Letting Life Lead
I recalled my mentor’s words and they wrapped me in comfort: Some you can push and others nudge but a bit.
Orra would berate me for being brash and walking into the lure. But what could I do? I could not outrun horses nor hide from the dogs with the scents in their snouts. It would have been only a matter of time.
T’was your own doing, she’d say. Magi cannot defend when drained.
My head then would hang though my fists would clench. That old hag would crack my knuckles with her staff and suffer me through a transfiguration to teach me a lesson. I suppose she’d run out of punishments by the time of The Parting. All students must find their own way and hone their own artifacts. My own, a walnut-shaped locket, rolled back and forth on my chest as I tested the twine binding me to the tree.
“When will I know I am ready?” I had asked.
Orra’s back had already turned. “When you stop asking foolish questions of me.”
Reviving my familiar from the hunter’s arrows had drawn more power than I had intended. A hollow husk remained in my core.
Lai, stupid fool of a girl. A block of wood can do naught.”
Orra was not a magess of the honey-tongued. I had been spell-bound and turned into a white mouse on an occasion and set in the barn with the cats for a fortnight.
Wits not brawn. Build patience rather than sacrificing a tail, she had called through the thick doors.
One might have made the mistake of pushing the weakest and nudging the strongest. Folly. The best to nudge with just a wisp of power was the disheartened. Today, the grisled, silver-haired former soldier who had seen far too many battles and possessed guilt so heavy it could crush the great mountains became my ally. He required only a promise. A taste. A daydream.
The gag prevented my smile but I didn’t need it. My eyes drew him in and told him, “I understand your pain. Free yourself.” A nudge did not take a significant amount of energy in the right subject, but the mental effort shook my bones. Sweat wicked through my wool garments.
Easy girl. Concen–
I muffled a “be quiet” into the gag to silence the relentless lecturing.
The hunter came to me. The others had gone to stalk my familiar. They would not burn me until they found him. I’d turned him into a songbird, though the hounds would still scent. I didn’t have time to make the spell a lasting one.
He reached for my locket and I nodded. It had been plain metal when I began and now it was studded with tiny gems. Each enhancing my potential. All acquired with the right auras as I had been instructed. The prick to his palm was not a worry. A potion of compulsion of my own making, it was designed to attract people of a certain mind. Their energy was hidden, concentrated and volatile.
The bindings fell away, their spell broken with his blessings. I clasped the locket until the chain pulled at my neck. “Bind to me and allow me your strength. I will give you what you seek in return.”
He clasped my hand and the locket grew hot in my palm. “Let me have them.”
I searched his mind and found his ache and rage. I plucked it from his psyche and reforged it. I kept but a piece for the locket. The rest I fed back to him, as it was his, but in a form separate from the person he’d longed to be. He transformed into a hulking bear with a coat the same hue as his aged beard. He stared at me with human eyes behind the wild.
“You have but a little time. When the fire burns out you will again be a man. Return to me then.”
I collapsed against the tree. The woods broke in his path and the screams carried far. I would do it all again. Perhaps what I have done and will do is not the right path, but it is my path. I will be hunted no more.
If being a mouse taught me anything, it was that small teeth can gouge out a cat’s eye.
Orra’s voice remained silent. I walked away a girl no more.
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