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Time to start fitting in.
MARA DIDN’T LET him win, of course. In fact, she didn’t even let him finish the race, overtaking him a few hundred yards from the city gates and motioning for him to slow down. When they were walking, she raised a hand for her mage-beast to land on. Woman and jackdaw studied him thoughtfully.
“If you’re going to do this, Azarien, you have to understand you can never hide again.”
Reaching up to stroke Rowan’s head, Arien swallowed nervously. He’d stopped the flow of magic again without noticing; he was too used to keeping it hidden.
Mara gave him a firm look and stopped her horse, making Arien stop too. “When you hide it your magic starves. That’s where the Hunger comes from. You’re not like other mages, Arien, and not only because you weren’t born on the roots of the Rythen mountains. Most Wrystani and Firthene mages hold their magic inside them. It’s deeply connected to their personalities, being shaped by and helping to shape the people they are and will become. That’s why Sidony is a battle mage, while your other friend Hawk is a healer. She’s all fiery impulse, he’s calm intelligence. You can’t have an impulsive healer and you can’t have a calm battle mage. Life doesn’t work that way. Mostly.”
Arien hunched a shoulder, not sure he wanted to let the magic in anymore. Not if it meant he was still different, still an outsider. He’d thought that once his magic was straightened out he’d be like everyone else, but no. He was destined to never fit in. A freak of nature.
Reaching across the space between their horses, Mara gripped his shoulder, but he couldn’t bear to see the pity in her eyes. Supporting Rowan as the pine marten crawled out of his tunic and onto his shoulders, Arien stared at his saddle and wished he had never come here.
Mara gave him a shake. “Just because your magic is different, doesn’t mean you’re alone. You’re just rare, that’s all. A mage whose magic comes from the world, and because you don’t carry yours within you, in theory there’s no limit to how much you can wield.
“In practise it’s somewhat different,” she added with a rueful smile. “There might be no limit in how much you can call, but there’s only so much your body can take.” She sounded like she knew exactly what she was talking about.
“I’m like you,” Arien whispered in dawning amazement. “My magic is like yours.”
Her smile was rueful. “Oh no, Ari. Your magic is better.” When his face fell, she laughed. “The only good thing I can see about starving your magic for so many years is that it’s developed quite an appetite. Even at this age I’d say you have the potential to be twice as powerful as I am, possibly more by the time you’re done growing.”
He felt light-headed with relief and disbelief. “Then it is like yours. You get your magic from the world too. It doesn’t come from inside you.”
“I get my magic from the world too,” she agreed. “It doesn’t come from inside me. Though we can store a certain amount, which can be useful for the fallow seasons.”
Arien stared blankly at her.
“Later.” She patted his shoulder and nudged her horse onwards again. “We’ll talk about it later. You’ve got a lot to learn.” Nodding to the city gatekeepers, she stroked the jackdaw on her shoulder. “A student,” she grumbled, almost too softly for Arien to hear. “At my age. What are the mountains thinking, Ni?”
The jackdaw chuckled and Arien smiled as he re-entered the city by the sea.
Then he remembered: “Hey, Mara!” As the streets widened he nudged his horse alongside hers. “Who’s Sparrow?”
* * *
HAWK STARED OUT of the window during what was supposed to be a magic theory lesson – except it was temporarily lacking a teacher – and sighed at the view he was in no mood to appreciate.
Unlike Sidony, who was perched on the desk in front of him, gazing at the sea in awe. “It’s so big and blue,” she said. “Look how it sparkles in the sun. It’s so warm and inviting, like a giant bath. I want to dive right in.”
Hawk’s lips twitched at the thought of Sidony plunging into the autumn sea, expecting it to be as warm as a bath.
“And those cliffs,” she continued, turning her eyes to the high limestone walls that rose and fell around the curve of the bay. “They don’t look real.”
As someone who’d spent many free days clambering up and down them, Hawk could admit that they frequently didn’t feel very real either. “They’re a little unstable.”
“But magnificent,” Sidony argued, her eyes drifting back down the sloping terrace lawns to where the sea lapped against a small jetty. A couple of rowing boats and a pretty little yacht were docked alongside it. “Can we go sailing?”
Not if they wanted to live to graduate, Hawk thought. “I don’t know how.”
At last Sidony tore her eyes from the view, blinking at him in astonishment. “How long have you lived in Royas Bay?”
“Four years,” he admitted reluctantly.
“And you can’t sail?” She shook her head, clearly disappointed. “What have you been doing all this time?”
At the thought of just how busy his life had been as a page, now doubled by his additional training as a mage, Hawk snorted. “I’ve had other things on my mind.” He would never admit that boats made him queasy.
Green eyes narrowed, but she was thankfully distracted as someone opened the door. Hawk looked up too, wondering if this lesson was finally about to start. If not there were plenty of other places he could be. His training and study routine started before breakfast and didn’t finish until bedtime, thanks to private tutors and extra lessons. He didn’t have time to sit around all afternoon waiting for nothing to happen.
Sidony bounded across the room and stopped just short of throwing herself on the poor boy. Arien stiffened at her exuberant approach, then relaxed when she didn’t touch him. The pine marten on his shoulder showed no such restraint and leapt from his mage’s shoulder into Sidony’s waiting arms.
“I’ve missed you, Rowan,” she murmured, rubbing her face along the pine marten’s dark sides. “Cricket did too.” A tiny nose and set of twitching whiskers peeped out from beneath Sidony’s collar, exchanged a sniff with Rowan then vanished again. Giggling, Sidony handed the mage-beast back and grabbed Arien’s hand. “We saved you a seat.”
As the girl towed her prize across the room, Hawk noticed Mara slip in and head towards the front. He sat up, eyes widening as he realised his class had finally gained its teacher.
“Here. Sit next to Hawk.”
Arien took his seat and Hawk smiled in greeting, but the younger boy was too busy staring at Cyrus to notice. The sparrowhawk was dozing on his perch at the front of the desk.
Arien’s eyes widened. “Sparrow.”
Hawk’s own eyes narrowed. “What?”
Arien looked up and met his annoyance with a smile. “Nothing.”
Hawk huffed and turned his glare on Mara, knowing exactly who to blame. She winked at Arien and the boy chuckled. It was such a shock that Hawk forgot to be annoyed. Instead he studied Arien more carefully and liked what he saw. Gone was the watchful air that expected a beating at any moment. The weary disillusionment that had made Hawk feel so angry over the last few days had also vanished. Whatever Mara had said had obviously worked.
Curious, Hawk half-closed his eyes to touch a spark of his magic. And swore.
“Something the matter, mage-page?” Mara called from the front desk, sending a ripple through the room as the students finally noticed her. Then recognised who she was.
Hawk was too busy staring at Arien and waiting for the ringing in his ears to fade. “Sweet mountains,” he breathed, and realised Arien had stiffened warily.
He’d known the boy was potentially powerful, but this… He’d never imagined this.
“Nothing,” he said, smiling. “I was just surprised to see you.” He switched his attention from Arien to Mara.
She smiled at his innocent expression. “I often have that effect.”
A murmur of amusement swept around the room, giving Hawk a chance to whisper, “Do you feel better now?”
Arien gave a slow nod. “I think so. It’s – You’re not annoyed?”
Frightened was what he meant, but Hawk didn’t take offence. “I’m impressed.”
“But I’m different.”
“Says the natural mage to the mage-page in a class being taught by the most famous mage in the country.”
Arien bit his lip, still unsure.
Hawk rolled his eyes. “You’re different, I’m different, Mara’s very different and Sidony defies description. You’re in good company.”
The younger boy smiled. “I suppose I am.”
~ Next Chapter ~
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