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The Summer Apprentice

Seasons of Elsewhen

The Summer Apprentice

* * *


Humans newly come to the World of Amedia were astonished to learn that the planet was sentient. They were devastated when that sentience declared the air, which seemed so fresh and wonderful, to be far too rich in the element oxygen for those technologies on which humans relied to be safe.

Technology, Amedia told them, was forbidden.

The World did, however, offer an alternative. A genetic condition existed in a small portion of the newly arrived population that would allow them access to unique fields of power naturally generated by Amedia. This power could provide an interim solution for many of the needs that their technology had filled.  

The people would come to call this power Magic.








There are two very important definitions to remember when considering the history of our World:

 Year (noun): (1) The period of time that it takes for Amedia to make a complete revolution around the sun. (2) A period of time containing 366 days.

 Elsewhen (noun): (1) The year that never was. (2) 366 days erased from time through the actions of Amedia's Emissary and her companions.


--From A Chronicle of Elsewhen: The Year That Never Was,

by Maikela Gentlehaze

Primary Historian, School of New Wizardry





Firsteve, First of Summer, AY 7523

The final guests have made their excuses and vanished into the night. I am left at last with the only gift I truly wanted on my centennial birthday: Silence.

Though I love them all dearly, none of my friends seem to understand my need for silence ... to understand that, birthday or not, festivities on First of Summer only sharpen the painful memories of those other things that happened on this day eighty-seven years ago. The pain. The destruction. The loss. No one gets it, not even those who were there: Nik, Maikel, Jenna. Certainly not the kids.

Well, maybe Blight--though my old nemesis keeps his own counsel, and merely stays away from the revelry.

But even in the silence, there is no silence. My thoughts buzz with remembrances of Elsewhen.

Why ever did I let young Maikela talk me into this "history project" of hers, turning my journal into a "story?" Re-reading old journal entries only serves to remind me how naive I was as a young Plain girl. The words might as well have been written by someone else, in a different lifetime!

Magic was a dream back then. Thrilling. Captivating. Enchanting. All these decades later the bitter reality of Magic sometimes feels like a cold stone deep inside of me.

"The year that never was," Maikela has come to call those twelve long months of Elsewhen. Were they necessary? I come back to that question over and over, because my heart can't bear to accept the answer that my head knows to be true.

Was it worth it? For that question there is only one possible answer: The World hung in the balance. I did what had to be done, and would do it all again if need be.

But I do miss the simple Plain girl that I was back then....





Secondeve, First of Winter, AY 7436

"What are you doing?"

The man I was talking to, dressed in a billowy robe, looked sideways at my three-year-old self and grinned from behind a close-cropped beard. "I'm about to use Magic to light your family's hearth," he told me, chuckling lightly as he spoke.


The man's grin faded a bit but his eyes still sparkled. "Because the fire went out, and your mom and dad need to have a fire to keep your house warm and be able to cook your meals."

"Oh." I shifted my attention to the hearth where there was a newly-arranged pile of logs. "Is Magic hard to do?"

The man had turned his attention to the hearth and didn't look at me as he answered. "It's not hard when you know how," he said, a bit distracted as he arranged himself into the same funny-looking position I'd seen two other men use when they'd come to our house over the last couple of six-days--apparently our fire had needed re-lighting before this, and it hadn't registered with me just what was going on.

"Can you teach me how?"

I saw a brief flicker of something flash across the man's face, but he said nothing. Instead, he reached one hand out, held it over the logs in the hearth, and muttered words that I couldn't understand. Flames immediately sprouted from the logs. He held the position for a few moments, keenly watching the fire as it took hold on more of the wood, then stood up and turned to me once again.

"I certainly can't teach someone as young as you how to light fires," he said, and managed to look as though he was genuinely sorry to have to tell me that. "Besides, I'm sure that your mom or dad will have other things that you'll find a lot more interesting to do when you grow up."

I stared at the man for a moment, then looked back and forth between him and the now happily blazing fire. "No," I told him, with as much certainty as a three-year-old can muster. "I'm going to do Magic when I grow up."

The man looked amused and glanced over to where my mother was standing, watching the two of us. I looked at Mother, too, just in time to see her shrug and give the man a knowing smile. He nodded and looked back at me.

"Well, I tell you what, young lady," he said, his voice containing a chuckle once more. "If you do, you're going to be just about the most special Plain girl who's ever been born."

I distinctly remember blinking at him when he finished talking, then crossing my arms in front of me before saying, "Well, I'm gonna."

The man laughed briefly, and his eyes again twinkled like little stars set onto his face. "You know," he said, that chuckle still in his voice, "I don't doubt that you will." Then he turned, waved at my mother, and quickly left. Mother looked after him for a moment then came over and squatted down in front of me.

"So you want to learn how to do Magic," she said.

"I don't just want to," I corrected her. "I'm going to."

"I see," she said, looking very serious as she watched me. "You do know that Plain folk like us aren't supposed to do Magic? Magic is supposed to be Wizard's work."

"I don't care," I told her firmly. I think I stomped my foot, but otherwise held my ground.

Mother was silent for a moment before reaching out to ruffle my hair. "Well, just so you know, I think you're already the most special Plain girl who's ever been born." 

I wasn't sure what to make of that so I just hugged her and headed outside to play for a while.

From that day forward, though, Magic became more and more the center of my universe. For example, when I was five, Father told me how Wizards put the Magic Festival Lights in the sky; I told him that when I had learned Magic I would help put them up there. Like all kids I managed to scrape knees and elbows as I grew up, even though I never seemed to get sick; the way Wizards healed those hurts made my fingers twitch with ambition. Day in and day out I made it known to everyone I met that I would some day do Magic. Be a Wizard.

All right, I admit it: I became a chatterbox when it came to Magic.

At first people laughed it off. I was still only a child, after all, and children love to make-believe. Over time, though, the laughter became more forced. Eventually I began to overhear scathing demands to my parents that they teach their child her place in the World. Mother and Father always smiled politely at those who scolded them, but they never scolded me, never told me to keep quiet.

It all seemed quite normal to me, then; now I know that letting me keep my dream must have caused them pain, maybe even cost them stature in the community. In hindsight, it might have been better had they prepared me for what would come all too soon: By the time I was eight, the comments were no longer about me, but to me.

I endured. I grew up. Eventually I turned twelve and came of age. By that point I understood the reality that only girls and boys born into Wizard families could be Wizards--were allowed to even dream of being Wizards. Plain girls like me were not.

It hurt. A lot. Still, the message was clear. I began to keep my mouth shut and tried to be a proper Plain girl.

But I never forgot the dream.


The reality of being an adult meant that I was now old enough to take on important duties. On the day I turned twelve, my parents announce that maintenance of the hearth would be my primary chore--probably because I'd fussed about the hearth having to be re-lit so often once I'd learned about Magic. I was delighted. I could finally prove myself, with or without Magic!

Then I discovered just how difficult it is to maintain the fire day in and day out. I slaved over the logs and ashes. I lived my life covered in dust and soot. I lost sleep from late nights staying up to bank the fire, followed by early morning risings to tend it.

Despite it all I persevered. After six months my record was perfect: Not once had the flames gone out. Not once had we needed to summon a Wizard.

I became inordinately pleased with myself, even a little cocky. It was hard work, but I was good at it. I knew that the Hearth was mine to control.  

Just as I knew, in the growing darkness of that First of Winter evening, that I had made a terrible mistake.

When I heard my mother call out to me I was nearly as filled with fear as I was covered with ash from frantically working on our sputtering fire. 

"Astra! Time to go! We're already late for the festival. And for Amedia's sake, brush your hair before we leave!"

Looking tidy was the last thing on my mind  right then, but I pushed my unruly tangle of hair back with a swipe of my hand nonetheless. "Go on ahead, Mother," I called back, desperate to keep the rising panic out of my voice. "I'll catch up after I finish with the Hearthfire."

After I'd finished coaxing the Hearthfire back to health, that is. I'd been so wrapped up in First of Winter festival preparations that I had failed to maintain the diligence a Hearthfire demands, the diligence that pride had made into my own form of magic.

The Hearthfire hadn't gone out ... not quite ... but it wasn't like I could just run next door and borrow a cup of fire if it did die. Fires could only be started with Magic, and as all Magic came through Wizards, a Wizard had to be called anytime a fire went out. I had known those rules since I was a child; it was part of why I had been so conscientious up to that day.

Despite my anxiety, I worked as quickly as I could, blowing on the fire, coaxing it, adding kindling, then adding some wood until it burned a bit more steadily. I had a queasy feeling it wouldn't last until we got home, but I was out of time--Mother would expect me to catch up before she reached the festival.

Banking the fire as best I could, I fervently asked Amedia to be merciful and let it still be alive when I returned, then hastily washed my face and hands and fled toward town.

I caught up with my family well along the winding path to the festival. My brothers and sisters laughed in excitement, crowding around my father to sing silly festival songs. Mother trudged along a few steps behind them.

It was already quite dark. Amedia's larger moon, Liberi, wouldn't rise until much later, leaving only the smaller moon, Larina, gazing from the sky ... a good thing, or Mother would have seen how mussed I was, no doubt with ash in my hair and on my festival gown, when she glanced sideways at me as I fell in step beside her.

 "Is everything all right?" she softly asked, her breath steaming in the cool air.

I took a moment to catch my wind. "Fine, Mother," I finally told her. "The fire just took longer to bank than I expected."

Mother nodded. She was dressed up in fancy clothes for the First of Winter festival, as were we all, but I got the usual impression that she'd rather be working with her quilting. Mother's reverence for Amedia was as strong as anyone's, but intensely private. She went along with us to the seasonal celebrations of the World's bounty but always remained a silent presence amid the noise and revelry.

I, on the other hand, had always welcomed the chance to party--but right then I was so desperate to go back home to care for the Hearthfire that I almost asked Mother if she would skip the festival with me. She could quilt--she always had a project underway at home, as well as at her shop--and I could make sure the Hearthfire kept burning.

Somehow, though, I managed to hold my tongue.

Soon signs of the festival began to float in the air around us: music and laughter, the near roar of many people all talking at once, and of course, the delicious smells of many different types of special Winter festival foods cooking in the open air. Despite my continuing worry, my mouth watered at some of the once-a-year aromas.

We finally rounded the last bend in the forest trail and the festival loomed in front of us, spread across the town's open commons area, where all manner of outdoor gatherings were held. I could immediately see Magically lit fires dotting the scene--torches, cooking fires, and one immense bonfire right in the middle--and my heart wilted.

Without willing it, my eyes darted back to the path we'd just traveled, my thoughts to the Hearthfire back home. To have our Hearthfire actually Blight--fail and go out--would be a disaster, as I well knew.

If only I could do fire Magic for myself, I mourned, an echo of my life-long yearning.

Even though I loved the party atmosphere festival days had always been hard for me. There was so much Magic on display it tended to make me ache from wanting to participate, when I knew I could only watch. It wasn't the festival at fault--how can you not love a full day of fun and celebration? It was just me wanting to live out my dream.

Still, I had always loved First of Winter. Not only was it one of the two-sunset holidays, the air was always crisp and cool in the mild climate of Wizard's Reach. It didn't usually snow until much later in the season, if at all. The festival always attracted folks I didn't know on sight--other people's relatives come to visit, people just passing through, and a Wizard or two from Thunderhead Town to help with the Light Show. There was music and dancing and storytelling; one of the several groups of traveling entertainers would often drop around to perform their latest skits and comedies. And the food! Meats and pastries and fruits, especially my favorite, glazed apple tarts....

That night, though, I couldn't focus on the festival. My mind was in a fog, still back at the Hearthside, fervently asking Amedia to keep the flame alight. Someone passed me a plate and I took a hot pastry, but I couldn't really taste it. Nor could I pay proper attention to what people around me were saying.

Mostly I tried to hide, tried not to think about the Hearthfire ... tried not to think what a nightmare it would be if the Hearth went out and I had to find a Wizard to relight it.

There were several Wizards around--I'd recognized a couple of women who had provided Wizard services to our family in the past--but they would be very busy in the wake of the festival craziness, and my pride wouldn't allow me to seek help while a chance remained that the Hearth would be fine.

At one point I contemplated slipping into the shadows and taking off, forgetting about the festival and heading home to tend the fire. I was only one person, I tried to tell myself; surely, no one would miss me! But the reality was that I would be missed, even if it was only when the festival ended and everyone gathered to head home. It's not seemly to leave before the Light Show ends; it's an insult to the World's grace.

So, I stayed. And I worried.

At least my siblings enjoyed themselves. Once the Light Show finally started, they were all a-wiggle, laughing and cheering and oohing and ahhing as the bursts and blasts of Magic lit up the night skies with fantastic shapes--birds, and fish, and animals; stars, flowers, and a myriad of others all dancing across the sky in animated splendor.

"Ooh!" Never one to contain herself my eight-year-old sister, Phillina, squealed as one strikingly large and luminous burst drenched the World in shades of orange light. "I never saw anything so pretty!"

"Aw, that was nothing, Philla," Auric replied, his voice dripping with scorn. Ric was eleven then, and considered himself an expert in all matters. He also believed that he should have been our family's firstborn, and that he should be the one to manage the Hearth, rather than merely assisting me.

"It was so something, Ric!" chimed in my other sister, Renata, who was ten. "I don't ever remember a light so bright, with so many colors."

"Just shows how poor your memory is, Reni," Ric taunted.

"Hush!" mother hissed, which had only made their voices turn to raspy whispers still clearly audible between the noisy pops and bangs that filled the night.

"Wheeee!" Philla again squealed in delight.

I wasn't delighted--I wanted to scream in frustration!

Finally, after what felt like an eternity but was really about half an hour, the Light Show ended. I gave quick hugs to my parents and Grandmother Astralicia, knowing they would stay to talk with friends a good while longer, then took off as fast as I could down the path toward home and the failing Hearthfire.

The failed Hearthfire.

I felt my heart sink as I came in sight of our cottage. There was not the slightest hint of light from the Hearthroom's large window. I knew, immediately, that the fire was out.

I stopped at the edge of our yard to gasp for air, breathless from the long run, and from fear. I almost turned back toward town, almost took off running once more, despite the fire in my lungs and a stitch in my side. Wild thoughts spun in my head.

 Maybe I can find a Wizard as the festival winds down. Maybe one of the Wizards I saw will be on the path, and I can ask her to come and rekindle the flame. Maybe....

Before I could move, though, a voice whispering through the darkness startled my heart up into my throat. It seemed to come from the grove of trees beside our cottage.

"Astra!" the voice called out...softly, but it still reached my ears with ease. There was something about the voice, beyond its very presence, that caught my attention. Something familiar, and yet not....

"Who's there?" I called back. I felt light headed--and not just from running. I nearly fell to my knees when I spun to look for who had called my name. I peered at the woods in what little light Larina offered, unnerved at first that someone might be there but then strangely relieved when a shadow detached itself from the trees and ghosted toward me.

In the space of a heartbeat the shadow had resolved itself into a human figure, clad in what looked like a dark Wizard's robe with a deep, enveloping hood hiding the face of the late-night caller.

"I'm a friend, Astra," the shadow whispered as it drew close to me. From the sound of the voice the ghost now seemed to be a girl, maybe a bit older than I was.

"I know about your Hearthfire," she said as she drew up next to me. "I want to help."

I was stunned, wondering for a moment how anyone could know about the Hearthfire ... until I felt myself filled with a sudden hope

"Are you a messenger from Amedia?"

The words sounded almost like a prayer as I said them. Had the World heard my pleas and sent help?

The stranger seemed to hesitate. "I..." she finally began, then hesitated again. "You mustn't think of me that way," she said at last, sounding worried. "Just think of me as ... as someone who's been in your position."

While that confused me, it also calmed me. "You mean, your Hearthfire has gone out?"

I could hear relief in the stranger's harsh whisper. "Yes! Exactly. I've faced a Blighted Hearthfire, when no Wizard was available. Just like you are, right now."

"What did you do?" My fear had vanished with her words, though my breath was still coming in shallow gasps. I'm sure I sounded both curious and desperate, because I was. Even with the usually mild Wizard's Reach climate, winter nights could be treacherously cold. "I must get the Hearthfire re-lit, so we don't all freeze tonight!"

The shadow nodded its head. "You will have it lit, Astra," the stranger told me, and then her voice gained a note of urgency. "You will light it ... for yourself."

"M--me?" I stuttered, stunned at the thought. "But ... but I'm not..."

The girl cut me off sharply. "Yes, you are, Astralicia Fairweather!" Her voice was still quiet, but now rang with insistence and intensity. "Haven't you noticed how often you do more than you think you can? How many of those things seem almost Magical?"

I tried to form an answer; when my voice refused to work, the stranger continued in a rush.

"Magic runs deep in you, Astra. You've not only dreamed of Magic all your life, you have been doing Magic all your life. You just haven't realized it. All those who derided your dream were wrong."

She took a step toward me as her hissing whisper took on an added sense of urgency. "Tonight you will do Magic on purpose. Tonight you will light your own Hearthfire."

I stared at the shadowy figure for a long moment, my head spinning at her words. How could I do Magic? I was only a Plain girl. Amedia couldn't have blessed me with Magic!

And yet....

Memories of things that had happened over the years began to tumble through my thoughts, memories I'd long forgotten or dismissed.

I'd never been able to explain the time my brother Alec's lost toy had seemed to leap up into my hand when I reached into the pit where it had fallen.

There was the time I found my mother's lost wedding charm, when everyone else had given up hope.

Even more recently there was the Hearthfire--I'd managed to maintain it flawlessly for six months, up to that very night, when most families were forced to summon a Wizard to relight their Hearths at least once or twice a month.

The memories faded and I flashed on a conversation I'd overheard as a child, my father defending one of my "Going to be a Wizard" comments to some of his friends:

"Don't be ridiculous," one visitor had argued. "Only those born Wizards can do Magic."

My father had smiled in response.

"But how did they get to be born Wizards?" 

"They are born of Wizard parents, obviously," another guest said.

"Maybe so," Father replied. "But what about in the beginning? I mean, we've all heard stories of the times before Magic, haven't we?"

There was a general nod of assent around the trestle where they sat, although a couple of them muttered things like "Hah!" and "Yeah, in fairy stories."

"Well then," Father went on, "who birthed the first person to be a Wizard? His parents had to have been Plain, just like us. That's all there are, Wizards and Plain folk, right?"

I refocused on the robed figure as emotions tore at me. I desperately wanted to believe this stranger. The spark of my Magical dream still smoldered within me ... but it had been so long since I'd believed in that dream. I could feel the deep scars on my heart from the repression of those yearnings; scratching at those wounds would hurt even more the second time.

 Still, even as I stood frozen with indecision, I knew there was only one choice I could make.

"What do I do?"

The figure motioned me closer, then remained silent until I drew close enough to touch her, close enough to see how tattered and shabby her robe looked, even in the dark.

"You must hold your right hand out, like this," she whispered. The hand she held out to demonstrate seemed oddly worn and dirty, for someone offering to teach Magic.

"Hold your hand over the center of the Hearth, just as you've seen Wizards do. Visualize a fire in your mind--concentrate until you can hear it and smell it and feel its heat. Then say, 'Flammae Adustum!'"

She paused a moment. "Can you remember that? You must say it exactly as I did."

"Flammae--" I started to say, but the stranger cut me off with a harsh word.

"No!" the shadow hissed. "You mustn't say it here! You don't want to set the trees or the grass on fire, do you?"

I shook my head, mute with horror.

"You must say the words only at Hearthside, for now," she continued, her voice quiet once more, but still filled with a sense of determination. "The Hearth itself will help you. Until someone can teach you more, your Magic must be used only in the most private of ways."

I was suddenly more than a little nervous. "Is it that dangerous?"


She almost spat the word, but in a moment I heard a soft sigh, and she continued in a calmer tone.

"Yes, it is dangerous, but you'll be fine if you're careful. Certainly it's less dangerous than to use Magic without realizing you are doing it." The stranger paused, drawing a deep breath before continuing, as though to control her emotions.

"Soon you will learn more," she went on at last, a wistful note now in her voice. "Much more. Magic is your destiny, Astra, but your time is not yet here."

Those words confused me again. "My time?"

The girl sighed again behind the voluminous hood. "Not yet. But soon, Astra. Very soon. Now, go and light your Hearthfire. Tell no one--but start keeping that journal you've been thinking about. Update it each day, in as much detail as you can."


I was suddenly not only confused, but confounded--I'd told no one that I'd been thinking of keeping a journal, not even Reni.

"How did you--" I began to ask, but the stranger suddenly glanced around, as if she had heard someone coming.

"Go, quickly," she said in a hurried whisper, then pulled back into the shadows and disappeared. I stood there a moment longer, staring at the shadows, wondering if I'd just been the victim of a hallucination.

Magic was my destiny?

I shivered slightly, pulled my cloak more tightly around me, then turned from the woods and hurried across our yard and into the cottage. I felt my stomach churn as the hooded stranger's words echoed in my mind. Magic is your destiny. Your time is not yet here.

For the life of me, I couldn't imagine having "a time"--unless it was the time Mother spoke of, when Father would arrange an eventual marriage for me. Or maybe a time when some Wizard would hire me to be their housekeeper! That had become my fondest dream, once I had quashed the idea of being a Plain Wizard, At least as a Wizard's housekeeper I would live close to Magic.

Yet now a stranger had told me that I was destined for something more, something far beyond what anyone else had ever allowed me to believe.

I felt my heart soar--until reality returned with a crash, as I came face to face with the dark Hearth, and the night's darker reality. I had no hope of being a Wizard's housekeeper, much less a Plain Wizard, if I couldn't keep my own Hearthfire going.

I placed more wood in the Hearth, steeled myself, and held out my right hand the way the stranger had shown me.





The signs of a home with its Hearthfire gone out were unmistakable: no glow from the Hearthroom window of the small cottage, and the distressed appearance of the young girl who rushed into the house, leaving the door open in her haste. Andre Skyecatcher smiled slightly to himself and hurried his pace, his golden eyes almost glowing in the dark. A damsel in need of Magical rescue--it was unexpected opportunities like this that made him glad he'd been born to Magic as a member of the Wizard class.

Magic imposed three main duties upon all Wizards: healing, weather management, and firemaking. Though he took all of his duties quite seriously ... found healing to be rewarding and weather Magic fulfilling ... Skyecatcher believed that serving Amedia meant more than just performing duties and fulfilling requirements. Serving Amedia meant serving the people of Amedia. Besides, nothing warmed his heart more than the joy of a family when their Hearthfire blazed anew from the ashes of the old.

He reached the open door and paused a moment, pulling his Wizard robe more tightly around him against the cold. He had never gotten completely comfortable with walking into a Plain home unannounced. Unlike many Wizard families, his had raised him to firmly respect the privacy of Plain people. While it was his right, even his duty as a Wizard, Skyecatcher often had to force himself to do what he must ... though this clearly seemed a case where his visit would be welcome.

 He quietly entered the cottage and moved along the entry hall toward the Hearthroom. It was easy to find. Plain cottages were all of the same basic design: an entry hall along one end, leading to a central Hearthroom and kitchen, with bedrooms beyond those on the far side of the house. He expected at any moment to hear weeping from the young girl who'd rushed in ahead of him, but all was still quiet as he reached entrance to the Hearthroom...

...and stopped dead in his tracks, barely managing to stifle a gasp.

The girl, who looked about twelve, stood in the classic Wizardly pose of Firelighting. Though not a complicated stance, Firelighting was so basic to Magic that Wizard families spent years drilling their children at it. Yet in the light of Liberi, newly risen above Amedia's horizon and shining like a spotlight through the cottage's large front window, the young Plain girl displayed a perfect presentation of that form! Skyecatcher watched, entranced, as the girl seemed to hesitate; she pulled her hand back, twice, as though unsure whether to go on. Finally, she squared her shoulders and set herself fully in position.

"Flammae adustum!"

A Hearthfire sprang into being with a roar, the blast  knocking the startled girl off her feet with a thump. Skyecatcher threw one arm over his face to ward off the burst of heat he could feel even across the room. There was a pause as the girl stared at what she had just done ... then she was back on her feet, screaming for joy, bouncing up and down in her excitement!

Skyecatcher remained transfixed for a moment, watching the girl's exuberant dance...until, suddenly, he remembered where he was. He quickly ducked back outside before he could be seen. In the cold Winter darkness he stood in stunned amazement, his thoughts whirling with what he'd just witnessed.

I couldn't really have just seen that, he silently reassured himself. Yes, some Plain folk were known to have done Magic over the years--but only small, inconsequential things, not big ones like lighting fires.

Then a hint of doubt crossed his mind. Is there more to the story than that? Could Plain folk be Wizards?

With a jolt, Skyecatcher suddenly realized the girl might come outside for firewood, or water, and right then he didn't feel ready to confront her. His thoughts continued to spin as he got himself moving again toward the home of another Plain family, who had earlier asked for him to come by.

It was a while before he realized just how shaken he was by the incident and by his own reaction to it.

The girl's achievement starkly refuted one of the basic tenets of Wizard society--that Magic was given only to those born into Wizard families. Skyecatcher had held that belief without question until one Wizard College teacher had explained reality to him during a quiet talk: Birth status had little or nothing to do with a person's Magical potential. Amedia was the sole arbiter of who would receive use of Magic.

True, the teacher had admitted, the Wizard-born were most often the ones granted the gift of Magic but the World was free to choose anyone to share in its bounty. Anyone--even Plain folk. It happened so seldom, most Wizards had forgotten Plain Magic was even possible. That forgetfulness was cheerfully and deliberately fostered by the attitudes and rules of the Wizard Council.

As Skyecatcher walked on in the night his brisk paced slowed to a thoughtful meander. The more he turned the incident over in his mind, the less upset he became. To his surprise, he found himself actually energized by the sudden reality of what he had thought to be a mere theoretical discussion with his old teacher.

Maybe it was because he had never found much to be "special" in those who were Wizard-born. While upward of two-thirds of those born into Wizard families gained Magical abilities, Skyecatcher had found few of his fellow students at Wizard College to be deserving of the Magic they wielded. He had kept mostly to himself during his ten years at the college, meeting only a few people whom he came to consider friends.

The cold night air helped clarify his thoughts as he walked. Eventually he realized that he didn't care a whit about the girl's family or Plain background. It was clear she could do Magic, which meant she'd clearly been chosen by Amedia.

Nothing else could possibly matter.

He picked up his pace once more, pushing down the path to the family that awaited him. A conviction crystallized in his mind as he walked: It wasn't just that a Plain girl had performed Magic--it was that she'd performed one of the most powerful Magics possible without really knowing what she was doing. The potential for disaster was immense. There was no doubt in his mind, she had to be trained. Anyone with Magic that strong must be trained, for everyone's sake.

But how?


Skyecatcher continued to ponder the problem the next day as he worked at a temporary healing center, one of which was set up after the seasonal festivals in every town's community center. There were always celebration-related injuries; people tended to be ... enthusiastic ... in their expressions of thanks to Amedia.

The center's large gathering hall buzzed with activity as he and other Wizards healed their way through long lines of patients, but along with every quiet spell his mind continued to poke and prod at the problem of a Plain girl with no hope of being trained to use her Magic, simply because she was Plain.

By the time the center closed for lunch he'd still not come up with an idea that offered any hope. As he munched on the dregs of his mid-day meal, he decided to ask someone with more experience for help. Fortunately, one of his former teachers was seated beside him, quietly working on his own meal.

"Say, Huck, can I ask you a question?"

"Why certainly, young Wizard," the older man replied. "I've been wondering how long you were going to chew on whatever it is that's bothering you."

Skyecatcher frowned. "Am I really that obvious?"

Hucklebee Stonecraft had been Skyecatcher's favorite instructor during his decade at Wizard College; it was Huck who had explained about Plain Magic. The two had become fast friends almost the moment they'd met. The old teacher had insisted his students call him "Huck," with a large smile but with no other explanation, and at this point Skyecatcher couldn't imagine calling him anything else.

Now Hucklebee smiled knowingly, which looked oddly angelic under the wisps of snowy-white hair and fluffy white eyebrows.

"To someone who has known you as long as I have, yes."

"Huh." Skyecatcher chuckled, feeling himself become suddenly and inexplicably nervous. "Well. It's, ah, like this. I've, ah, met this young Plain girl...." His voice trailed off.

"I sense from your hesitation that this girl is not just a patient."

"She's, ah--well, yeah," Skyecatcher answered, knowing the response was lame.

"Do I hear the throes of puppy love in your voice?"

"What? No!" Skyecatcher was honestly shocked at the thought. While everyone knew it sometimes happened, Wizard law clearly forbade romance between Wizards and Plain folk.

It did occur to him, though, that it would be so much easier if that was the issue.

"No, no, nothing like that," he told Hucklebee, after taking a moment to recover himself. "She just--well, she seems to have some...special talents, that I'd like to help her with. Help her to develop. But...."

His voice trailed off again; even though Skyecatcher suspected Hucklebee wouldn't be upset or surprised by a Plain girl performing Magic, he still hesitated to tell the old teacher more. For some reason he didn't fully understand, he felt protective of the girl, and he intentionally refrained from trying to figure out why.

"But you haven't got a clue how to go about it?" There was a definite twinkle in Hucklebee's deep-blue eyes as he finished Skyecatcher's question for him.

"To go about helping the girl," he clarified when the younger man's eyebrows lifted in confusion.

"Oh. Yeah," Skyecatcher said, nodding in visible relief. "That's it exactly."

"Just how young is she?"

Skyecatcher scrunched his face. "I'm not certain. Maybe twelve or so."

"Then she's long finished with learning Plain knowledge," Huck told him, "and is of full legal age in Plain society. In fact, she is just about the right age to begin her lifetime career--there's a good possibility that she's already apprenticed somewhere, maybe in her family's business."

The old professor paused to consider for a moment. "If she's not yet apprenticed, you should hire her."

"Hire her? At twelve years old?"

Skyecatcher blinked at the concept. Though he knew that Wizards did employed Plain folk to do a variety of non-Magical jobs, he had presumed Plain folk would be educated through their teen years the way Wizards were.

"What about duties to her family?"

"Oh, she may well have those," Hucklebee acknowledged with a shrug. "Her family will happily shift them to a sibling, though, if offered the chance to hire her off to a Wizard. You just have to make your offer one that they'll understand."

Skyecatcher was aghast. "But...hire her to do what? What kind of position could I possibly offer her? For that matter, what could I offer her parents to make them want to surrender their own child?"

Both Wizards had finished eating by this point; they gathered the remnants of their meal and started back to their aid stations.

Hucklebee regarded him closely. "Didn't you learn anything in all those years at college?" He sighed when Skyecatcher gave him a blank look.

"Tell me," the older Wizard continued after a moment, "aren't you tired of cooking and cleaning for yourself, now that the college isn't doing those things for you?"

Skyecatcher gave a wry grin. "The cleaning I can handle." He glanced at the remains of his food before pausing to toss them in a trash bin. "I'm definitely a lousy cook, though. My mother was very particular about food and wouldn't let any of us in her kitchen long enough to learn."

"There you go." Hucklebee's words held an air of finality. "You need a housekeeper."

Skyecatcher frowned at his old teacher in bewilderment. "A housekeeper?"

Hucklebee shrugged. "A housekeeper. That's how you can help this Plain girl of yours. Any Plain family in Amedia will leap at the chance to have a daughter honorably placed as a Wizard's housekeeper." The two men paused as they reached Hucklebee's station.

Skyecatcher frowned slightly. "What's so special about working for a Wizard?"

Hucklebee sat and offered an amused smile. "You can pay her, of course."            

Skyecatcher simply stared at the older Wizard, confusion plain on his face.

"Surely your family taught you things about Plain folk, Andre?"

Skyecatcher colored slightly. "Nothing...specific," he muttered. "My father may be the great champion of the Plain folk before the Wizard Council, but he never, ever mentioned any of the details when he was home."

Hucklebee raised his eyebrows questioningly.

"Oh, I learned respect for Plain folk from him," Skyecatcher hastened to add, "or from what I heard about his work, anyway. But...." He gave a weak shrug.

Hucklebee grimaced slightly, in seeming distaste for a parent failing to properly teach his child.

"A very clear division has evolved between the Plain and Wizard communities, Andre," he finally explained, easily falling into teaching mode. "A divide that began the moment that Amedia introduced us to Magic.

"Plain folk work hard, providing the physical labor needed to grow the food and craft the things that everyone uses. Wizards provide the Magic that makes those things possible. Now, that may sound like an equitable division, but the reality is somewhat different." Hucklebee shrugged.

"The sole reason that Plain folk live as well as they do is that Amedia Amedia imposed the Plain Manifest at the time of Landing. That document requires Wizards to provide the 'basics' of life--but that only covers the bare minimum of what people need. Food, housing, and clothing. As you can imagine there are often things Plain people want that aren't included in that list of essentials covered by the Manifest."

"Like what?"

"Like, jewelry. Books."

Skyecatcher could understand people wanting books.

"How do they get those things?"

"They somehow have to find money."

A light went on in Skyecatcher's head. "And hiring their daughter off to a Wizard gets them money?"

"It does," Hucklebee nodded in agreement.

"Andre, Amedia doesn't create money--the World has no need for money. Wizards are the source of all money in Amedia. Plain folk can use it when they get it, but first they have to get it."


"Like it or not, the primary route for money to find its way into Plain society is through salaries earned working for Wizards. Thousands of Plain folk are employed by Wizards, you have to know that much. Remember all the Plain folk at the college? Similar numbers work at Thunderhead Castle and provincial administration centers, and hundreds more are employed by individual Wizards.

"So ... a housekeeper. She'll earn more money than she ever dreamed possible, given your Wizardly generosity. As a dutiful daughter, she will give all of that money to her family. The girl won't want for anything, though, because you will provide her with all that she needs or wants while she's in your employ."

Hucklebee gently motioned for Skyecatcher to move along; lines had already started to form at the healing stations following the break for lunch. The old Wizard gave him a final grin, then turned his attention to the patients.

Skyecatcher slowly walked toward his own station, deep in thought. A housekeeper. Hire a Plain girl as a pretext to give her the training she needed.

The idea of subterfuge bothered him, but there was little hope that the Wizard establishment would allow him to openly train a Plain girl in Magic. That was something that needed to change, but he didn't have the luxury of waiting until the council could be reformed--if that would even be possible. It was far too easy to forget that Amedia ultimately makes the rules.

For the moment, there was only one course of action he could see taking.

He would look into hiring himself a housekeeper.

The girl's training couldn't wait.

Updated 10-24-2013

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