In all sincerity, when Lafayette sets sail to America and its war for independence he does not once consider that he might come across an American with magic. It is not necessarily that he believes it impossible an American could have magic- the thought just never occurs. In his defense, there are far more exciting things to contemplate.
The Americans’ war, for example, and how it is conceived as a battle between liberty and tyranny. For an entire year Lafayette’s heart beats only to the imagined sound of their fife and drum. This may well be his only chance to continue the military tradition of his family for a truly noble purpose. Though he can hardly bear the idea that he may fail to live up to the glory of his forefathers, he has resolved to fight with honor and only for a just cause. And being too intimately familiar with the excesses of Versailles, Lafayette is quite convinced no task assigned to him by his king will ever be as pure as the Americans’ fight for freedom. This is a precious opportunity and one he is determined not to miss.
It may also be true that although Lafayette is an ardent convert to egalitarianism, it is not yet second nature to him. He has always known magic to be a skill of great refinement. In fact, among the French aristocracy magic has grown quite tame. One might even say staid. It seems almost impossible to divorce it from the elegant drawing rooms where Lafayette has most commonly seen it practiced. Upon first contemplation the colonies, still rough and wild around the edges, hardly seem to be the right crucible for it to develop.
Such presumptions when combined with the common belief in France that magic has been fading among the British families for generations make it easy for Lafayette to assume that magic had simply never gained a foothold in Britain’s far-flung colonies. Upon landing in South Carolina, little of what he encounters dissuades Lafayette of his distracted opinion. To be sure he finds the Americans to be most charming. They seem to all have a refreshing zeal, a wonderful vigor for their lives, their lands and their cause. But they are also quite obviously and even contentedly mundane.
Lafayette wastes no time in catching up on news of the war, and sets himself just as quickly to the task of learning American customs (how much they value a great deal of space around their person, he soon discovers). When he speaks to someone the first time Lafayette enjoys watching the startled amusement pass over their faces, a bright flicker of shock quickly shuttered behind a polite smile. Refreshingly they take him at face value, only too glad to believe Lafayette is entirely as he says: rich, cultured, sincere, and chivalrous. As far as Lafayette can tell, his innate magic seems to strike Americans as a pleasant sort of eccentricity most definitely ascribed to his being foreign.
Soon Lafayette travels to Philadelphia to finally appeal to Congress directly to accept his service. He deems it a fine city, certainly when compared with Georgetown. Though it still has it’s rustic touches, it is far more like the great cities of the continent. At night it glitters with lamps and candlelight, and music wafts throughout the muggy summer air like sweet perfume (even if it may only be an unaccompanied fiddle). Despite the increased population around him, Lafayette senses nothing more than faint whispers of magic when he walks the streets. They feel more like hints of some latent and under-developed strain, the possibility of magic rather than the reality.
Then, finally, Lafayette meets General Washington.
But before he does, he must meet with America’s Congress. He is given a fine reception by the delegates, flattered most profusely, and shown a florid sort of gratitude. For a few days Lafayette is swept along by their high flown regard, but soon he realizes it to be quite hollow. Though he is now a major general in their army they will not speak to him of the number of men he will command, or even tell him anything of real meaning regarding the number and placement of their troops or the British regiments. For all it allows him, his new sash might as well be nothing more than a costume piece.
Lafayette must now pin all of his hopes of fighting for this country onto just one man, Washington. The General alone can assure that Lafayette gets a chance to fulfill his destiny, for only his opinion can override the Congress’s extreme caution. Lafayette will need to prove himself worthy to him, and directly. Yet shortly before he is to meet the General the delegate who will be his escort gives him the well-meant warning that Washington has an extreme dislike of pretension.
Lafayette feels for the first time his lack of mastery of the English very keenly. Suppose he chooses the wrong word and offends the General? Or worse still makes himself seem insincere in his intentions? How will he know his mistake let alone correct it? What are the right words to assure the General of the purity of his reasons for joining his fight?
Such thoughts plague him while waiting for the General to arrive for dinner. Lafayette cannot make himself sit, nor pay proper attention to the conversation. Finally he just begs pardon for his inferior mastery of English in order to be left alone to fret as he may. He fiddles with and adjusts the sword on his belt so often that he eventually must forbid himself from touching it again. The anticipation builds and builds until it becomes oppressive, and Lafayette finds the air in the room too close, too warm. He feels he must step outside - for a moment at least to catch his breath - but as he moves towards the door four uniformed officers of the Continental Army sweep into the room followed, unmistakably, by General Washington himself.
Already in his young and privileged lifetime, Lafayette has had audiences with two kings, and yet somehow he is not prepared at all to be in this presence.
After he was named the Commander of America’s Continental Army Washington presence and character was much described in everything from crowing American gazettes, dismissive European newspapers, fawning poems, and gossiping letters. Lafayette had devoured each and every piece he could get his hands on before he came to America, trying to cobble together a likeness of the real man. Since he’s arrived he’s had ample opportunity and means to further the product of his imagination, so increased in availability and fervor are the descriptions of Washington available in the colonies. The General’s reputation does not just precede him, it covers the whole of his country. Even so it is immediately apparent that both these reports and Lafayette’s imagination fell short.
It’s not that they were inaccurate. Everything about the man appears to be as promised, the noble bearing and imposing height, a striking gravity of expression and appealing elegance of motion. Yet despite the lofty heights of the praise Lafayette had heard, somehow the intensity, the potency was never properly conveyed.
There are contradictions, too, which were omitted. It’s true the General’s features are handsome and attractive, but they have little refinement and no delicacy. Sharp eyes burn from the protection of heavy brow, and are set around a large and broad nose. His mouth, though it suits him, is not supple, set in a firm, straight line in contrast with a small irregularity in the symmetry of his jaw. It’s true as well that Washington moves with the elegance of a dancer, but also with a directness that is more intimidating than inviting. The combination of such an attractive, magnetic presence with an aloofness that thoroughly quells the desire to approach him makes for an uneasy first impression.
Lafayette stands to one side of the room as if rooted to the floor beneath his feet. He watches as the General greets those guests he knows and is introduced to those he does not. The Pennsylvanian delegate who will introduce him to Washington comes to stand by his side. Lafayette’s stomach trembles in a shameful show of nerves and he takes slow, deep breaths in a fruitless attempt to quiet it.
His panic only increases as Washington comes closer and then finally, impossibly stands before Lafayette. Instinctively he straightens his back, but even at his full height Lafayette must still tip his head up just a little to meet the general’s eye. Washington looks him full in the face, frank and considering, and Lafayette does his best to seem worthy of the General’s regard.
Lafayette hears the man at his side begin to introduce him to the General, but it sounds as if he is outside the room or behind a closed door. Again and again Lafayette tries to clear his head, but it will not clear. Dismayed, he wonders what on earth is wrong with him. It’s only very slowly that Lafayette begins to discern that the General’s presence is more than purely impressive. The height, the carriage, the strength hinted in every movement create a plausible enough explanation for it at first sight, but the skin on the back of Lafayette’s neck is tingling with the General’s proximity. It feels as if everything within Lafayette, indeed everything in the room has rearranged itself to point toward the General. Indeed every face and body in the room has turned toward the general, but it’s more than that. It’s elemental, it’s their very hearts and minds.
All at once Lafayette realizes he is in the presence of a powerful magic, and it is emanating most assuredly from the man before him. It has settled in the room in the same way a summer storm weighs down the horizon, and just like an oncoming storm the magic has made everyone in its path stop and consider it. Lafayette is, aptly, thunderstruck, by the force of the magic, by the fact that it exists at all.
He can hardly form a coherent thought, let alone one in English, but an uncomfortable silence has settled between himself and the General. The Pennsylvanian delegate has most definitely stopped speaking.
“Your Excellency, you must forgive me,” he bursts out suddenly, cheeks burning with his embarrassment. “I have not yet learned to think in English, it makes me slow, but I will learn. I am most humbly at your service, general.”
Washington had not shaken anyone else's hand upon meeting them, so Lafayette offers him a low bow and hopes it is elegant enough to make up for his awkward start.
“You do my country and myself a great honor,” Washington responds politely but not at all warmly. “And so you have both of our heartfelt thanks.”
In an instant it is clear that Washington means to move on, and Lafayette very nearly reaches out to take the General’s arm. He manages even to lift his hand before he thinks better of it.
“Sir, the honor and the gratitude is entirely mine. I know that I am young, and that I cause some problem by coming here, but when I learn of the cause, your cause, I knew that I must join in your struggle. And now I find that you- ah.” Lafayette’s mouth has gotten away from him, his English is breaking up, and he would truly be a fool to blurt out of their shared trait in front of the other guests. He takes a deep breath.
“Forgive me,” he asks of Washington again. “We all must ah, to have dinner. If you will give me a moment of your time afterward to let me speak of a few things freely, I would greatly appreciate it.”
Washington hesitates, and Lafayette implores him as strongly as he might using only his eyes. “Very well,” the General says finally, with a curt nod. “I will send for you after.”
Lafayette smiles at him gratefully. Washington looks at him a moment longer then smoothly turns and walks away.
Though this meeting is mystifying it does at least have the small benefit of making Lafayette’s terrible nerves disappear. In their place is an awestruck wonder of the General and a dozen questions Lafayette will have no answer to until they can speak frankly.
As they eat, his senses cannot help but trace the cool edges of Washington’s power. In the long weeks away from home Lafayette has almost forgotten what it is like not to feel just his own magic in the room. Everything he discovers of Washington’s magic delights him. It is so strong and unwavering. It does not change shape or ebb and flow, but looms steadily in such a way that even the air must shift to accommodate it. The man must have a marvelous control of it to hold back so much power into such a tidy form.
The dinner, thankfully, passes quickly thanks to Lafayette’s distraction. He lingers alone after, not daring to enjoy a glass of madeira offered him. The anticipation is yet again allowed to build, but this time it’s a giddy, electric thing rather than a stifling weight. One of the officers that had arrived with Washington appears at the door, and Lafayette jumps up from his chair eagerly. He is led up the stairs and to a room at the end of the hall.
Reflexively, Lafayette waits for him to open the door, and he is too caught up in thinking about what he will say to the General to realize that the man is affronted. Finally the officer opens the door so quickly that Lafayette feels air rush past his face, snapping his attention back to the moment. The officer then gestures for Lafayette to enter with a mocking, exaggerated deference.
Lafayette admonishes himself. He must do better. It is not enough to simply love the ideals he will be fighting for, he must live them.
In the room he finds Washington sitting straight-backed behind a desk and writing a letter. The desk has been moved to nearly the center of the room, and turned so that the General’s back is not to the door. He glances up at Lafayette’s entrance, then returns his attention back to the letter to finish his phrase. Lafayette waits as patiently as he can, watching as the General blots the ink, stows his quill and hides his letter in a drawer with unhurried but efficient movements.
At last Washington smoothly stands up, and Lafayette can’t stop himself from rushing forward to meet him as he rounds the desk. “Your Excellency, sir. I know that you are very busy and have many important duties which need your attention, but I think it important we speak freely.”
The General’s silence is Lafayette’s only permission to continue.
“You must understand that I had heard much of your Excellency’s greatness, both before I arrived and after, but I did not guess upon the extent of it. I confess when I came to America I never conceived that I would find another such as myself.” He spreads his arms apologetically for his error. “Of course I planned to use my abilities covertly to aid your cause in any way I could. However now that I know we are the same, there is so much that we can accomplish with our power put to the same purpose.”
Lafayette waits for Washington to agree or at least acknowledge this but he is met with only a continuing silence.
“Are you not pleased to…” Lafayette begins to ask, thinking perhaps he’d misunderstood. Perhaps the General’s own plans are threatened by the intrusion of Lafayette’s magic. Or perhaps Lafayette is presenting an idea the General has already decided upon as if it were his own. Perhaps Americans find it rude to discuss magic so openly. “Forgive me, sir, I just grew so excited when I realized.”
“And what precisely did you realize, Marquis?” the General asks.
“Your magic,” Lafayette says, even though it’s terribly blunt to say so. Apparently he cannot manage a correct sort of subtlety in English. “I did not realize you would be gifted. I don’t think anyone in France or England would ever suspect, in fact.” A concerning sort of crease forms upon the General’s brow. In case the General thinks Lafayette means any insult he quickly adds, “It is brilliant you have kept it so safe a secret. It means that they will continue to underestimate you.”
“Magic,” Washington repeats.
After a long silence the General then says, “Perhaps, a translator could help you find a better word.”
“Sir,” Lafayette says, he looks into Washington’s eyes and tries to peer beyond their barricades, to gain some clue that will help him make sense of this conversation. He is easily repelled, so he insists, “There is no better word.”
Washington looks incredibly doubtful of that and a notion begins to form in Lafayette’s mind, that the General truly does not know.
“It is very late, Marquis,” Washington says moving back toward his desk. “I am sure we can speak together tomorrow. I have an aide, Hamilton, very bright and fluent in French. I’ll make sure he joins us.”
“Sir,” Lafayette pleads. “I do not misspeak.” But Washington pays him no further mind, pulling out the drawer to his desk to retrieve his letter before he sits down to finish it. In desperation Lafayette moves his hand and the flames of the two candles on the desk go out with hardly a flutter of a breeze.
Washington pauses and considers the thin trail of smoke rising from each wick for a long time. He glances up at Lafayette at last and says, “A very fine parlour trick, thank you. We may speak more tomorrow.”
Lafayette cannot help but feel an unhappy sting at his magic being so dismissively described, but he ignores it. It's far more important that he make the General see. Lafayette raises both hands, then lowers them down. Every candle in the room slowly dies together, the light fading until finally they are both surrounded by a darkness lit only by the moon outside.
He can just see the General in profile as he turns his head to look around the room, bewildered. His point made Lafayette lights the candles again, all of them, with a brief burst of will.
In the renewed light Lafayette sees Washington caught off guard for the very first time. Absent a more reasonable and familiar explanation, the power of the General’s presence deflates until he sits heavily in his chair, still regarding the candles upon the desk as if to be doubly sure of what he sees.
“Ah,” Washington says lightly as if he has come to come to some final conclusion about what he has just been shown. Yet he says nothing more for a very long time. Lafayette gives him that time though he is bursting to say more, to learn more.
“Magic,” Washington says after a long, tired sigh. “Upon everything else, now this.”
“I assure you it is a reason to be happy,” Lafayette says, trying to ease the General’s misgivings. “With magic we can do great things. This is a boon, your Excellency, I promise you.”
“You truly think that you can make something like this be of some use to us in the war?”
Lafayette notices that although the General seems willing to accept what he’s been shown as true, he does not acknowledge the other part of the statement: we. Lafayette reaffirms it. “If we work together, yes, I think there is a great deal that we could do.”
“Ah,” Washington says again. “I’m afraid I must correct you, Marquis, because I have no such-”
“Sir, but you do,” Lafayette says, it is rude maybe to interrupt but he wants so badly for the General to see. How can a man have such power and not know it? Lafayette casts his mind about for a way to prove it. “What I have, what you have, allows us to sense the same in others. When I performed the charm with the candles, did you not feel something in the room? Perhaps a whisper you heard when you first met me that you could suddenly discern with more clarity?”
For another long moment Washington considers his question. The General, Lafayette is learning, is not one to rush with a response. Finally he speaks, “I smelled a winter day quite clearly, here in the middle of summer. Evergreen boughs, orange, cinnamon and clove. Something crisp and cold like fresh snow.”
Lafayette hopes his blush is faint enough not to show. It feels rather intimate, having his magic described, and he cannot help but be pleased at the summation the General gave him. Eager to return the favor he admits, “Your magic is quite impossible to mistake. It feels to me like a summer storm gathering its strength at the horizon.”
Washington frowns at him, saying, “That seems rather ominous.”
Lafayette smiles and shakes his head, “I find it very hopeful. Sometimes you have reason to want the rain.”
Washington raises his eyes to meet Lafayette’s, in them is a question not quite formed, not quite answered. The the focus slides away as he is lost in thought again.
Washington shakes his head. “I must apologize, sir, but what you are telling me makes no sense at all. I have never-” here he gestures to the candles, “there’s never been anything like that.”
“But that is only because you did not know you could,” Lafayette says. “Such things must be learned. If you do not know to apply magic then it remains very subtle. Hasn't there ever been a moment in your life where something occurred that was beyond belief?”
“There have been far too many,” Washington retorts like a volley of return fire.
Lafayette supposes that is not to be argued with a man in such a position as the General. Still he persists, “But there must be something, sir - and it hardly matters how small a thing - but something that lacked any mundane explanation.”
The General ponders this in the same long and careful way he has all the strange, unexpected things Lafayette has brought to his attention tonight. Lafayette expects that Washington to at last remember something simple, the kind of spontaneous magic that one looks for in a child with a raw talent. He is thinking perhaps of a painting that decided to speak or move when stared at for too long, a beloved item that was broken and mended itself overnight, perhaps a door that shut with an absent minded thought.
Finally Washington asks him, “Are you familiar with Braddock’s poor showing in the conflict over the Ohio country?”
“Yes,” Lafayette says eagerly. “When I learned of the cause, and that you would be the man to lead the fight for it, I read everything I could. I will admit some of it was a colored by the bias the French had against a foe, but after Braddock’s defeat there were some in France that were quite bothered by the fact they had to admire your bravery.”
Lafayette has again let his mouth get away with him, but thankfully Washington doesn’t look bothered by his blathering honesty.
“Recently Congress sent envoys to the Six Nations to see if we could broker an alliance with their tribes. One of the envoys returned with this answer from a chief who had fought that day against Braddock: he said he would not fight, either in our interest or the British. When asked why, he said it was because he could neither believe that I could win against the British or that the British could kill me.”
Washington nods, “He said that during the battle against Braddock he directed his warriors to shoot the British officers. And so his warriors did.” He sighs, his eyes are a very far away, seeing neither Lafayette nor the room around them. Lafayette leans forward, terribly interested in hearing his future commander speak of battle.
“One by one they went down,” Washington says, sounding tired. “Killed. Injured. All of them except for me, though their bullets went through my coat, one through my hat, and felled two horses beneath me. Eventually he bid them to stop wasting their bullets.”
He looks to Lafayette for some confirmation, but Lafayette waits for still more. “I confess that in all the battles, all the skirmishes, and misfortunes I have seen, a bullet aimed at me has never found the mark. I could never say why.”
Lafayette feels a startled, almost breathless thrill run through him. “You can stop bullets?” he asks, scarcely able to believe.
His incredulity must embarrass the General because instantly his curiosity is once again shuttered behind the cold, patrician mask.
“I don’t know that I do anything at all to bullets,” he says, sharply. “But you asked me for something inexplicable and so.” He gestures at the desk before him as if what he’d said was laid upon it waiting for Lafayette to review.
Lafayette shakes his head, “No, no, please. I did not mean to say I did not believe. It is just so terribly impressive, sir. The Queen of France can barely keep her tea hot and here you can confound bullets.” He smiles helplessly as he shrugs, “It's marvelous.”
Washington’s irritation is suddenly abandoned for surprise. “The Queen of France? She has this…” he chooses not to say the word, “as well?”
Lafayette nodded, “A minor talent for it, yes. Most of the royal families do.”
Washington shakes his head in confusion, “My boy, you must stop throwing random bits of information out as if they are known to everyone. I need to make some sense of this.”
“I apologize,” Lafayette said, clearing his throat. It was lovely to hear the General call him something so familiar, though ‘my boy’ was said as if to an overexcited child. “It is not so easy to paint the whole picture quickly. Rather like describing the entire history of a country in a few words. Let me tell it now as my grandmama told it to me.”
In his mind he rehearses the words carefully in English before speaking them. “Magic is old, as old as humanity, or older. It is a talent, just like a proficiency in music, art, or letters. As such it does not follow rules except when it pleases it do so. It chooses fortunate sons and daughters at random, and it follows bloodlines only for as long as it wishes to do so. It can be a tool, like a hammer or nail. It can be a weapon, like a sword or musket. It can be an art, like a symphony or painting. And it must always be a secret from those who do not have it.”
“Why a secret?”
Lafayette shrugs, “For many reasons, not the least of which was the penchant for burning witches at the stake not so very long ago. Now rarely did those trials manage to accuse anyone with with true magic, but still it was a clear demonstration of what could happen if the reality of magic was common knowledge. Discretion keeps us all safer.”
Washington does not seem inclined to dispute the wisdom of this.
“Actually I believe this could easily be the longest conversation I have ever had about it with someone not in my family,” Lafayette says, musing over his memories for even one instance like this. There is none.
“And I assume this runs in your family extensively?”
Lafayette nods. If he had to describe his family’s renown in just three words he would have to choose money, magic, and fighting.
“And you also seem to imply that it runs primarily in aristocratic and royal bloodlines?”
Lafayette tips his head to one side, “It is true one often follows the other, but it is not how you might think. Aristocratic families do not have magic because they are aristocratic. They are aristocratic because they have magic. Magic can be very useful, it helps smart people to change the odds to their favor and advance. With magic you may set your family up very well. It pays, too, to share a secret with powerful people.”
“The divine right of kings, indeed,” Washington mutters to himself. He looks to Lafayette again, “You are telling me the King’s family was simply cunning, nothing more?”
“Very cunning indeed at one time, but the magic is fading. As it fades from the French royal family. Another reason for secrets, if the people do not know the true shape and form of your power then they cannot know when it weakens.” He shares a meaningful look with the General. “The times and mankind are changing in more way than one.”
“Still you do believe the British forces still have their own magic to wield?”
“Without a doubt, sir. I do not know the Howe brothers, or their officers but it seems unlikely that the British would entrust a campaign of such importance to a group of officers without having everything possible at their disposal.”
“And yet despite this advantage the British have been defeated. And not only by myself, by untrained militia,” Washington says sitting back in his chair, and gesturing to Lafayette to explain.
“This is not so strange. Unfortunately as much as magic can do it can only tip the scales so much. Remember, sir, I have never before today heard of someone who can influence a bullet.” Washington looks uncomfortable to be reminded of this singular skill. “Most of the time, a well placed shot will still has the desired effect.”
“What purpose does it serve us then?”
“That remains to be seen, your Excellency.” There’s no way yet to tell how their magic will work together, where it will prove most effective. Lafayette can hardly wait to try and cast together, but there’s groundwork that will need to be laid before that. “But I’m sure you’ll agree these are times when anything and everything can help.”
Washington sighs, looking as if he has no better mastery of the new shape his circumstances have taken. “I must admit that this all still this defies belief.”
“I assure it is all true.”
“So you say.”
Lafayette cannot help but feel as if he’s only completed part of his task. He meant at all points in this meeting to show the General that his magic was a cause for hope, and yet there’s hardly been a flicker of relief or solace upon Washington’s face. Lafayette decides it is time to remove the last traces of doubt.
“Sir, may I beg your leave to try something?”
Washington nods although it is hardly at all enthusiastically.
Lafayette grabs a chair from the corner and sets it on the other side of Washington’s desk, facing the General. He then sits down, and moves a candle from the edge of the desk and places it in the center.
“If you will allow me,” Lafayette says gently as he reaches out. Washington looks from the candle to Lafayette, waiting for some next step to become apparent. “Your hands, sir.”
The General's brow, previously lowered in suspicion, raises in faint surprise. His hands are resting on his knees where they are spread beneath the desk, but he lifts them up, palms turned downward. They are very large, quite capable looking, and scarred with small nicks and indentations from years of work and fighting. In comparison Lafayette’s own hands so clearly belong to a callow youth. Furthering his mortification, a spark jump between his fingertips and Washington’s warm, calloused palms when he takes the General’s hands in his. With no small amount of exasperation Lafayette wonders how many times he must blush tonight.
Carefully he manipulates Washington’s hands until they are on either side of the candle’s flame. He checks to be sure that he has moved them just close enough that Washington will be able to comfortably feel the heat of it on his skin.
“There. If you would keep your hands there, please, your Excellency.”
Washington nods his reluctant assent, eyes cast down towards their clasped hands. Lafayette at last remembers to let go.
“Now, please focus upon the flame and extinguish with only your will.” Washington looks quite taken aback by the request, but Lafayette smiles at him in guileless reassurance. “I know that this may seem to impossible, but I assure you it is not. Not for someone who can make bullets miss him.”
After some consideration, Washington seems willing to give it a try. He returns his gaze to the candle, then a moment later closes his eyes.
“Ah, ah. Eyes open, your Excellency,” Lafayette chides gently. The General opens his eyes and looks up at him yet again. “Study the flame and with your will alone bid it to go out.”
Washington sighs, clearly unaccustomed and perhaps not comfortable with being instructed by a man so much his junior. Lafayette’s gaze travels between the same three points, the General’s serious and determined face, his steady hands as they cup the candle’s flame, and the flame itself. For a little while nothing happens, and Lafayette must bite his lip to keep from giving the man more advice and encouragement.
The air in the room changes, at first almost imperceptibly then all in a rush. It is the same as the moment before a storm breaks, the pressure of the room dropping and the air smelling of the earth readying for the rain. The brunt of Washington’s forceful intention snuffs out the flame as Lafayette watches. It’s entirely different from when a candle is blown out by breath or wind. The flame doesn’t dance or flicker, it simply dies from the wick up.
Washington looks the unlit candle in naked surprise. Lafayette smiles, quite pleased. “As I said, easy for a man such as yourself.” He leans forward, “Now light it. I assure you, you can.”
It takes noticeably longer for Washington to light the candle, but Lafayette is hardly surprised. It was the same when he himself was taught the trick. Something in the human mind is much more prepared for a candle to be extinguished without obvious means than to see a flame come to life from nothing. Lafayette is more patient this time, watching Washington’s face more intently than the wick.
At some point, Washington must become frustrated with the wait. A deep furrow appears between his brows, he inhales sharply and as he does suddenly the candle lights. The flame doesn’t politely come into being, but explodes like gunpowder ignited. Washington pulls his hands quickly away the eruption of the flame and Lafayette leans back from the desk sharply.
Washington is clearly startled by the unruly combustion, but Lafayette cannot help but laugh and clap even if is a bit childish to do so. “Fantastic, sir! You have a masterful will, truly.”
“Thank you,” Washington says distractedly still staring at the candle flame as if it could again explode at any moment. He clears his throat, “I think, however, that should be quite enough for tonight. There are still other things I must do before I retire.”
Lafayette sighs. He has helped Washington to complete his first intentional magic and still he has failed to spark any kind of hope or confidence. He would try again, try all night, but the General’s demeanor has hardened once again into something like marble. It will do no good to entreat a stone.
Yet he does. He bows to take his leave and moves toward the door as the General at last returns to his letter, but when Lafayette’s hand touches the doorknob he pauses.
“Sir,” he says, turning back.
Looking rather impatient, Washington pauses in his letter and gives Lafayette his attention again.
“I know that you have had to bear a great many burdens all on your own thus far, and unfortunately I know that you will continue to do so.” Washington shifts uncomfortably, as if somehow unsure of how to acknowledge the weight of that truth. “I wish you to know that this at least is not something you will have to handle alone.”
Washington does not go so far as to favor Lafayette with anything so overt as a smile, but something in his expression, the set of his jaw, the tension around the eye, does become gentler. “Thank you, Marquis.”
Lafayette feels the corners of his lips rise a little, pleased to at last feel as though he has done the General a kindness. He lowers his head in a small, humble bow and leaves.