ruined by the saltwater at this very moment.
She was smiling around at the children and the island and the storm-tossed waves with a baffling sincerity. And as she looked up to where the aurora was little more than a smear of light behind the thick clouds, the smile widened until she was grinning broadly.
“Breathtaking,” she said in a voice full of passion.
This was High Sorcerer Arlade Glimont.
She was not what Kalen had expected her to be at all. His nightmare version of her had been clawed and fanged and wicked. The more reasonable one he imagined when he was being sensible had been old.
Nanu said she'd been making visits to Hemarland for fifty years! Kalen had thought she’d have white hair and wrinkles.
Instead, Arlade Glimont looked around the same age as his mother. Even the creases at the corners of her eyes and the silvery strands mixed amongst the warm brown ones seemed more artful than elderly.
Kalen had also assumed, from the serious way people spoke of her and the fact that she had attained the nearly unimaginable rank of sorcerer, that the woman would be dour and arrogant. But she’d just caught sight of Roa’s bloody knees, and now she was comforting the girl and offering her a thimble-sized jar of some kind of medicinal ointment.
While the other children shoved and chattered and offered to lead “Arlade Wizarn” back to the village, Kalen stood staring at her, mute and gaping as a fish. Only the sound of a loud splash and an enraged shout snapped him out of it.
A girl had just emerged from the boat. But instead of stepping neatly out onto the shore like Arlade, she’d tumbled over the side. She hacked and coughed as she splashed wildly on hands and knees toward the stony beach, weighed down by a sodden, oversized wool coat.
If she’d fallen in deeper water, Kalen suspected she’d have sunk straight to the bottom.
The girl finally stood up, dripping. With a furious expression on her face, she began to do battle with her wet coat, muttering all the while in an unfamiliar accent. The sorcerer ignored her companion entirely, but the other children on the beach had fallen silent at the sight of her.
“Is she a wizarn, too?” someone whispered to Kalen.
As if he could tell on sight.
The girl had brown skin and dark gray eyes under thick brows and straight black hair that had been chopped off just below her chin. She was small, and she had delicate facial features save for her nose. As an expert on such matters, Kalen could say with confidence that it was perilously close to piggish.
Her unexpected appearance and the angry sounds she was making caused the other children to draw back from her. So Kalen took it upon himself to walk over and help her out of her drenched garment.
“Thank you,” she said in a moderately polite voice. But she was shivering and glaring around her like she’d like nothing better than to set the whole island on fire. “Is it always so cold?”
Her consonants were curiously soft and her vowels unusually long. Kalen didn’t know enough about the world to place the accent on a map. The sorcerer had an accent, too, but it wasn’t so different from Hemarland’s as to be remarkable.
“It’s warm today,” Kalen said, confused by the question. “Even with the storms.”
Her face turned even grimmer. “Charming.”
Lightning struck the sea a few miles out, backlighting the soggy girl so that for a moment she was just a patch of darkness against the blinding light. The sight made Kalen feel strangely nervous.
“My name’s Kalen.” He spoke more to cover his confusion than out of any desire to introduce himself to this person.
“I’m Zevnie. Master Arlade’s apprentice.”
Thunder roared over the water, competing with the crash of the waves. Kalen shivered and tried not to take that as a bad omen.
Arlade and Zevnie would stay in the long cabin with Kalen’s family.
The reasons for this were obvious to everyone in the village. And it was only as various helpful grownups and children were dragging slippery boxes and sodden bags across the threshold, that they all realized the sorcerer herself had never been informed that her accommodations were pre-arranged.
“We’ll be staying in this house, then?” she asked, leaning forward to help Kalen lift a small crate full of something that clinked and tinkled unnaturally.
It had rained on them all on the way here. Everyone was wet save the sorcerer herself. As far as Kalen could tell, the woman simply repelled water, like she was covered from head to toe in an invisible layer of wax.
Thus far, Kalen had managed to avoid conversation with Arlade. Now, he blinked at her, uncertain. “Um…yes, ma’am. If that’s all right?”
“Well, I do need a bit of indoor space for my experiments, so as long as I have that I’m fine anywhere. But usually there’s ever so much back and forth when I arrive somewhere with no inn! Who gets to keep the honored sorcerer, you know? Though it’s been rather more common here in years past for the conversation to center on who has to keep me.”
She laughed lightly, as if being either welcome or unwelcome in a place was of little concern to her.
“We have extra space here,” said Kalen. “Because it’s one of the bigger cabins, and our family isn’t the largest.”
“Oh! So you live here! We’ll be housemates.” She beamed at him, then whispered conspiratorially. “I always bring a few extra gifts for my housemates, so you’re in luck, young man.”
Kalen was content to leave the conversation there for now. He was still off-footed by Arlade’s appearance and demeanor, and he was even more concerned about the existence of Zevnie. He had worked out how to pretend in front of a grown-up sorcerer who wouldn’t be all that interested in him in the first place. Zevnie looked to be his own age, or maybe a touch younger. That made things more complicated. He wanted time to think.
But it wasn’t to be.
A chorus of voices chimed in, confirming that this cabin had the most room. They explained that Kalen’s family was well-off by the standards of the village, and that two of the members were gone on a trip to the continent.
Then someone brought up Shelba’s need for a child. And someone else chimed in trying to explain about the special continental pigs. And a third helpful soul, for reasons unfathomable, mentioned Aunt Jayne’s deft needlework.
Arlade, who had seemed unflappable until now, suddenly looked a little overwhelmed.
Kalen tucked the mysterious clinking box beside another one labeled REAGENTS. He was about to usher the sorcerer away from the noisiest of the neighbors, but before he could, a yellow-bearded man approximately the size of a barn opined, “And it’s only right that wizarns stay together! Where else would you stay?”
Everyone was nodding in agreement.
Arlade’s smile was more practiced than real this time. “Yes, of course,” she said. “Zevnie will stay close to me for most of our time here. Neither of us will be much in the way of your day to day life.”
She’d misunderstood, Kalen realized at once. She thought Verit was implying that she and Zevnie were being tucked in here together to keep them away from the rest of the village. And given the assumption, she was being much nicer about it than he would have expected her to be.
If the woman could flatten a stormy ocean; she could flatten Verit just as easily.
Kalen liked the man well enough, even if he was about as subtle as a boot to the nose. He waited a few awkward breaths for one of the adults in the room to notice the misunderstanding. But the one or two who did looked at him. As if this was his problem to solve!
“He means me." Kalen tried not to sound nervous. “I’m a…wizarn, too. So my family thought it would be good for me to meet you.”
He almost said practitioner. It was how he thought of himself. But he was suddenly self-conscious about using the more official-sounding name when he was standing before someone who’d reached such lofty heights.
The sorcerer looked over at him in surprise. “You…?”
Several of the neighbors jumped in at once to tell Arlade what a fine young wizarn Kalen was. He tried not to frown at them. None of them knew a fine wizarn from a rotten one, and at least a couple of them thought Kalen was a troublemaker.
It was underway now. He had to carry it through. Feeling as silly as he ever had in his life, he threw out his chest like an eight year old who’d just won his first wrestling match, and said, “I’m an enchanter. The only one in the whole village!”
This over-proud announcement had dramatic and opposite effects on the sorcerer and her apprentice.
Arlade’s eyes widened and her smile turned nearly manic. “A Hemarland-born practitioner? Truly?” She grabbed Kalen’s shoulders and spun him around in a rapid circle, peering at him in a way that was disconcerting. “How wonderful! Zev, darling. Zev! Fetch my instruments! We have to examine him right away!”
And upon saying so, she promptly lifted his shirt in front of all present and started tapping on his ribs. Like he was a melon she was checking for ripeness.
Too shocked to do more than squawk in alarm, Kalen was spun about again, and he found himself almost nose-to-nose with Zev darling.
The damp, bedraggled girl hadn’t fetched any sort of instrument. Thanks to all the gods. But her eyes had narrowed into slits, and she was breathing so loud through her nose that she sounded like a snorting bull. The expression on her face was everything but darling.
“What is your rank?” she demanded. “Who is your master? Can you even do magic or are you just some little village boy who likes to brag about himself?”
This was a perfect opportunity to act the part of a little village boy who liked to brag. After all, that was exactly the persona Kalen was attempting to imitate. But Zevnie was so close to him that he could feel the moisture spewing from her mouth as she talked, and if Kalen had a pet peeve, it was other people’s bodily fluids touching him.
In retaliation for the ill treatment, he called up an old and shameful habit. One he thought he had stamped out of himself years ago. Letting his lower lip tremble and his voice shake, he said, “Why are you being so mean to me?”
He did it half out of reflex. So he was surprised when it not only worked, but it worked well.
Zevnie staggered backward like she’d been struck with a punch. She made a high-pitched sound of protest. “I wasn’t! I didn’t mean to…I…”
The hands that had been prodding Kalen with enthusiasm suddenly stopped, and Arlade Glimont said in a woundingly disappointed voice, “Zevnie! Apologize to him. We are guests in this place, and that was behavior unbecoming of a girl your age. Never mind your station.”
A couple of the more gullible adults were looking at Kalen with pity. Most of the others and all of his cousins and the other children, were giving him a look that said, Really, you little demon’s spawn? You’d better not start that up again.
There was a time when Kalen had solved most of his problems in this way. And thanks to his mother’s doting, it had been effective, too. When he’d been younger, a trembling voice and fake tears had been enough to land Shelba’s wrath on a number of unfortunate parties. Clearly, his fellow villagers had not forgotten.
Kalen didn’t back down, but he could feel himself blushing as Zevnie muttered her apologies and scurried out of the cabin to fetch more luggage.
Nanu came by for dinner that night, and a long-suffering expression was on her face as Sorcerer Arlade greeted her with a glad cry. “Sweet little Nanu! How are you, dear?”
“Old,” said Nanu, shaking raindrops off an oiled cloak and stumping toward the fire to warm her back. “And not very sweet. I see you’ve met my student.”
“Kalen and I are good friends now,” said Arlade, flicking her fingers in a complicated pattern to dry the wet footprints Nanu had made. (Kalen tried to memorize it, but the working was finished much too quickly.) “He’s been showing me his buttons. He’s very industrious.”
To her credit, the sorcerer said this as if viewing the buttons had not been a punishment. With the original ones on their way to the continent, Kalen had enchanted extra buttons over the past week just so that he could show them off. Determined to make up for his rough start, he’d played his role perfectly for the rest of the afternoon.
He’d chased after Arlade Glimont doggedly, pointing out his clever use of runes and how much his needle-painting technique had improved, as if he was desperate for her attention. He’d also peppered her with questions about magic, all of which had been pre-approved by Nanu days ago so that he wouldn't sound like he knew too much.
“I don’t know too much,” Kalen had said with a groan. “Nanu, the whole reason I’m staying here instead of going off with Uncle Holv and Lander is so that I can learn something from the sorcerer.”
“You’ll learn what you can learn in the in-between times,” said Nanu. “By watching closely or by chance. Don’t push your luck by asking about leaky cantrips or…tangled up wind magic or…or that coin of yours…”
“Or any of the things I usually ask you about,” Kalen said dryly. “But then how am I supposed to get answers to those questions?”
“You’ll have to luck into them, child,” she said. “The last thing you want to be around that woman is unique.”
Kalen hadn’t really understood at the time, but he did now.
Arlade was some kind of magical researcher. He didn’t know exactly what she was researching because when he asked she’d said, “Everything,” with such utter seriousness that he didn’t know what to make of it.
But she’d stopped trying to jab him with sharp metal implements almost as soon as she found out he wasn’t born on the island.
She seemed to be interested in magical curiosities of all sorts. And that included practitioners born in places like Hemarland that were nearly devoid of magic for part of the year. Apparently, shipwrecked children who’d had continental accents when they were found were less appealing.
The sorcerer had gone around jabbing all kinds of other things, though. Before her luggage was even unpacked, she wandered about mumbling spells and sticking tools into tree roots and random patches of mud and even one unfortunate pig.
Kalen suspected Arlade was only moments away from stabbing some kind of vibrating knitting needle into Nanu, when the old woman sidestepped her and approached Kalen. “I hope you haven’t been bothering Sorcerer Arlade too much,” she said, giving him a subtle wink. “She’s a busy woman and she doesn’t need you chasing after her asking basic enchanting questions.”
“My questions aren’t basic! They’re all things I couldn’t find in my books!”
There. He’d played his part, and he’d implied that he could be bribed with books if the sorcerer wanted him to leave her alone for the duration of her stay. Kalen tried not to smile too widely at Nanu.
“It’s all right. It’s all right,” Arlade said pleasantly. “I’m glad there’s another young practitioner here. It will give Zevnie something to do when she’s not helping me. And she can answer most of your questions, Kalen. She’s really quite well trained. Her family is the only practitioner clan on Makeeran, but they have an exquisite basic education. It’s truly impressive.”
Kalen glanced across the room to where Zevnie was helping Aunt Jayne set the table for dinner.
Makeeran? Kalen only knew it from Megimon Orellen’s map, which he had studied often over the years. It was an island on the other side of the world. Just about as far away as one could get from Hemarland.
The idea of questioning Zevnie wasn’t tempting. She hadn’t approached Kalen since the incident earlier, but although it seemed to him like a relatively small thing to be upset over, the looks she’d been giving him all day would have turned milk to cheese.
Over dinner, in an attempt to make amends, Kalen offered the apprentice the last piece of a berry tart. He knew she wanted it because she’d been eyeing it hopefully from across the table, but as soon as Kalen suggested she take it, she started glaring at the poor tart like it was poisoned.
Annoyed, Kalen completely missed his own father reaching for the dessert and ate the tart himself, glaring at Zevnie all the while.
He resolved himself not to see much of her. As soon as he’d persuaded Arlade to give him a book of some kind, Kalen was going to take it and disappear. He’d hide out at Nanu’s house as much as he could, reading.
A couple of hours later, Kalen collapsed onto his mattress. He was more exhausted than he’d expected to be. Who knew pestering someone on purpose would be so tiring?
He did hope Arlade could give his mother and father a baby. He and the cousins had been left out of that conversation, even though he would have liked to hear about healing magic.
In any case, the sorcerer seemed friendly enough, and she obviously preferred not to make too many waves with the villagers. Kalen had seen piles of books among her luggage. Surely it wouldn’t be too hard to pry one out of her.
Or two. Or seven.
If he got seven, he could move in with Nanu and read for weeks if necessary. He’d never have to see Zevnie again.
With this happy thought, he’d nearly drifted off to sleep. Then, he heard a quiet but insistent knocking on his door.
“It’s me,” said the very last person Kalen wanted to talk to in the middle of the night.
For a few seconds, he was annoyed. Then, he panicked. He leaped up and scrambled for the little bookshelf his father had made him last year. He began hastily yanking things off and flinging them at his mattress, heedless of the sound he was making.
What’s she doing here?
He frantically shoved the books under his blankets, wishing he had his winter furs to hide the lumps. He didn’t have that many suspicious things in his bedroom, but it wasn’t like he’d prepared it for the visitors either. The sorcerer and her apprentice were supposed to be staying in the room his aunt and uncle usually used, since it was the finest in the house!
Fortunately, Zevnie was patient in this matter at least. She just kept quietly knocking until— sweating and breathing hard—Kalen finally came and opened the door.
“Were you doing some sort of active meditation?” she asked, shoving in past him before he could answer or protest. She was dragging a large mattress behind her with a single hand, and she shooed Kalen out of the way as she maneuvered it into the room.
“You can’t sleep here,” he said, utterly aghast.
“I will be fine. I’m used to sharing a dormitory with others. And this room is enormous. Why do you have all this space when your cousins are piled on top of each other?”
“Because this is my parents’ half of the cabin, and it’s bad luck for the others to move in with me until mother has more children. If you don’t want to share a room with your master, you can sleep downstairs by the hearth! It’s nice and warm. I know you’re cold.”
The girl had complained several times about the weather since arriving. Kalen wished she’d come in winter so that he could watch her freeze over on the spot.
“It will be nice and warm in here, too,” she said, staring down at the floor where Kalen’s heating circle was drawn out in mage paint.
At least it wasn’t a suspicious thing for him to have, since Nanu was his teacher.
Zevnie flipped her mattress over with ease, settling it against the wall under the window. Then she wandered back over to the circle. She paced around it, occasionally tapping one of the runes curiously with her bare toes. She wore a set of gold bracelets on one of her ankles, and the charms on them jingled faintly as she walked.
“This is the most antiquated heating circle I have ever seen outside of a book,” she announced, brushing a strand of black hair out of her eyes. “But this is the input point, yes?”
She gestured to a particular spot, and Kalen nodded. He was about to tell her, firmly and clearly, to go away. Manners be blown.
But at that moment she reached out with her foot, a faint look of concentration on her face. She slapped it firmly against the proper rune, and in less time than it took for Kalen to draw in a full breath, the circle was glowing dully and radiating heat.
It was less warm than it would have been if Kalen, had done it himself. But…
“H-how did you do that?”
She frowned at him. “What do you mean? It is your design. I have only empowered it.”
“No,” said Kalen, awestruck in spite of himself. “I mean…how did you do it so fast? Is fire your natural affinity?”
“Hmmm,” she said, turning back toward the mattress and kneeling down to arrange her covers. “No, of course not. It was fast, but it was merely an input rune. It’s hardly the same as aligning a full spell pattern, is it?”
She glanced over her shoulder, looking slightly affronted. “I know we got off on the wrong foot, but I hope you do not think me too ill-trained to perform something so basic.”
This is my room. Get out. Go sleep in the barn with the pigs.
But Kalen was too embarrassed to say it now.
The heating circle was probably the magical working he had used more often than any other. And it still took him a couple of minutes to activate it. He’d thought that was so quick.
Feeling uncomfortable, he settled quietly into his own bedding, trying to ignore the sharp corners of all the books he was lying on top of.
Is this the difference? he wondered as he watched Zevnie make herself at home. Between having training and not?
Kalen hoped so. Because the alternative was worse.
If Zevnie had learned some special trick from her master, that was one thing. Kalen could eventually learn it, too. It was only a matter of time. But if it was something else…what if Kalen’s strangely tangled magic was more of a problem than he’d thought?
“I’m an amphora.”
Zevnie had settled right into her bed like she belonged there instead of like she was some terrible interloper. And now she was peering across the glowing heating circle at Kalen and saying strange words.
“A what?” he asked, when she didn’t explain herself any further.
“You asked if I was a fire practitioner. I am not. I am an amphora.”
“Oh. Of course. An amphora.” He tried to pronounce the word like she did. With a liquid soft “r” sound and an “m” that almost vanished on the lips.
“You don’t know what it is.”
“I do. Obviously.”
“What is it then?”
“I’m sleepy,” said Kalen. “And you’re in my room. So we should rest now.”
“You are a very immature little boy. How old are you? Eight?”
“I’m ten and a half!”
“I don’t believe you.”
“How old are you?” They were around the same size, so she couldn’t be older. Kalen hoped she was a year younger so that he could lord his age over her at least.
“Well,” she allowed, “I will be fourteen in a couple of weeks. I think. Master and I have been traveling so much that I haven’t kept track as well as I might have.”
“You are short,” said Kalen, trying to make it sound like a devastating insult.
“You’re one to talk,” she said mildly. “I have a sister your age. I have not seen her in over a year, and I am sure she was bigger than you when I left home. And, for your information, an amphora is a practitioner who specializes in intaking and maintaining unusually large reserves of internal magic. I know you don’t know what one is because there aren’t any apart from my family. Now go to sleep. I am sure it is past your bedtime.”
Kalen almost choked on his own irritation.
# Zevnie #
Late that night, after the boy had finally drifted off, Zevnie’s eyes snapped open.
Annoying, she thought, staring at his still figure. Unfortunate.
She stopped herself just short of thinking the word dangerous.
It was an overstatement, but it hovered stubbornly at the edge of her mind. For a moment, Master Arlade had been interested in the little enchanter from this frigid, nothing place. And though that terrifying moment had passed quickly, Zevnie saw something in the boy that still troubled her.
She didn’t know.
Kalen seemed like an average child from a backwards village. One who’d obviously grown big-headed because he had a tiny bit of power he barely knew how to use. Zevnie had seen him do no impressive magic. He’d even gawked pitifully at her speed with the heating circle, which was strange, but not worrying.
But there was something…
She couldn’t place it.
Zevnie had been deliberately needling the boy when she asked if he was eight. She had actually thought he was closer to her own age, though it was hard to put her finger on why with all evidence pointing to the contrary. With dark golden curls, wide brown eyes, and a resting expression that hovered between sulky and mournful, Kalen looked a bit babyish.
He’d even acted babyish. Briefly. Zevnie had definitely seen a tear trickle down his cheek when he accused her of being mean.
Had that been on purpose? She thought it might have.
He doesn’t match up to himself, she decided. His looks said one thing. His mouth another. His actions a third.
And the pattern of this heating circle…Zevnie couldn’t stop admiring it.
It was simple and old-fashioned, but the paint had been applied so meticulously. Not a stroke was out of place. There wasn’t even a drop outside the lines. It reminded her of her grandmother’s elegant arrays.
What kind of baby worked with such precision? For that matter, what kind of ten-year-old child did?
The dangerous kind.
Zevnie sighed. Master Arlade hated this part of her—the suspicious, grasping part that would accept no competition. But it would hardly disappear just because it was hated by an outsider. Zevnie herself appreciated the caution it gave her...and the reminder that she couldn’t be careless when she was out in the wide world beyond her clan house on Makeeran.
She refused to take anything for granted. But she did force herself to roll over so that she wouldn’t glare a hole in the center of Kalen’s forehead.
She couldn’t cause trouble here. Not when her master was planning to stay for some weeks yet. Maybe even longer since these people were hoping for a miracle pregnancy.
That was strange in and of itself.
Perhaps they thought her master was a healer? Arlade Glimont wasn’t known as such. In some parts of the world, her reputation was quite the opposite. But Zevnie had been surprised that she’d brought along so many gifts—mostly healing potions—for these islanders. Perhaps it was a natural misunderstanding if she’d done that in the past?
It wasn’t like she couldn’t heal minor injuries. Arlade had a nearly unparalleled understanding of the human body, so there was a chance she’d be able to give them what they wanted. And she’d try of course, as long as it wasn’t too much trouble.
Zevnie’s master had a surprising tender spot for non-practitioners, especially folk like this who were so far removed from the magical world that they didn’t understand anything.
So they would be staying a while. And Zevnie would have to befriend Kalen, son of Jorn. She would stick to him like devil’s honey no matter how much he squawked or squalled or accused her of meanness.
It was the only way to be sure. And being sure was the only way Zevnie would ever accomplish her goals.