TWO uneventful, unbearably long days passed. The Marigens were distracted with their own affairs. In the evenings, Tyg would lock Ora in the townhouse and disappear for hours. So, Ora attempted more spells from the same book in which she discovered featherweight. It was a thick, redolent old tome entitled The Mage’s Companion to Subjective Reality. A number of spells were labeled as “simple” or “suitable for learning fundamental aspects of alteration”, but her attempts to alter reality failed again and again.
When the Marigens returned home for the night, she would hide in the spare room and listen to their hushed conversations. They intended to leave soon, and it was the only consolation she had for her inability to cast simple alteration spells.
By day, she worked alongside Berengar and told him of the Marigens’ plans to resettle the Cedar Clan. She had gleaned few details from her eavesdropping, but he listened with intense interest, pipe in hand. He claimed to know little about the clan. They went into exile during Odharan’s wars and had not been seen in Mysanhal since.
He refused to let her out of his sight, just as Tyg had requested. To be sure, she had tested him. On their first day together, she had picked up the broom and stepped toward the open kitchen doors. “The main hall needs sweeping,” she said when he raised a brow at her. Without waiting for an answer, she strode into the courtyard.
He was at her heels in an instant. “I will join you, and we’ll get it done faster.”
“I don’t need your help.”
Berengar pried the broom from her grip and guided her back into the kitchen with a hand on her shoulder. Then, in a low voice, he had said, “Your time will come if you are patient. Do not ask me to risk the sylv for your freedom.”
The sylv. Any chance she got, Ora asked about the mysterious clan. She wanted to know every last detail about the alchemists Tyg feared, but Berengar deflected her ceaseless questions with orders. Fetch more salt. Wash the dishes. Make more dough—if he burned the bread one more time, she swore she would set fire to his beard.
Berengar was less tedious than Renna. Not only did he burn the flatbread, he put too much salt in the stew, and served sour, unripe fruit. Finally, after they overheard several Yewolyns complaining about his cooking, she rounded on him and asked, “Was that all on purpose?”
“No, but it is amusing, isn’t it?” he said with a wink.
They had just returned to the kitchen. He sat down on a barrel to smoke his pipe and lit the herb with an effortless spell. As he did, she gave him such a look of longing that he offered the pipe to her.
“No, it’s not that.” Ora sat beside him and became pensive. She peered into the courtyard to be sure no one stood at the fountain before asking, “Do you know Azyna’s featherweight?”
“Where did you hear of that?”
“I read it.”
He tapped the amulet around her neck with the stem of his pipe. “Elder Kavyn outdid himself.”
“Well?” she said.
For once, he conceded. “Fine, I will teach you featherweight. I assume that’s what you’re really asking.”
With an uncontrollable grin, she nodded. “It’s supposed to be simple. I don’t know what I’ve been doing wrong. I tried for hours last night and the day before but—”
“Little twig, be still. Alteration magic takes clarity of mind. You cannot cast such spells if your thoughts are cluttered, as I imagine yours are.” He pressed his thumb into the bowl of his pipe, snubbing out the resinous ember. “Grab something light.”
Ora chose a discarded plum pit and set it on the table. As she did, he shut the kitchen doors and cast an orb of light.
“Now, what do you think of when you’re standing there doing nothing?” he asked and came to stand behind her. “Magus Marigen, perhaps? Your brother? Fears and failures?”
“Yes, all of that,” she admitted and felt foolish for it.
“This is natural. Your mind will always seek distractions when it comes to magic, especially alteration. You are defying what you perceive as reality, after all.” He placed his hands on her shoulders and adjusted her posture so that she stood straighter. “Still your eyes and focus on nothing else. Envision what you want to happen, the reality you wish to actualize. Then, on a full, clear breath, cast the spell.”
Ora settled her gaze on the plum pit and tried to ignore the thoughts flooding into her idle mind. She concentrated instead on the pit lifting up from the table. She imagined it as weightless and as hollow as a feather shaft. Still, when she cast the spell, she could not help but doubt her efforts, especially after so many failures.
The pit remained motionless.
Frustrated, she crossed her arms. “It’s useless.”
“You cannot cast a spell with a fettered mind. Doubt chains you to reality, Ora. Try again.”
Berengar’s words brought to mind the falcon and how it had fought against her even as she tried to free it. Then, with piercing clarity, she understood. “You mean I’m holding myself back?” she asked, tilting her head up to catch his gaze.
He grinned. “That’s probably a simpler way to put it, yes.”
“Why didn’t you say so?”
“I read too much. Try again,” he repeated.
With a renewed sense of determination, she lifted her hand a second time. “Hyferia!” she shouted without pause or hesitation.
The pit shot up and hovered before her. Unable to contain her excitement, a victorious cry burst from her lips. She almost turned to hug Berengar, but then, the pit quivered and tumbled back down to the table.
“Unusual,” said Berengar.
A flush crept across her cheeks. “Sorry, I lost focus.”
“No. You did well. That’s what’s unusual.”
“Are you sure?” She twisted around to face him. “I barely got it off the table.”
A mixture of wonder and concern filled his eyes, and she did not know what to make of it. He sighed. “You are a natural. You would be wise to find a teacher.”
In that moment, Ora did not think of her brother or home. The infinite potential of magic filled her with a strange, hungry yearning. She wanted nothing more in all the Ether than to study spellcraft and alter the world around her. “You can teach me. Can’t you?” she asked.
Berengar scratched at his chin. “To study in secret is limiting. I could teach you simple spells and fundamentals, but … No, this is dangerous territory, little twig. If Tyg, or even Innes, learns of your ability, you may face death.”
“Why? Why should they care?” Exasperated, she struggled to keep her voice low. He held a finger to his lips before she could go on.
Her shoulders fell, and he answered. “To them you are unworthy of magic, just as I am.”
“Because you’re sylv.” She leaned against the table and gripped the edge hard enough to turn her knuckles white. “I cannot stand their cruelty any longer, Berengar. Teach me a spell to set this city ablaze, and I will leave it in ashes by morning.”
“If it was that simple, this city would have been dust ages ago. There is more than Yewolyn strength guarding this place.”
Berengar snuffed out the light and moved to open the doors, but she reached out to catch his wrist. Though she withdrew right away, her touch made him pause. “You weren’t going to leave it at that, were you?” she asked.
He studied her in the shadows. “You should not concern yourself with this. Focus on returning home, on helping your brother.”
She faltered at the mention of Hademar and watched as Berengar opened the doors. The sun stung her eyes. She raised her arm against the stark light as she spoke. “I cannot help my brother if I do not learn magic.”
“You can’t help him if you’re dead either.”
He sounded too much like Tyg. She glowered and opened her mouth to argue when they heard the sound of footsteps in the passage. They both turned, suspended in a moment of fear as the Magus appeared in the courtyard. Had she heard them? She looked angry, but she always looked angry.
“Ora!” Tyg barked.
A frightened shiver ran up Ora’s spine, but she forced herself to step toward the doors. Tyg had been more impatient than usual the past few days. Ora could not decide if it was because of her attempted escape or because of the Cedar Clan.
The Magus halted a few feet from Ora, her lips thin and shoulders square. Her elk cloak flapped against her legs in the mountain breeze. “Come with me,” Tyg said. “I am taking you to the palace.”