“This is boring.” Zev leaned away from the book so far that his arms flopped backward. If he had gone any more limp, he might have melted off the stool. “Sit up,” Jerryck said. Again. He’d lost count how many times he’d said it that week. That day. That hour. “It doesn’t matter how boring it is. It’s necessary.” Zev didn’t sit up.“It’s just talking about auras and stuff.” Jerryck impatiently tapped the book. “These are your basic fundamentals.” “I already know all this stuff.” Zev pushed the book away. It slid across the worktable just enough to bump the salve Jerryck had cooling there. “Zev!” Jerryck hurried around the table to it, making sure it wasn’t jostled too much. “This has to be still or it doesn’t set right.” The salve had already formed a film over the surface. That protected the fluid underneath from too much jostling. It should be fine. This time. Better to double check. He gathered just enough energy to test the congealing process, how it was progressing, whether it had been interrupted, if it was developing resistance to the magic he intended to put on it. “Like this?” Zev asked, holding out his right hand, a wad of his aura swirling around it in a balled up, writhing mass. Jerryck stared at the hand, as if he could see the raw magic swirling uncontrolled. “What are you doing.” “You gather energy around your hand, right?” Zev shot him a smile. “Like this?” “No, not like that.” Jerryck worked at keeping his voice calm. “Slowly absorb that back into yourself. Little by little, very slowly.” “But…” “Very, very slowly,” Jerryck repeated. “Get it started before it escapes you and blows something up and you hurt yourself and end up leaking your aura out of a tear around your hand.” Zev drew his hand back in to himself. “I can hurt myself doing this?” “If you don’t do it properly, there is the potential, yes. Now, slowly draw it back in. Not your hand, the energy you put around it.” “How do I do that?” “The same way you put it there, just the other direction.” “You can’t just tell me?” “Everyone does it differently,” Jerryck said. “If I tell you what it’s like for me, it won’t necessarily work for you. This is why you have to study your basics before you apply them. Now, whatever you did to collect your energy around your hand like that, go backwards, reabsorb it back into the rest of you.” Zev frowned down at his hand. His brows drew in tighter and tighter, his face squeezing more in concentration, until the globule mess of energy began to ebb away, spreading out to the rest of his aura and calming down. Jerryck let out a breath of relief and leaned on the solid worktable. “You can’t jump ahead like this.” He scolded his nephew. “You didn’t read until after you learned your alphabet and the sounds each letter makes. You didn’t learn to calculate math until you knew the values of numbers.” “What do numbers and letters have to do with magic?” Zev asked. “You mean for reading spells and knowing how much energy to use?” “No! They’re basic!” Jerryck resisted the urge to tear out his hair. “You can’t do more complicated things until you have your basics mastered!” The door to the workroom opened and Marla entered. She looked at the two of them and hesitated just inside the door. She glanced back behind her, and then tentatively said, “Um… Can I be here now? I… I did my chores.” “Let Zev finish what he’s doing,” Jerryck told her. “Then you can spend time with him.” That was the deal they had struck. Leanne woke Zev every morning and made him do menial chores around the tower. After breakfast, he attended class with all the other palace children. When he was released a couple of hours after lunch, Jerryck gave him a lesson. They had to finish before Marla completed her afternoon chores, because then she had permission to come spend time with her big brother. If they weren’t done by then, Jerryck always cut the lesson short to prevent her from picking anything up that she shouldn’t. It had been a week or so, and it had worked so far. He made sure that Zev reabsorbed the mess he’d made, then turned back to his own projects to give the kids time. He was in full preparation for the fast approaching season of flu, colds, sniffles, coughs, and sore throats. If they were fortunate, perhaps they could avoid pneumonia this year. All the preparation was better finished long before the weather turned cold, and the rains turned to snow. He preferred at least a month leeway, in case it came early. That way, he was ahead of the rise in demand for the herbs and supplies required for the salves, potions, and medicines. He measured various powders together that were general health boosters and disease fighters. That he stored in a jar for later, to use in conjunction with magic that he could cast specific to a person’s need. And that used up all of some of the powders. So he fetched his step-ladder from the back to retrieve herbs from the rafters above to grind more. The kids moved out of his way, and curled up under a window, their voices carrying well in the small space, and getting trapped in the cone of the roof above their heads. No one ever seemed to realize how well voices and sounds carried upward. “I don’t understand what he meant,” Zev was saying. “It makes no sense and has nothing to do with it.” “Sure it does,” Marla responded. “It uses the same kind of thinking. You can’t spell words if you don’t know which sounds to put in them, so you have to study which letters make which sounds. And if you don’t know which parts of your aura to use for what kinds of spells, you don’t know how to put that together right either.” “Hmm,” Zev grunted, chin in hands. “That kind of makes more sense. I hadn’t thought of it that way.” Jerryck stood in frozen horror on the ladder, looking down at them. Zev had the book in his lap. Jerryck had missed that when they’d moved out of his way. They weren’t discussing his lesson. Were they? He said, “What are you doing.” “She’s helping me figure this out.” Zev held up the book. “She’s really good at it, and it makes more sense to her than it does to me. So she says it the way she understands it, and it sounds like when you say it, but easier for me to get it right, and for some reason, I remember it better when I share it with her.” “How long have you been doing this?” Jerryck stepped down to the floor, clenching the string of the tied the herb bundle so hard his knuckles turned white. “Since you started teaching me,” Zev said. “I’ve learned lots!” Marla beamed proudly. “I know that magic is powered by a person’s aura. And that makes sense, because now I know why you look different after you do a lot of magic that makes you tired.” Jerryck narrowed his eyes at her. “Different how?” “I don’t know.” She shrugged, her smile wavering. “Just… different.” “Can you see auras?” “I know what that is now!” Her smile reinvigorated. “I used to wonder why people have color clouds around them when they got really upset, or really happy, or really… er… something. I had to squint extra hard to see it even a little, even when they shined the brightest, but I could do it. I stopped, though. I don’t think anybody else can. So I thought I was weird, maybe just my imagination. But now I know what it is, and I know why they couldn’t see it, and it’s not my imagination, so I can go ahead and do it again.” “No, no!” Jerryck waved his arms at her, nearly knocking over the ladder. He grabbed it, closing it up. “Don’t do that!” “Why?” Zev asked, as his sister’s smile faded entirely. “I’ve never met any other girl that can do this. She’s special!” Jerryck stuffed the ladder in the back and tossed the herb bundle on the counter by his mortar and pestle. Then he turned around to give the kids his full attention. “Have you told anyone about this?” “No,” they both said at once. Then Zev asked, “Do you think we should?” “No!” Marla scowled at him. “They’ll ask me questions. I don’t want them to. It’s scary sometimes.” “The questions are scary?” Jerryck asked. That wasn’t the part that scared him the most. “Or what people would do if they found out?” “Not the questions…” She turned her face away, looking down at the floor. “And I don’t care what people do.” She didn’t know. She couldn’t possibly know what would happen if people found out what she could do. And he wasn’t about to tell her. He knelt down, putting his face at her level. “Can you tell me what’s scary?” She shook her head. Jerryck put his hands on her shoulders. “Marla, please let me help you. Tell me what’s scary.” “No!” She wriggled away from him and fled the room. Zev started after her, calling her name. Jerryck stood and grabbed his arm. “Tell me.” “I promised her I wouldn’t tell anyone.” “You have to. This could be important.” “I don’t see how.” Zev pulled away, not quite freeing himself from Jerryck’s grip. “It’s not what she thinks. She’s too sweet for that.” “For what?” “She thinks that sometimes she makes bad things happen when she’s sleeping.” “Like what?” “I promised I wouldn’t tell! And it’s not true anyway. She loves people. She would never hurt anyone!” Zev shook his arm free. He left the room calling for Marla. When the boy’s voice reached the bottom of the stairs and left the tower, Jerryck turned to his shelves and hit his books with a fury. Flipping through page after page, he looked up every reference he could find to sleep magic. He’d only ever given a cursory study to it before. He didn’t use it. He knew how to detect it while active. He knew a little about how to preemptively defend against it. He didn’t know how to tell if someone was using it on accident. The books gave him information on the advantages and disadvantages of sleep magic. They gave specifics on the types of spells, from the easiest to the most difficult. They gave information concerning what kinds of controls to apply to the person going into the sleep state. All of it assumed the magic-user did it on purpose, not accidentally. He should have known. With as much fruitless searching and studying he’d done to try and figure out his own accidents, he should have known his books would have nothing about accidental sleep magic. Tajor came into the workroom with a plate of food. He set it on one of the open books on the worktable. “Your wife sent this.” “Why?” Jerryck frowned at where Tajor had set the plate. He moved it off the book to the tabletop. “Look out your window,” Tajor said. “You missed supper again.” Jerryck looked. The sun was setting. He’d be trying to read in the dark within half an hour if he didn’t light a lamp. “Also, your sister is mad at you.” Tajor picked up one of the books and glanced at it. “She said if you’re going to upset her daughter like you did today, she’s not going to let her come up here anymore.” “Did her daughter say why she was upset?” “You’d have to ask your sister, but the impression I got was she did not.” Tajor looked over some of the other open books. “Are you taking up a new line of study?” “No.” Jerryck flipped the book shut one by one. “Looking for something?” “No.” Jerryck stacked the books to put them away. “Anyone ever tell you that you’re rotten at lying?” Jerryck sighed. He leaned on the table, gripping the thick edge. He was reacting out of habit and fear. Tajor wasn’t going to hurt Marla. And he knew as much or more about magic than any other person Jerryck had met. If there was a chance he could help, the risk to Marla was lower with him than anyone else. Jerryck asked, “Do you know how to prevent someone from accidentally casting magic in their sleep without drawing the attention of anyone around them?” “Methods of prevention depend on the magic type.” “Sleep magic.” Jerryck took the stack of books to his shelf. “That’s a method of implementation, not a type,” Tajor said. He waved around the book he still had in his hand. “Not everything listed here has to be cast while sleeping. That’s just when some people have the easiest time accomplishing it because of their super relaxed state. There are lots of different kinds of magic that can slip through when you’re in that kind of mode. That’s where control comes in.” “How can you possibly maintain control while you’re sleeping?” Jerryck snagged the book from Tajor. “The more control you have while you’re awake, the more likely you’ll maintain control while you sleep. Why? Have you had an accident in your sleep?’ “No.” “Your niece?” “Of course not!” Jerryck retorted a little too quickly. He shoved the last book into its place on the shelf. “My niece is no witch. She’s never had anything to do with magic, and she never will.” “Did I mention that you’re not good at lying?” “She’s not going to hurt anyone.” “How do you know? You can’t even predict whether or not you’re going to hurt someone, and you’ve had plenty of formal training. How much is she going to get?” “She can’t use magic if she’s never taught how to do anything with it.” “Like tricksters don’t?” “Tricksters are taught by each other. And they only do small things. She can use enough self control to keep from doing small things, or hide them, or cover them up. She still won’t do anything serious that will expose her.” “Like you didn’t?” Tajor smirked. “I heard the rumor about the day your parents died, what you did with magic, with no formal training. The rumors vary on exactly what predator it was that ate them, but everyone says you made it explode. Why do you think people are afraid of you when you’re angry?” “I can’t train her.” Jerryck hung his head. “Do you know what would happen if word of it got out?” “Why would you let word get out?” “How could I not?” “When you started searching for the magic-user that poisoned the water, did you do it the normal, direct way? Or did you use a different, more round-about method?” “What’s that got to do with my niece?” “Can’t you treat her situation in a round-about way too? Teach her in ways that aren’t normal, not direct? Surely you must know other female magic-users. Maybe you could get some advice from them.” “I don’t know any that are alive.” Jerryck crossed his arms. “Not even the shamaness that visited a few months ago? She looked pretty alive to me.” “That’s different. She’s a shamaness.” “So? It’s still magic. Just a different focus and method.” “It’s a method I can’t teach because I know nothing about it.” “Absolutely nothing? Or did she show you a little something when she was here?” “I blew up my workroom with what she showed me!” Jerryck threw his hands up. “I can’t teach my niece to blow up my workroom!” “Has she ever blown anything up?” “Well… no.” “Have you blown anything up since?” “I haven’t used it since.” “Not even when you touched my aura in Shontarra? When you reacted to me attempting to refuse an order?” “So maybe I have used it a time or two since,” Jerryck admitted. “And no accidents,” Tajor said. “Is this something your niece could use to exercise and gain a little control?” “I don’t know,” Jerryck said. “Maybe. I would need more control over it before I teach it.” “Want some help?” Tajor offered. Jerryck nodded. Tajor led him through an exercise that had him purposely sensing a few of the objects around the room. He enjoyed it as much as he had when the shamaness led him through it. He would have given in to temptation again, and gone further, if Tajor hadn’t threatened to start breaking his tools again. Over the next few weeks, they slowly went through progressively more sensitive exercises. When Jerryck got good at closing his eyes and feeling objects in his immediate vicinity, Tajor started moving things around on him. Before long he could tell what had been moved, the moment it happened, and where it was moved to. He started casting minor spells on some of the objects. Then he had to concentrate on the aura of the spell, apart from the item it was on. As soon as he could do that, Tajor started snuffing them out one by one. Jerryck had to identify which one purely by sensing. As Jerryck progressed, he taught everything to Marla. She practiced with Zev. That increased his control, and his interest. He began to safely cast the most minor of spells. They fell into a new routine. Zev worked hard enough to get a spell cast before Marla came up to the tower. Then she spent time figuring out what he had done just by sensing auras. His complaints of boredom disappeared, and he developed a new fascination for studying. Until the day Marla didn’t come. Zev said he would talk to her at supper. But when he came back, he stormed angrily through the room, and refused to talk about it. Marla didn’t come the next day either. Or the next. Zev’s progress flagged. The days turned into a week, and still no Marla. Jerryck repeatedly asked Zev why she no longer came. All the boy ever did was growl about his mama’s strictness and how she didn’t understand what was truly important.