"Rosie, get the kettle, please?" Lark called from her workshop. "I can't pause or this working will have a hole in it and Frostpine and Niko will be here shortly."
Rosethorn heaved a sigh that might have sounded long-suffering and disgruntled to anyone else, but Lark was quite aware that it was an act for her benefit. Rosethorn preferred to make the tea anyhow, having strong opinions on which blend to use and how it had been prepared. Lark herself just wanted it strong enough to knock her sandals off, especially if they were going to have four mages in the house. But then, Rosethorn would know that and make the tea accordingly. That was one of the benefits of having spent so long together.
Lark had just finished the working when she heard steps on the front walk, then a knock at the door.
"I'm making the tea," Rosethorn called to her as Lark left her workshop and went to get the door.
"I know. Thank you. I was just finishing up."
Lark opened the door and stepped aside to let Niko in. "Are they all safely tucked away at the Hub?" She had known Sandry would be fine up at the Hub, but still, it wasn't often that they had their students out of the cottage without them for a whole evening.
Niko nodded and took a seat at the kitchen table. "They are," he said. "Dedicate Moonstream has both eyes on them and a few of the novices learning similar techniques."
"She wants to meet with us soon," Rosethorn said as she set a mug before Niko and another at Lark's seat. "Where's Frostpine?"
"I'm right here," Frostpine said from the doorway. "I had to check on something. But I'm here now."
With Frostpine there and their students out for the evening, Lark, Rosethorn, Niko, and Frostpine settled down to their as-regular-as-they-could manage meeting about their most unusual students. The practice had started early on, though not as early as they might have liked. Things had just continued to happen after the earthquake and Sandry's remarkable spinning of magics. As soon as that had happened Lark had mentioned it to Niko and Niko had agreed, but not until after the blue pox had they found the time. Now they tried at least once every couple of months. They had to, with their students' magic so bound up together, even after Sandry had separated them out again.
"So," Niko said. "Our charges are all two years into their training. How are we doing?"
"Daja's doing very well," Frostpine said as he spooned honey into his tea and stirred it. "She's been working with that brass of hers, doing some fascinating things with it. Her control is impressive for someone her age. I've had apprentices ten years her senior who aren't as dedicated."
Niko was making some notes. "No more problems with putting too much power into her work?"
"No, as I said, she's got excellent control. The other day I had her making needles. It's tricky work, making them fine enough, sharp enough, and I know she used her magic to make them. But I've gone over and over them. There's not a trace of it in the needles themselves."
"I can't find a trace of it either," Lark agreed. "I used one of them this morning on a bit of embroidery and it is utterly without power. I cast one of my most powerful tracing spells on it when I was done, to show the thread of any power present, connecting it to where the power came from, and it didn't so much as glow." In point of fact, she'd tried the spell three times, then mended another piece of embroidery that had become frayed with use and then reset the magic that she had laid on it in the first place. If there had been any trace of power left from Daja in the needle, the renewed spell on the embroidery should have dissipated within the past hour or two, but it was holding strong in her workshop, or it had been when Niko had arrived.
Rosethorn got up and brought over a potted plant and set it on the table. "This is Briar's latest work," she told the others. "Check it yourselves."
It was a shakkan tree, still relatively young, but Briar had wanted a challenge and set himself to making a shakkan out of an apple tree. And he had succeeded. More than succeeded.
"I thought shakkans from fruit-bearing trees grew normal sized fruit?" Frostpine said, leaning in closer to examine the tiny apples growing on the tree. "Don't they normally?"
Rosethorn nodded and reached out to the tree to touch one of the apples. The apple swelled the tiniest bit, then fell into her hand. She handed it to Niko with just a meaningful look.
Niko set the apple on the table and took out a pocket knife. It wasn't quite small enough to be to scale with the tree, but it wasn't much bigger than Niko's thumbnail. Lark watched as Niko sliced the apple in half and examined it as closely as possible. If any of them would be able to see anything that shouldn't be there, Niko would be it. While he examined the apple, Lark got up and went to get the embroidery she'd redone earlier.
"It's clear," Niko was saying when she returned. "There's power in it, yes, but nothing I wouldn't expect from a young shakkan tree. It's merely storing power. The apples themselves could be eaten with no ill effects." And to prove his point, he sliced a bit from the apple and popped it in his mouth. "Hmm, good flavor too." He sliced some more and offered pieces to Lark, Rosethorn, and Frostpine.
They all ate the bits of tiny apple and considered the flavor. Lark had tried one earlier when Briar had offered, but Niko was right, the apples tasted fine.
"How about Sandry?" Frostpine asked, looking at Lark.
"She's been very dedicated to her studies," Lark told them. "I barely need to ask her to do something and she's already doing it, or even improving on it. There are times, I admit, that I worry that I won't be able to show her much more. She casts her magic within her weaving, her sewing. She works magic as thread. I can set magic in fabric, but I can't do that. She'll surpass me within the next few years, I'm sure."
It was a joy to teach her. It had been since the first days Sandry had spent at Discipline Cottage, but Lark was quite certain of how quickly Sandry had come to understand her magic, and how deeply her skills were based in ambient magic. Perhaps it had something to do with having discovered it under duress, so young.
"Well, at least Sandry isn't the type to hold that over you," Niko sighed. "Some of the Lightsbridge students take an unpleasant amount of delight in surpassing their teachers."
They had taught some like that at Winding Circle. Lark remembered two off the top of her head, sent to Discipline when they'd outstripped what the Dedicates overseeing them could teach them. It had all come out right in the end for both, but in another environment, like the competitiveness of Lightsbridge, she could see that going poorly indeed.
"As for Tris," Niko continued. "She is trying. She tries so hard to grain control of herself. But she has so many questions about what is possible and I am forever merely half a step ahead of her. Every so often she asks me something and I have to think very hard about my answer. Because if she doesn't see why something shouldn't be possible, she will try it."
They were all familiar with Tris and her thirst for knowledge. Lark was of the opinion that what Tris most wanted was to be in enough control that she might seem unremarkable to others. She seemed to think that the more she knew, the less conspicuous she would be. Lark had a suspicion that Tris would find that to not be true. You had to use magic if you had the ability. It broke out otherwise, and Tris' magic breaking out could have catastrophic consequences.
"Are we all agreed, then?" Lark asked, looking around the table at her fellow teachers. "We need to start getting them ready to pass the accreditation tests. They're young, yes, but their power is only growing with age, and they've shown themselves to be mature and responsible, but also inventive and productive. Each one of them wants to contribute to the world around them."
Credentials for mages were normally not even considered until the age of 16, at least. Lark knew it was a lot to ask. A lot to expect. But it was the next logical step.
"If the rest of the council balks, we can always tell them it's the best way to keep the four of them under some sort of control. As accredited mages they would be expected to control themselves," Frostpine pointed out. "Not that I think our four would intentionally cause harm, but if they were to break loose somehow, I don't know that we could contain them. If they are accredited, they can be held to the expectations of that status."
Lark agreed, fundamentally, but she hated the idea of using that argument. She had hoped to put this off for another year at least, but they were right. Their students were too powerful to be ignored. Better to start on the path to credentials now than to be forced to bind their magic if something happened. If that would even be possible.
"Then it's decided," she said as they all nodded. "We'll speak with Moonstream when we go to meet them after dinner."
Rosethorn finished off her tea. "It'll be the better part of a year to get them ready for the testing," she pointed out. "We have that long at least."
Lark sighed and got up to fetch the meat pie she'd gotten from Dedicate Gorse for their dinner. Accredited mages at 13 and 14 years old. It defied what she'd known of magic - even ambient magic - not too long ago. But then, that was the amazing thing about Discipline Cottage: It wasn't just the students who ended up learning things. The teachers usually did too.