Rose was humming as she worked, little trills of sound.
Jason settled in a chair in the corner of the workspace. He glanced over, from time to time, but it was hard for him to see exactly what she was working on, from this angle, and without the lights set just so.
Rose sat back on her heels, let the snatch of melody trail off, and then she looked up. “I’m not sure about the angle, here.”
“It should be a hundred and fifty degrees.”
“I am entirely capable of using a protractor, Jason.” Her voice was clear, amused, and pointed.
He looked up, and shook his head. “Then explain the problem.”
“We’re basing this on the astrological relationships, yes?”
“Yes.” Jason wasn’t sure at all what she wasn’t getting.
“But in astrology, a hundred and fifty degrees is a quincunx. An incongruity, didn’t Master Bright’s book call it? Yes, an incongruity. Two things that do not understand each other at all. Differing by both sign and modality. So why are we putting that in a working to bring understanding?”
“Ah.” Jason tapped his clawtips on the wood of the chair. And then he waited.
Rose brushed her hair out of her face, settled her glasses more steadily on her nose, and then said “You’re waiting for me to work it out.” It was not quite accusatory.
Jason said nothing, just waited.
She closed her eyes and took a breath. He could be utterly infuriating, especially when he got the idea to turn what was supposed to be one exercise into at least four others without warning her. Except, of course, that he’d done it before and that was supposed to be sufficient warning.
When she opened her eyes, he was still waiting, not moving. She made a face, then said “I am drawing the quincunx.” she says. “And then I draw the semi-sextiles, those are thirty degrees.”
“And how do you draw them?”
She looked at the drawing in her hand, the lines traced meticulously in different color inks. “Interlocking with the quincunx lines, five to each, and two to fill the gap.”
“How many are there?”
“Twelve.” She could, in fact, count.
“And what else comes in twelves?”
“Disciples. Members of a coven if you believe some people.” She made a face. “Months of a year. Groups of hours, day and night. Zodiac signs. Tribes of Israel. Days of Christmas.”
“And?” His voice was dry.
She considered what she was missing, and then worked on counting on her fingers. Not planets. Not elements. And then a “Notes in a scale. A Western one, anyway.”
The toothy grin was a bit disconcerting, not so much for his wolf mouth, as for the fact he so rarely grinned quite so broadly at her, in praise.
“Notes in a scale.”
She tapped her fingers on the design. “So if the … quincunx is … “ She stopped and then he laughed, full throated, as the pieces fell into place. “So we are setting up a deliberate tension, and resolving it as we add the semi-sextiles, bringing harmony into the pattern, joining them together, overlapping them.”
He bobbed his head. “As music needs both tension and resolution to proceed, to draw the ear and heart and idea along. This is a different kind of representation. And one more suited to portability, in a talisman, or inclusion in a device. It is quite awkward to have to round up a few trained voices every time one wants to do certain kinds of magic.”
She laughed, and then she bent her head over the drawing again, tracing the lines, and settling in to ask questions about precisely what relationships between notes and concepts and magical forces they were building here.
Rose had not known what to expect of Master Ridgeway, not at all.
The man getting out of the train car, carefully, with an amazingly ugly man at his side, was older and different than Jason’s stories had lead her to believe. She had thought Barnes made of granite, the way Jason talked about him, something as old and battered as glacial till. Ridgeway in his stories was sharp, knapped obsidian.
What he was, she thought, was pumice. Still stone, but more complicated. Worn by age - well, he must be in his sixties by now. Maybe seventies. She wasn’t sure Jason knew.
Behind him was a young man, in a conservative hat and coat. Perhaps in his early twenties, at least outwardly deferential and courteous. Though, as an Apprentice in Fire magic, there must be more there. At least he looked nothing like Du Mond. Blond hair and blue eyes, the kind of body language that suggested he was entirely at home with such travel.
She stepped forward, once the train pulled away, the Salamanders and Sylphs flanking her, to pick up luggage and whisk it away.
“Welcome to Pacifica.” she said, carefully. “I am Rosalind Hawkins Cameron. You are honored guests here.” The phrasing, evoking the ancient Greek guest rites.
This got a slight bow from Ridgeway. “I am Alan Ridgeway. My Apprentice, Matthew Warren.” he said, gesturing at the young man, making the capital of the title quite clear. “Barnes.” Who got no further introduction.
Rose inclined her head in the dignified recognition of the lady of the house. Jason had coached her carefully on what Ridgeway’s standards expected. “Please, do call me Rose,” she replied. “My husband hopes you will join us for dinner, but let me show you to your rooms, so you can change and rest from the journey.”
And then, with a slight flicker of humor, a “Hot water is in abundant supply, of course. I hope the carriage was entirely comfortable?”
She led the way into the house, the Sylphs opening the doors before them, her Sylphide flicking to the buttons of the lift without any instruction. She could see Ridgeway’s eyes follow it - her, Rose always felt. The young man, Warren, asked her a question, then, she murmured an answer, the year the mansion was built, and they were at the third floor, and the guest rooms.
They had given Ridgeway the red and gold suite. As Rose suspected, Jason had gotten his taste for that color scheme from his master’s home. The red and black Russian suite went to Matthew Warren.
She murmured to Barnes “We thought you would prefer this suite, to be close to Master Ridgeway.” and she was delighted by the slight approving nod he gave her when she showed him to the green and silver beside Ridgeway’s. “I’ll be back at six thirty, to show you downstairs.” A comfortable two hours for them to wash and change and settle in.
Each room had a few selected books of interest - a rare work of Fire magic for Ridgeway, a book Jason had thought Barnes might enjoy if he unbent himself enough to read, and a history of San Francisco for Warren. A few snacks, if they had been left hungry by the journey. A note to request tea or coffee or some other drink if they preferred. A salamander and sylph to see to Warren. After reassuring Jason that everyone had arrived safely, she went to check on the kitchen - with both salamanders and sylphs working, they could manage their own meals quite well.
At six thirty, she was waiting in the third floor hall, dressed in a deep red to complement her husband and their guests.
“Thank you for coming. As Jason’s letter explained, he is not able to travel. He suffered a magical accident - brought on by hubris, as he will freely admit, sir, in person - which transformed him. We hope you may have some suggestions on how to mediate some of the condition. Master Pao, Master of Dragons, is also eager to make your acquaintance, having heard so many stories of Jason’s time in Chicago and his training.”
She showed them down to the dining room, and when everyone was seated, rang a small bell to tell Jason they were there. This one thing, she refused to let him overrule her on, so she sat beside him, rather than at the far end of the table. Master Pao had that honor, as senior Master in the house.
Jason’s appearance was clearly a shock, and she could see Ridgeway’s immediate hardening and Jason’s instinctive hurt. For all Ridgeway had never been emotionally warm, Rose knew that Jason deeply valued his good opinion and desperately wanted his respect. It was why Jason hadn’t written despite everything.
“What have you done, then?” was what Ridgeway said, and it had a hard edge to it.
Rose could see her husband hold himself steady, by force of mind and will. The herbs and the magical work they’d done, they kept his temper in check, but there was still space for raw words, the kind of thing that would make Ridgeway entirely unyielding, unwilling to offer his full help.
She coughed, the same small cough of her initial Apprentice Ordeal. Jason glanced at her, there was a gaping pause, and then he laughed, full-throated, before saying, easily “There’s a story, sir. Do, please, sit. It is better told over a meal and good wine.”
That was not how Ridgeway had expected it to go. Clearly. He looked from one to the other, and then settled into his chair, peering at Jason over his glasses like someone inspecting a butterfly emerging from chrysalis.
Jason told the tale, carefully, his hubris, his research, over the soup. Then, over the main course, carefully eating his raw meat with the special utensils they’d designed, about the battle with Beltaire.
“Good riddance and long since.” was Ridgeway’s dry comment. “Though the way in which it happened…”
Jason ducked his muzzle, and murmured, carefully “I was afraid to ask for help.”
“Afraid to admit you needed it.” Ridgeway watched Jason intently.
“That. Many other things.”
“And your wife….”
Jason was immediately on guard, and Rose shifted to place a hand on Jason’s paw.
Ridgeway paused, drawing it out. “Your wife is clearly an interesting influence.”
The talk turned then to Rose’s training. She expected the sharp questions. Had she read this? She had, and quoted it in the original, and then in her own translation. Had she read that? Yes, she had. Could she put together several disparate ideas? Yes, she could.
Finally, with some amusement, she murmured “Master Ridgeway, if you would like to be included on my doctoral committee, I would be glad to supply your credentials to the others.”
He laughed, unexpectedly, and then clapped his hands. “Oh, she’s a fine match for you, Jason. Sharpness and all.” And then he lent in, and they began a more egalitarian discussion that ran long into the night of possible approaches.
Ridgeway was a Firemaster, but he had had decades to read and study more than Jason. And he was fluent in the Western magics, and knew things Master Ho did not about Air magic, at least in theory.
They talked the next day, and the next, and Rose and Matthew were sent to fetch books and bring them back, for the elder Masters who could less easily climb ladders or make endless loops to the library. Ridgeway was momentarily scandalized when Rose tucked up her skirts to draw the patterns for the workings they attempted, but she refused to take notice of his affront, and simply got on with the work.
By the end of the visit, they had made several experimental workings - exploring what multiple masters, in various disciplines, could do, together.
There was no hope for transforming Jason, they had never expected that. But by the three departed to Chicago, there was hope for illusion magics, for cloaking magics, anchored in Rose’s mastery of Air, and perhaps a talisman of earth and air to hold it in place, that would let Jason travel carefully in the outer world again.
Not often. Not easily. But sometimes.
“I feel ridiculous.”
“You smell lovely.”
“Scent on fur is not lovely, it is ridiculous.” Jason was sulking. Rather a lot.
“You need to attend the Assembly. I need to attend the Assembly. This is the best way to do it.” It was the first since she had earned her Mastery, and she needed to be presented, to demonstrate her skill and control.
“It is still ridiculous.” Jason would not be soothed. He rocked back and forth in his soft shoes, hood pulled up over his head.
“You have the talisman. Master Ho and I worked on that a very long time, thank you.” And it still wasn’t perfect. No single thing they tried was. It was a thing of magical beauty, though, carefully inscribed, set with stones, magical effects to make the eye and mind think that here was an ordinary man, perhaps with some scarring that made you glance away quickly.
“Around my neck.” This was grudging.
“And the hood over your head.”
“It doesn’t. You just don’t like having your ears pinned.”
Jason made a disgruntled noise, until she stood on her toes and kissed his cheek, furry as it was.
“I will be right there. And the sylphs, ready to confuse anyone the other magics don’t.”
“You’re sure about this?”
“We are sure about this.” Her voice was firm. “You have seen all our research. Done a fair bit of it yourself. And Master Ridgeway thought the combination quite ingenious.” She was still pleased with that. “And you know he wants to see you again.”
“I came to London, didn’t I?”
She came around, to pat him on the shoulder. “I know it was hard.” Keeping to a private train car, to the cabin on the liner over the ocean, closed carriages. Keeping everyone far from him and the lights dim.
The official story was a disfiguring accident, to keep people from prying too much. Some still had. Rose’s sylphs had needed their every skill at illusion and confusion to keep that from bringing trouble to their door.
But now they were in London, at an Assembly scheduled to overlap the 1908 Olympics. A good excuse for people from many corners to travel to the great city. She took a deep breath, inhaling, getting a hint of the coriander in the perfume on Jason’s head.
“You came to London. Thank you.” This, apparently defused a lot of his grumpiness, for all the damp was not agreeing with him.
“You’ll go out? Promise me, you’ll see the place?”
She made a noise. “I don’t like leaving you alone.”
“Ridgeway will come sit with me. You should see the city. I insist, you know that. I don’t want you - chained to me.”
“Jason, love, you also don’t like it when other people escort me.”
He made a disgruntled noise, that showed rather more teeth than he likely intended. She patted his shoulder, and he muttered “Ridgeway said he had an idea.”
“Then we’ll see what he’s come up with. It’s good for him to have a project, you said that yourself.”
Jason grumbled under his breath again, and she patted his shoulder one more time, with a “Let me make sure I’ve everything in my bag, for the things people might ask me about.”
She turned to do that, letting him watch her, letting him know right where she was, that she was doing all the things they needed, together, to accomplish, before she came back to settle her hand in his, touching rings, and waiting for Ridgeway and Warren to show up and escort them to the meeting space downstairs.