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Kugisko, Namorn: the 3rd day of Mead Moon, 1042 KF

 

Niamara Bancanor sat back in her chair, frowning at the blank parchment in front of her. Each time she leaned on the desk, the smooth wood whispered to her power, making it hard to concentrate on what she wanted to write.

The door creaked behind her, and Nia turned to see a tall girl in a stained apron creep into the room.

“Jory!” said Nia, watching her twin sit down and start unpinning her hair. “You’re home early.”

“Keep it down,” Jory hissed. “I don’t want Mama to come up and lecture me again.”

Nia bit her lip. Last night’s conversation about suitors for Jory had not ended well.

“There!” Jory shook out her curls and glanced at the desk. “Who are you writing to?”

“Daja.” Nia rolled the end of the quill between her fingers, hoping she could rub inspiration out of it. “I want to tell her about that boy the Mages’ Society locked up last week.”

Jory tilted her head. “I thought they didn’t want anyone talking about it.”

“I know,” said Nia quickly. “But it’s not right! I mean, I know they had to contain his magic somehow, but now they seem to think they’ve fixed the problem and they haven’t!”

“They can’t keep a little boy trapped in a rune circle forever,” agreed Jory. “But how do you think Daja can help?”

“She said her friend Sandry helped a boy with dance magic, though nobody had ever heard of it,” said Nia. “There must be another solution – but I don’t know what I should say to Daja. What if one of the magistrates’ mages intercepts the letter?”

“Don’t be silly.” Jory stood up and paced in a little circle. “Just tell her what happened, and – oh!” She stopped and pointed at the parchment. “Ask Daja if she can make something from that living metal on her hand. Maybe a helmet, or–”

“No!” said Nia, horrified. “I can’t write that! Don’t you remember what happened last time?”

“Last– oh.” Jory went pale. “Griantein shrive me, I forgot. That naliz Ladradun misused her gloves.”

Nia, having covered her mouth when Jory swore, sighed and laced her fingers together over the parchment. “Even if she could make it the right size, she’d never just send something that powerful to Namorn. She’d have to come up herself, to make sure it was working properly.”

“Then we ask her to visit!”

“I–” Nia hesitated. She’d wanted to invite Daja to come for her wedding, which was probably going to be held in next year’s Goose Moon – but weddings were a touchy subject, these days. “I think it would be better just to ask for her advice,” she said finally. “She can talk with all the other mages at Winding Circle – even Viynain Goldeye. Surely one of them will have seen something like this before.”

“Huh.” Jory flopped into the chair beside Nia and crossed her arms. “I don’t see why you wanted my help writing this if you’re going to ignore all my suggestions!”

Nia looked carefully at her twin. “You wanted Daja to come and help you talk Mama and Papa out of marrying you off.”

Jory leaped to her feet again. “It’s not fair!” she burst out. “Boys can wait for ages before they get married, and Olennika’s never married at all! Why should I have to?”

Nia fought to keep the shock off her face. They’d been taught about family duty since they could walk – she couldn’t believe Jory had forgotten what they owed their ancestors. “You were fine with all the marriage arrangements last year,” she said quietly. “What’s changed?”

Jory kept standing for a moment, expression mutinous, and then sat down abruptly and covered her face. “It’s not that I never want to marry,” she mumbled. “I just don’t want to be taken away from the cookhouse.”

Nia blinked as the pieces fell into place. “Ah,” was all she could think to say.

“You remember how angry Grandmother was when she heard I was studying at Blackfly Bog!” Jory continued. “What man is going to want his wife working in the poor district? He’ll make me stay at home all day, and only use my magic to cook silly desserts for his guests!”

“I thought you liked making up desserts for us with Anyussa,” said Nia. Their younger siblings certainly enjoyed eating them.

“Oh yes, it is fun doing fancy things sometimes,” Jory admitted. “But Olennika helps people, Nia. She feeds people who really need feeding. And when I’m with her, I feel …”

“Useful,” Nia finished, and smiled. It was exactly how she felt, making wagons and sleighs with Arnen. She’d never thought getting married to Iliya Moykep would take that away from her – in fact, she’d been rather looking forward to learning about boats.

“Exactly.” Jory grabbed her hands and squeezed them. “I don’t want to give up working with Olennika. I want my mage’s certificate, like Daja!”

“I see.” An idea struck Nia, and she nearly crushed Jory’s fingers in her excitement. “Yes, that’s it! We’ll tell Mama and Papa that’s your time limit – you won’t get married until you have your certificate.”

Jory extracted herself and rubbed her knuckles gingerly. “You think they’ll agree to that?” she said. “Heluda told me it could take years.”

“It’s better than stamping your foot and saying you’ll never marry,” said Nia firmly. “Maybe – maybe you can still get betrothed, in the meantime.”

“So all I’ll be asking for is a prolonged engagement.” Jory considered this for a while, and then brightened. “That’s not so bad! I’m sure Mama can get one of the families to agree to that.”

“And Grandmother might even stop fussing about unworthy men sweeping you off your feet at the hospital,” Nia teased.

Jory snorted. “As if Olennika would let them get anywhere near me.”

The supper bell rang, making both girls jump up. They faced each other, automatically checking the other twin’s appearance.

“No time to do your hair,” said Nia, taking off Jory’s food-splattered apron while Jory shook out Nia’s skirts. “Just stay calm, and tell them what you’ve decided.”

Jory walked over and opened the door, then paused and looked over her shoulder. “You’ll back me up?”

Nia smiled at her sister. Jory must be nervous, if she felt she had to ask that. “Every time.”

 

*

 

Summersea, Emelan: the 20th day of Wort Moon

 

Daja Kisubo let the parchment fall back onto the kitchen table, her thoughts churning. The letter from Nia had started normally enough, with news about her little brother Eidart’s magic lessons, her teacher Arnen’s latest creation, and the beautiful wooden locket her betrothed had given her. But then it had finished with something quite different.

Daja glanced down at Nia’s neat script, knowing she ought to read it again, and felt her stomach muscles clench in protest. She grimaced and stood up to find the herb box. She wasn’t going shirk her duty, Bookkeeper witness it – but she needed some strong tea first.

She was just filling the teapot when a familiar figure went past the kitchen, heading for the back door. “Niko!” Daja called, and waited until he reappeared. “If you’re after Tris, I think she’s on the roof. You could take some tea up to her?”

“Ah, no, thank you,” said Niko, and held up the book he’d tucked under his arm. “I just came around to pick this up. I loaned it to Trisana last week, but I need it again.”

“Are you sure Tris has finished it?” asked Daja, warming the teapot in her hands. “You know what will happen if you take it away before she’s done with it.”

Niko hugged the book to his chest, creasing his face into such a comically guilty expression Daja had to laugh. “It’ll just be for a few days,” he promised.

“I’m not the one you have to convince,” Daja pointed out. Then she blinked, remembering her dilemma. “How is your Namornese?” she asked.

“Passable.” Niko frowned. “Why?”

“Sit.” Daja gestured at the table and got out some cups. “I think you should read this. Second page,” she added, as Niko sat down and picked up Nia’s letter.

Niko’s frown deepened as he read, not looking up when Daja put a cup in front of him. Daja walked around and sat opposite him, sipping her tea while she waited for him to finish.

Niko finally looked up, his dark eyes wide with alarm, and Daja tightened her grip on the cup. It seemed her hope for an instant answer was in vain.

Niko opened his mouth, shook his head, and held up the letter. “’Anyone within earshot would hear a dreadful noise in their heads, blanking out all thoughts and incantations,’” he read. “’And when he screamed, they all screamed with him.’ Daja, what is this?”

“It’s from Kolborn Bancanor’s daughter, Niamara – we stayed in Kugisko with them a few years ago.” Daja took a deep breath. “She is not prone to exaggeration.”

“Hmm,” he said, picking up his tea. “It’s still hard to believe.”

Daja watched as he drained the cup. “You’ve never heard of this power before?”

Niko sighed. “No. At least …” He stared into the distance, remembering. “There are tales of a girl who could hear other people’s thoughts like her own. They overwhelmed her at first, before she learned to control what her magic showed her.”

“So she did learn.”

“Yes.” Niko rubbed his temples. “But she wasn’t harming her teacher in the process!”

Daja frowned. “Can they teach this boy meditation from outside the rune circle?” she asked.

Niko considered her suggestion for a moment. “I expect so,” he said at last. “Most protective circles allow sound to pass through. But seeing what his magic is doing, on the inside …” He shook his head. “That would be almost impossible, even for someone who can see magic very well. The runes would interfere too much.”

“So they’d never know if he’s controlling his magic.” Daja felt a chill run down her spine, despite the warm tea. “They couldn’t let him out.”

“It would be almost easier to–” Niko stopped abruptly, staring down at the cup in his hands, and nodded. “To scry what the boy was doing, instead. They’d need to set the runes to allow magic in, but not out – though his power might still be too disruptive. If they had some way to focus the image …”

Daja leaped upright. “Wait here,” she said, and ran to fetch the metal mirror she’d made in Kugisko to decipher Nia’s magic. Returning to the kitchen, she gave it to Niko. “Would something like this help?”

Niko ran his hands over the mirror, examining the runes she’d etched into the living metal along the rim. Laying his fingers on the silver-mercury surface, Niko closed his eyes. White fire blazed from the mirror, and from Niko’s eyes when he opened them again.

“Yes.” Niko blinked, the flare of magic fading as he put the mirror down. “This could work. Daja, could you make two mirrors, that were linked together?”

Daja nodded. “One for the boy inside the rune circle, and one for the mages outside it?”

“Exactly.” Niko leaned back and stroked his moustache, his face alight with ideas. “Some of the glassmakers in Tharios were experimenting with curved scrying mirrors, instead of balls. Perhaps I can coat your mirrors with glass, for extra stability. That is, if your magic will cooperate with mine.”

Daja smiled. “I’ll see what I can do.” She glanced at Nia’s letter again, and sobered. “How will we get them to Kugisko, though? I can ask a Trader family to take them, but the Mage Society might not like us interfering in their business.”

“I interfere in other people’s business all the time,” said Niko airily. “Don’t worry about that side of things – I’ll write them a very polite, respectful letter explaining how delighted I would be if they tested our new device.”

Daja raised her eyebrows, impressed. “And I can write to Nia now, and tell her we’ve thought of something.”

“Yes.” Niko rubbed his hands together, grinning. “I haven’t done any glass work for months,” he said. “Does tomorrow afternoon suit you? I can bring my equipment here.”

“That sounds perfect.” Daja chuckled as Niko grabbed his book and dashed out of the kitchen – she could feel the same excitement of a new project fizzing in her blood.

There was nothing better than using her power to help people, particularly a child who must be as lost and lonely as she had once been. Niko had rescued her, then, and helped her find her place in the world – now she could give this boy the same gift.