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First Week of Carp Moon, Stone Circle Temple, Capchen, Ninver

Niko pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. He’d been having partial visions of a new ambient mage developing, but unlike what he’d seen in Hatar with Sandrilene, he hadn’t been able to discern a face or a name, only a sense of shattered glass, ice, and pain with a pull towards Capchen. He’d been searching what felt like half of Capchen in between the worst of the winter storms with no luck and less certainty that he’d interpreted this vision correctly. It was time and past to go home to Emelan, to scry there with the Air dedicates. Stone Circle’s mages were skilled enough, he knew, but none of them were quite compatible enough with Niko’s sight to be more help than hindrance. He did not want to delay his journey further by taking along some random spoiled child that Stone Circle wanted gone. And no matter what the Dedicate Superior was saying, Niko could read her face. She desperately wanted to be rid of this girl, Trisana Chandler, and would wash her hands of the child the second the gates of the temple were closed behind them.

“I know that you’re already on your way to Winding Circle, and I need you to take this girl with you. Is that such a hard request to grant, Master Niko?” Dedicate Superior Wrenswing’s voice grated on his ear as she switched to what she obviously thought was a more ingratiating tone of voice.

Best to refuse her quickly. “Send her later in the spring, when the trade caravans leave for Emelan. I’m on a very special task these days. If I have to change my plans suddenly, this child will only get in my way.” Not to mention, he added silently, that it was weeks before sailing on the Pebbled Sea would be truly safe, given the prevalence of late winter storms. Risks that he would take easily he would not push off on some random child.

Honored Wrenswing frowned, and dropped the wheedling tone as she replied, “We can’t keep her. Her parents swore that she was tested for magic and found to have none, but…. I don’t know if she’s possessed by a spirit, or part elemental, or carrying a ghost, to be at the center of such uproar, and I don’t care. Winding Circle is far better equipped to handle a case like hers. They have the learning, and dedicates who are more open-minded with regards to unique cases. They have the best mages south of your own university. They will know what to do with her.”

Niko frowned. Ghost possessed or part elemental? Certainly it was possible, he’d learned early to rule nothing out when it came to the diversity and strangeness of the world around him, but possession was vanishingly unlikely, and he’d never yet run across any part elemental, much less in the form of a young girl.

Before he could question further, he heard a pounding roar against the roof, almost covering the sound of breaking glass from the room beyond. He was at the door to the outer office before he knew he had moved. A red-headed girl knelt on the floor, her hands filled with hailstones fallen into the room from the shattered window. She was plump, wearing an ill-fitted dress made out of poor materials, and the look in her eyes… anger yes, but anger masking pain and grief. This was the girl the Dedicate Superior had mentioned, he knew instantly. This was the girl, and she had heard them arguing over her care like it was a despised chore. This was the girl, and she flickered all over with the lightning quick glimpse of strong ambient magic. He silently cursed every dedicate at Stone Circle who hadn’t thought to look under the surface for her true power.

“It’s rude to stare,” she snapped at him, still cupping some hailstones as if they were precious jewels, though more had trickled between her fingers to land once more among the fragments of glass on the floor.

“You were tested for magic?” he asked, not bothering to apologize. The Dedicate Superior had said her parents had not detected magic, but secondhand reports were often worse than useless, as he knew from experience.

The girl stiffened further. “By the most expensive mage-sniffer in Ninver, if you must know,” she replied, bitingly. “And he said I haven’t a speck of it.” She glared up at him, eyes sharp behind her glasses.

Oh, there was pain there, a deeper pain than when she’d been reacting to the Dedicate Initiate’s words to him. Pain, ice, and shattered glass in Capchen, surrounding an emerging ambient mage. His vision had been true, if less useful than he’d hoped. Still, it had led him to the proper time, the proper place, and from the looks of it, the proper girl.

He looked back over his shoulder, “Honored Wrenswing, I’ve changed my mind. I will be very happy to take Trisana to Winding Circle Temple in Emelan.” The Dedicate Superior dismissed from his mind, he turned back to the girl, extending a hand. “I am pleased to meet you, young lady,” he said, smiling at her, hoping she was still willing to extend at least some trust.

Trisana stood, pointedly ignoring his hand as she shook out skirts too skimpy and worn for such pomp. “You’ll change your mind before long,” she said, not looking at him. “Everybody does.”

It took all the control he had mastered in his long years as a mage to maintain a pleasant smile on his face at that. No ten-year-old child was meant to sound so cynical, so distrusting of simple human courtesy.

“I’m not everyone,” he replied.

First Week of Carp Moon, The Pebbled Sea


It didn’t take them long to be underway. Trisana, or Tris, as she had brusquely corrected him after the second time he’d called her by her full name, had little to pack, and it seemed no one she considered worth saying goodbye to at Stone Circle. Niko had originally chartered a berth on a trading ship headed by a captain he’d worked with before, and it was not hard to find another room on-board, given how early it was in the trading season. Most sensible people didn’t want to sail when there was still a possibility of severe winter storms on the Pebbled Sea.

He didn’t speak much to Tris, preferring to stand back and observe for the moment. Most people communicated who they were far more clearly with their actions than with their words, and he doubted Tris would prove an exception. So far she certainly seemed to be fulfilling his initial assessment. She was prickly, quick-tempered, and did not show much control of her emotions, but a great deal of that was true of any child. It worried him more in her case, given the strong weather magic he sensed in her. Weather mages, more than almost any other form of ambient mage he’d seen, were at great risk of injuring themselves or others by accident, a risk that only increased with volatile emotions.

Her pain and grief were even more evident than her magic, however much she tried to mask them with indifference or anger. It hadn’t taken much time, or more than a few gossiping dedicates at Stone Circle to begin to put together Tris’s story. A large and prosperous merchant family, and yet she wore cheap dresses, or older ones remade until the fabric faded beyond repair. Mentions of several aunts and uncles serving as caretakers before the age of ten, even with her parents alive and in good health. Her refusal to accept help when offered, and her insistence on taking care of all the minor chores as soon as she received a new placement. And the look of naked hunger in her eyes when she’d seen the small collection of books he had packed for the journey, quickly shuttered away as she turned to set her few possessions into her own berth on board ship.

It all spoke towards a negligent family doing their absolute best to ruin a young girl, and then laying the blame on her fragile shoulders for their lack of care. He’d seen the results of cases where no one had intervened in time with other young mages. He could only pray he was not too late to change the story for Tris.

Their first night on board, the captain invited both Niko and Tris to dinner with his officers. Niko escorted Tris in, and was immediately pulled away by the first officer to select his drink. He nodded absently at a selection of juice for both himself and Tris, most of his attention on his young charge.


Tris had wandered over to the mimander knots hung on the wall, a fortune in winds. She reached a hand up, then withdrew slightly, as if she sensed the power. Niko watched as the captain entered the room and began explaining the magic to her as he walked her to the table and pulled the seat for her. He didn’t think he was imagining the flash of curiosity, or the abstracted look on her face as she began puzzling through the idea of wind held by knotwork.

Abruptly, her attention turned outwards and towards Niko himself. “Why don’t you ask me anything?” she demanded, “If you’ve something on your mind, tell me!”

Well, she certainly wasn’t shy or withdrawn. Still, it was too soon to set parameters. She needed more scope for exploring ideas, not less. “I can’t,” he said. “Any questions I have might limit how you think, and the way you act on your thoughts. You see, Tris, just now your mind is unformed, without prejudices. If I present you with the wrong ideas, they might restrict what’s inside you.” Not to mention, he thought, that right now you are unable to answer the questions I most want to ask.

She was silent for a few moments, digesting his response. He’d give her this, she did at least consider anything he told her. It was another reason to not say too much; where another child might dismiss his words and move on with her own ideas, Tris showed signs of being willing to listen and assimilate any information he gave her, and she already had too many other people who had tried to tell her who and what she was. Finally, she replied, “That makes no sense whatsoever. I’d like an answer that makes sense, please.”

“Not yet,” Niko teased her, hoping to move the conversation along. “We have to get to know each other better.”

The captain broke in then, both by passing Tris a plate of food and with his words. “That’s just his way. Master Niko, he’s as hard to understand sometime as any oracle. When the fit’s on him he can talk you so confused you’ll forget which bearing is North.”

“It’s the university training,” Niko replied, glad to move the conversation on. “It teaches us to chase our tails for an hour before breakfast, just to get the exercise.” That got a few laughs from the officers.

Tris perked up herself. “University? Some of my cousins are at universities. Which one did you go to?”

Niko stared at her for a minute. Her family had caused her so much grief already, and yet she was curious and excited at the thought that some of her cousins might have attended the same university as he himself had? Finally, he replied, “Lightsbridge, in Karang.”

Tris’s eyes dropped briefly back to her plate, before she continued. “My cousin Aymery studies there. He’s to be a mage. Maybe you know him? Aymery Chandler?”

Niko bit back his initial response; that he’d hate to have known any member of her family if they had anything to do with how she’d been treated so far. Luckily, he had not been back to Lightsbridge for long enough that he’d most likely never met the boy. “I haven’t been back there in five years,” he said. “Chances are that I haven’t.”

He poured more pomegranate juice into her cup. She’d seemed interested in Lightsbridge, and more eager than he’d thought to discuss her cousin as a mage. He threw out a test question, “Would you like to be a mage yourself?”

He knew instantly, watching her face darken, that it had been several steps too far. “No, I hate mages!” she spat, flying out of her chair. “They confuse people!” She fled the room, not noticing that she’d knocked her just-filled cup into her plate, or that her chair had fallen over as she’d jumped out of it.


The captain and the officers stared at the banging door behind Tris, then turned as one to glare at Niko. He paused long enough to set her cup aright on the table and move the chair back into position, then murmured a quick apology as he followed her out of the room. Clearly, he’d pushed her too far for one night.

On deck, it didn’t take more than a moment to spot Tris, even through the rising storm and the dark of night. Runog’s fire gleamed as it leapt from mast to mast before jumping down and landing in her outstretched hands. He heard her laughing over the wind as the balls of lightning played with her, sparking in her hair and along her shawl, before vanishing once again, leaving her just a tired young girl, hair frizzing and skirts soaked with saltwater.


She batted at her hair for a moment, and he took his chance, holding a comb out to her as a peace offering. She turned and glared at him once more, commenting, “I suppose you were watching again.”

He smiled, and reminded her gently, “You told me yourself that’s what I always do.” Sighing, he continued, “And in a sense you’re right, I am always watching, though not for the reasons that you appear to expect.”

She didn’t seem at all comforted by that statement. Instead, she demanded, “Do you see a monster, like everyone else does? Am I someone who ought to be locked away?” She began yanking the comb through her curls, as if to distract herself from her own questions.

He reached out, and put a hand on her shoulder, hoping to soothe at least some of the hurt from her eyes. “I see a young girl who has been very badly treated,” he said, pulling every last shred of his pity from his face and his voice. She had already proved that she would not respond well to it. “Anything Winding Circle has to offer will be an improvement on what you’ve had so far.”

She stiffened beneath his hand, then broke away, handing his comb back to him. “I need my brush,” she explained, then marched away. He let her go, knowing that anything more he said at this moment would only hurt her trust more. Winding Circle would help her, with its dedicates skilled in ambient magic and with more patience and experience in teaching than he possessed. She would take every bit of compassion that a Circle dedicate could supply, and the stability and structure the temple would offer her as she learned.

Second Week of Carp Moon, The Pebbled Sea

After their first night on-board ship, Niko and Tris subsided into a tacit calm, as he spoke with the captain about his experiences in the Strait of Dragons, with Tris listening to the captain's stories with evident enjoyment. Spotting an opening, Niko shamelessly bribed her with the loan of a book of biographies, one of the few he’d brought along with him that did not center on magic or magical theory. Tris dove into it with pleasure, and for several evenings they passed their time discussing the lives profiled in the book, with Niko himself giving further historical context as he knew it. Tris came alive with those discussions, soaking in knowledge like an eager sponge. A long as he kept things light, or their conversations focused on the book and the histories presented, she proved eager to learn, the picture of a bright and engaged student.

Occasionally, Niko would throw out other conversational gambits, questions on current events, or trade, philosophical musings. It was easy at those times to see the merchant family Tris had been raised within; she would have moments of devastating insight into trade and economic policy, and could define razor-fine subsets of economic classes and who belonged within each, but the prejudices and harsh judgements of any beyond those classes capable of trading with a strong merchant house were decidedly present and unexamined. Still, in those debates Tris would follow along as best she found possible, and took correction and new insights well.

He stayed well away from any personal questions or hints about Tris’s power and her history. She would need to confront her past and accept her magic all too soon, but he would leave that to whoever claimed her as a student at Winding Circle. He knew himself. He held no false modesty about his intelligence, his magical power, or his skills and insight. He was ranked as one of the greatest vision mages currently living, and he did not dispute that ranking. But he was also restless, easily distracted, and capricious. Tris needed more than he could give, needed stability, structure, and warmth that he found hard to provide. The Air dedicates would be a good match for her, given their focus on intellectual pursuits as well as their natural affinity toward weather magic. Tris would need a committed teacher, one who would support her as well as challenge her, one who could give her the space and the tools to accept her magic and to confront her past before it controlled her forever.

They were perhaps a day out from Summersea harbor when his next vision struck. In the midst of a conversation with Tris about the second duke of Emelan’s decision to build the harbor protection chain he lost his chain of thought when he saw a flash of a Trader ship leaving port under a sign of danger. He heard the crash of a storm become the ring of hammer striking metal, smelled the sharp tang of molten metal, felt the scratchy-bright sting of salt against cuts. With difficulty, he pulled himself back to the present moment, the name Kisibu sounding in his mind like a struck gong.

“Niko? Master Niko!” Tris’s voice was anxious, and he knew without her saying that she had been calling his name since his vision began. She was tugging at his sleeve, wrinkling the cuff in her anxiety.

He shook his arm and she flinched back, dropping his sleeve and turning away. Already he could sense her marshaling up her shields against his perceived rejection. That would not do. He reached for her, a hand to her shoulder as he escorted her over to the nearest seat.

How to begin? With how uncomfortable she had been around the idea of mages and magic so far, he did not want to force her to confront his own strong magic right now. And yet he did not want to lie to her, she did not seem like one who would forgive a breach of trust lightly. He compromised. “I am sorry Tris. I was distracted by my thoughts, and by what I will be doing after I have seen you placed at Winding Circle.” There. No mention of his vision, but every word of it was true.

“What you will be doing after I’m placed?” Tris asked, her voice quieter than he’d heard before. “You won’t be staying there?”

He sighed. “I never stay too long at Winding Circle. One really cannot, as an adult, unless you take vows to become a dedicate. I normally come for a consultation, or to teach certain subjects.” He sat down on the chair beside here. “I had originally hoped to stay longer, this spring. But I have been reminded of some other duties I must see done. I will see you placed in the girl’s dormitory and then I must be on my way.”

He hadn’t realized until that moment, when her indifferent mask slid back into place, just how much Tris had opened up to him on their voyage. And he certainly had not anticipated how much it would hurt to see her shut down and withdraw from him when they had to separate.

“Oh,” she said, her voice artificially airy and unconcerned, “I hadn’t really thought you’d planned to do any more than that to begin with. You only took escorting me on as a favor to Honored Wrenswing, anyway. Surely the Temple in Emelan will have people to settle me into the dorms.” And she left the room briskly, her shoulders tight and back against the ugly wool of her dress.

He sighed. That had not gone well.

Second day of the First Week of Goose Moon, Winding Circle Temple, Emelan

Niko was beginning to wonder if he would ever sit still again, after this spring. No sooner had he deposited Tris safely with dedicate Staghorn in the girl’s dormitory and alerted Honored Moonstone to a newly developing weather mage than he had shipped out again, searching the ocean for a single point of life. Even with his vision guiding him, Daja had been a close call. Had they sailed even a hundred yards further away from where she was floating he never would have spied her on the water. And then to watch her own people reject her for her good luck in surviving the storm!

He had hoped, after he’d placed Daja within the ranks of Winding Circle that he would have had time to check in with Staghorn about Tris, to make sure an Air dedicate had seen her gifts and taken her on as student. Instead, no sooner had he dropped Daja off and left word to Frostpine that he should be on the lookout for a Trader girl with metal magic than he’d been pulled out into the wider world again, this time with a vision of a boy with plant magic being condemned to docks–work in Sotat.

Briar had been a challenge, and a welcome reminder of why Niko seldom worked with young male students. He had yet to meet a younger male mage who didn’t try to challenge Niko on power alone. Briar’s battles over bathing and the proper speed to eat food were difficult enough. It didn’t help that he hadn’t fit well into the boy’s dormitory, though Niko admitted to himself that he’d planned on connecting the boy with Rosethorn sooner or later. Dedicate Crane was the only other plant mage with any power at Winding Circle, but he and Briar would never mesh well. Rosethorn might well eat Briar alive, but she’d spit him out later all the better for it.

Still, three days back at Winding Circle Niko sensed that he would be able to stay for a while longer, a respite he well knew he needed. Time to work with mages he was actually compatible with, to grab dinners with Lark and Rosethorn, to consult with Honored Moonstone. He thought, perhaps, now that he was back for a longer stretch of time, that he’d be able to check in on Sandry and Tris, to see how they had settled in.

He had barely entered the administration building when he saw one of the objects of his thoughts. Tris was standing by the window, staring out at a storm that was boiling up far faster than it normally would. He frowned. The storm alone gave a hint as to Tris’s feelings, and the set of her shoulders said even more, but he would have hoped that whoever had taken her on as teacher would have discussed control of emotions and the work of calming her mind by now.

He walked toward her, but her attention was caught by the storm. To his mage sight, she flickered and boiled like the storm itself. There was no sign she had even begun mediation, or started to learn more about her magic. Had no one stepped up to teach her yet?

The crack of lightning right outside the window answered his question. The tree outside was small, certainly not as high as the administration building, let alone the wall or the Hub. Tris had called it in her anger, unrestrained and without thought.

“Are you all right, Tris?” he asked. “You were looking right at it.”

Tris looked like she was doing her best to ignore him, reaching up to fuss with her hair again, still turned away and staring at the tree. He continued, “It’s curious to see lightning hit a small tree when there are tall ones, or buildings, around.”

That did it. Curiosity had never failed to move her, in his limited experience. She turned to look at him, glaring all the while. “What have buildings and trees to do with it?” she asked.

He explained, “Lightning strikes what’s nearest the clouds.”

She glanced back out the window as she asked her next question, “Does it strike the Hub?”

And now she was thorough distracted from her previous anger. Partially to keep her distracted, and partially because he enjoyed explaining to someone who was genuinely interested, he replied, “It has, but the Hub’s protected. There’s a rod on the clock tower, attached to a wire that runs to the ground. The lightning is drawn to the rod first, and the wire takes its fire down to the soil, where it dies. Except, it seems, on a day like today, when the lightning was invited to strike elsewhere.”

He sensed she would have asked more from him, had Honored Moonstone not interrupted then, “Is that Niko I hear?” she asked, dark lips smiling. “Come in here—I need you.”

Tris turned back towards the window, and Niko could almost taste her dejection bitter in the back of his throat. He reached out and put his hand on her shoulder, trying to be both comforter and advisor. She was stepping ever closer to an edge that he’d hoped Winding Circle would have pulled her back from, even before she recognized her own powers.

The words came unbidden, “Mages have a very wise rule: before all else, do no harm.” He squeezed her shoulder once more, then stepped away to follow the Dedicate Superior into her office, pulling the door closed behind him.

Inside the office, Honored Moonestone was still smiling, but Niko detected a great deal more edge to it as she turned to face Dedicate Staghorn. Dedicate Staghorn did not seem to notice how thin the ice was under her, as she turned to vent her spleen on Niko.

“I blame you for all of this. My dormitory was perfectly peaceable before you brought those two girls into it. But between the Chandler girl’s attitude and the strife that the Trader girl carried with her, I’m at my wit’s end!” She turned towards the Dedicate Superior, “Honored Moonstone, I don’t care where you put Trisana, as long as I am not responsible for her anymore. She is poisoning the entire dormitory with her disdain for the other girls and her lack of respect towards us dedicates.”

Niko very narrowly bit back his first reply, that Dedicate Staghorn seemed to being doing quite a good job on her own poisoning her dormitory, it that was her attitude towards Daja, recently grieving her entire family and separated from her culture, and Tris, deeply wounded and in need of patience and understanding, not demands to instantly bond with a group of strange girls. He did not need to escalate Staghorn’s sense of grievance further, and he trusted Honored Moonstone to cut this off rather than let Staghorn make matters worse for Tris.

Honored Moonstone began to speak, but whatever she had been planning to say was drowned out by the door to her office slamming open. “Honored Moonstone, I’ve had enough!” she shrieked, and slammed the door again behind her. “I demand that you remove Lady Sandrilene from my dormitory. Her waywardness is distracting and demoralizing the other girls, and I will not abide patiently any longer!”

Honored Moonstone’s dark brow raised, and her normally generously smiling mouth thinned in disapproval. “What’s this, two children disconcerting dedicates three times their age?” She turned to Niko. “I am amazed, Master Goldeye. In the ten years I’ve known you, never have you brought so many new students to Winding Circle in a season. And every single one of them my dormitory leaders have found themselves incompetent to help or instruct.” The sarcasm in her words was pointed, and Niko saw Dedicates Staghorn and Pearlwhisper wince. “Still, they are all of them young mages and we are honor-bound to provide them a home and teachers until they may find a way to support themselves.

Honored Moonstone stood, and swept towards the door, effortlessly pulling all of them in her wake, Niko taking the hindmost position. She smiled at Tris and Sandry, both standing by the window. “You two are not fitting into the dormitories,” she began, wry amusement obvious to Niko. “I am told that, if you were to stay, the other girls will be demoralized. Very well. Today you move to Discipline cottage. It’s by the north gate. I think you’ll do better there.” She looked over her shoulder at the dedicates, who by now had enough sense to look ashamed of losing their tempers with their charges. “Pack their things and send them to Discipline.” A last look, aimed directly at him. “Niko, will you escort Lady Sandrilene and Trisana to their new home?”

Niko wandered out of the office, still caught up in how swiftly the decision had been made. Only half aware that he was speaking out loud, he mused, “I never thought they would end up at Discipline—I’d thought the school would be enough, once they settled down.” His mind raced ahead. Discipline, for Sandry and Tris as well as Daja and Briar? All four of them at once? Lark might well do for Sandry, she needed a gentle touch and permission to work with all fibers and cloth. And he’d intended for Briar to match with Rosethorn sooner or later, though he’d hoped that both of them would have been given a bit more distance than living and working together. But he’d hoped the dorms would have given Daja a larger community, one that accepted her as herself. And Tris should have had a teacher already to channel her skills and teach her control already. That no one had claimed her yet meant that Niko would need to do at least the basics with her. She couldn’t be allowed to go any longer without a dedicated instructor. He’d be here at least through the winter months then, to get her set and passed on to a true weather mage.

Moonstream sighed, as if he was the most aggravating part of the day so far, which was patently untrue. “Niko…”

Sandry piped up first, alert and cheerful. “I tried to settle. Honestly, I did. Would I do better at this other place?” He ignored Dedicate Pearlwhisper sniffing disdainfully off to one side. How had that woman managed to run afoul of someone so eager to please?

Tris, on the other hand, scowled, muttering, “I don’t want to settle in.”

Clearly, the both of them needed Lark, at the bare minimum. Niko grinned at Honored Moonstream, and announced, “It’s my pleasure to take them to Discipline.”

***

It took a few minutes to wrangle everyone into agreement, and to get both Sandry and Tris moving. Niko noted, however, that the thunderstorm had died off rather abruptly as soon as Tris knew she was not going back to the girl’s dormitory.

He led them out, following the spiraling path towards the North gate. He’d meant to head to Discipline today anyway, to check in with Briar and Daja in their new placements. Sandry chattered at him cheerfully, at times running ahead and turning to walk backwards. Was this cheerful girl really what had emerged from the silent child in Hatar last winter? Winding Circle had given her back that, at least, the blithe spirit she must have inherited from her parents.

Not far out from the administration buildings, Sandry’s backwards walking failed her, and she tripped against the raised border of the road. Before Niko could lunge forward to catch her, Tris was there, steadying her until her balance was caught.

“Thank you!” Sandry exclaimed. “Sometimes I get so busy talking I forget—are you alright?”

Niko’s focus had mostly been on their destination until that moment, when something about Sandry’s tone caught his eye. Tris had gone deathly pale and was swaying slightly, as if she were about to faint. “Steady her,” he told Sandry, knowing she would be the better for a task. He grabbed Tris’s other arm, and between the two of them braced her in the middle of the path.

An instant later the ground lurched beneath them, shaking suddenly and then stilling. Even braced, they all staggered forward against the shuddering earth. Niko frowned. One earlier this morning, and now this? “Another tremor? That’s how many since the Spring Equinox? Five?”

“Six,” Tris got out, through gritted teeth. She flushed when he looked at her, then jerked herself free from their supporting arms.

Six of them, and she was reacting this strongly to each? “Do you want to tell me about it?” he asked. “I don’t recall you having spells like this on our way here.”

She glared at him. “No, I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t talk to anyone about anything anymore!” she snapped. She rubbed her face against her sleeve, doing little to improve the appearance of either.

What had happened here, that she’d grown still more defensive and hostile? He’d thought she’d at least begun to trust him on their voyage from Capchen, even if he’d then had to leave again almost immediately. But he’d pushed her as far as she could take for now, and the middle of the road was no place to ask her to confide in him further. Instead, he changed the subject, “I hope these tremors aren’t a sign of a big quake to come.”

He let the girls stop long enough to trace the gods-circle on their chests before he hurried them on.

Shortly before they would have reached the North gate, Niko ushered both girls through Discipline's gate and up the narrow path towards the cottage. Sandry paused, examining the fine weave of the cloth screens on Lark's workshop addition. "Wonderful!" she exclaimed. "I wonder how it's made?"
He would let Lark explain that herself. "You may examine it later," he said, nudging her closer to the main door of the cottage. "Go in. This is Discipline, your new home."

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Tris flinch at the word, before she settled back into her customary stiff posture and frown.

Briar was standing in the main room of the cottage, peering at one of Rosethorn's bundles of dried herbs. He skittered away from the plants as they entered.

"Good morning, Briar," Niko said, at least partially to give Briar a moment to recover. He went on. "I've brought you some housemates."

Briar recovered quickly, turning to glare at Sandry and Tris. "Oh, wonderful," he muttered, "more girls."

Daja spoke up then, entering from the left. "It could be worse, it could be more boys." She nodded at Niko, and he smiled, glad to see that she was finally settling in somewhere.

"Daja!" Sandry exclaimed. "You live here too?" It did not surprise Niko in the slightest that Sandry would have happily befriended a Trader girl. Idly, Niko wondered if that was part of what had set Dedicate Pearlwhisper off.

"Since yesterday," Daja confirmed, smiling back.

"We're being punished, alright," Tris muttered, and Niko frowned. He would have to work much harder on Tris's merchant prejudices during their training. Hopefully sharing a house with Daja would wear off at least some of those edges soon.

Daja, obviously not inclined to ignore the insult, spat back, "You have a problem with me, kaq?"

"Daja!" Sandry seemed shocked at her friend's rudeness.

Lark walked in at that moment, effortlessly derailing the growing tension. She smiled warmly at Tris and Sandry, while she directed her words to him. "Niko, more desperate criminals for us? They must be cleaning house down at the Hub!"

"Dedicate Lark," he greeted, soothed himself by her welcome. "I'd like you to meet Sandry and Tris." Turning to address the girls, he added, "Lark and Dedicate Rosethorn are in charge of Discipline."

Lark moved forward, resting a palm on Tris and Sandry's shoulders. "Welcome, both of you. May you weave happy lives here."

Sandry's responding curtsy showed her years of experience at courts across the lands. Tris's was noticeably awkward, and ended with a wobble that nearly saw her falling in place. She flushed furiously.

To Niko's eye Lark diplomatically did not call attention to it, instead turning to point out the other children present in turn. "This is Briar, and Daja."

In unison, Sandry and Daja replied, "We've met."

Briar broke in then. "Here's my room," he said, walking across the cottage to the guest room nearest Rosethorn's workshop. He continued, "I came here first, and I'm keeping it. You kids stay out!"

"Kids? Why is he talking about baby goats?" Sandry, of course, was the one to ask, though Niko could see that Tris was looking curious as well.

"Kid is thieves' cant for child." Lark answered her. She continued, "Now, there's another room on this floor. Daja says she prefers one of the upstairs rooms. We have another spare room up there as well."

This time, Niko noted, it was Tris whose curiosity drove the questioning. "Our own rooms?" she asked. "I thought this was a punishment place."

...Well, that would explain part of her anger and sullenness on the walk over, Niko mused.

"It's for people who are--ill at ease--with the other Winding Circle children." Lark replied, graciously eliding the truth that Discipline was primarily for mages learning about their powers. She continued, "Things go better here if our guests have rooms of their own."

Tris seemed to consider it for a moment, still glaring at Briar's room. Finally, she asked, "May I see the room upstairs?"

Daja spoke up then, "Come on, I'll show you, merchant girl."

Niko watched them trail up the stairs. Perhaps this would be the best place for Tris, in the end. Certainly, the company would be better for her. Sandry was stubborn and determined to be friendly, and Tris desperately needed a friend. Daja would push back against Tris’s temper, which might be exactly what she needed to learn self-control. And Lark and Rosethorn together were two of the best dedicates in Winding Circle for nurturing the difficult cases, which Tris was aplenty.

Now, he just needed to speak with Briar before midday meal.

Second Day of the First Week of Goose Moon, Winding Circle Temple, Emelan

Niko left Discipline as soon as midday meal ended. And not, as he heard Lark joking about as he walked down the path from Discipline, because he was afraid to get stuck moving boxes. Though, recalling how much Sandry’s relatives had decided to send with her to Winding Circle, it was just as well that he had tasks to attend to this afternoon. He had not studied for so many years to find himself required to do manual labor when there were others to do the work.

He followed the spiraling path back towards the Hub and the main library. Tris needed to be taught, but she was at this point no more willing to believe she had magic than she had been six weeks back on their ship. They could start with meditation. All four children needed that, and it hadn’t taken more than a casually raised brow and a nod between him and Lark for the two to agree that he should teach the starting point for all four. If he added in books on weather for her, he could rely on her intellectual curiosity to bring her along and introduce her to the main concepts before she thought about how they applied to her.

He might have simply entered the main library and gone straight into the natural history and weather sections, had he not bumped into an Air dedicate ferrying in the most recent weather logs from the observatory points along the temple wall. It only took a glance at the opened page of today’s unexpectedly strong storm to redirect Niko. He followed the Air dedicate further in, and with a word to the archivist on duty found himself ensconced at a table, the weather records for the past two months available for his scrutiny.

The pattern was disturbingly obvious. The two weeks preceding Tris’s arrival were utterly normal, following the Air temple’s weather scrying perfectly. Her first week, there was a slightly stronger than predicted stormburst the day after Niko’s ship left port. The following weeks showed similar events: stronger storms, unusual wind patterns close to the girl’s dorms, and then today, both the storm and the incident of lightning striking where it should never have been called. Any one incident by itself was not worrisome, but all together it reeked of a dangerous situation sliding more and more out of hand.

Another train of thought crossed his mind.  Dedicates heading dorms were required to document incidents where they disciplined a child under their care. Niko copied the dates of the most severe storms onto a scrap of paper, handed the weather logs back to the Air dedicates, and headed towards the administration building and its disciplinary records. Honored Moonstone gave him Dedicate Staghorn’s reports without argument, and he quickly sifted through to find incidents involving Tris. Out of respect for the Dedicate Superior, he bit back his snarl and the chain of curses running through his mind. Day after day, the worst weather spikes coordinated perfectly to reports of Staghorn disciplining Tris for her attitude and refusal to engage with the other girls in the dorm, often with enough implied in the record for Niko to read between the lines and detect incidents of bullying.

He’d hoped to let Tris settle in this afternoon, to give all of them their first mediation exercises tomorrow, after they’d had a day to adjust to the new environment. But this could not wait. The faster Tris began controlling herself and her emotions, the better. He absently nodded at Honored Moonstone as he barged out of the administration building, robes flapping behind him.

The trek back to Discipline was not long enough to calm him, and he knew even as he knocked on Tris’s door that he was too agitated, was holding his calm only with great effort.

Evidently he had not done enough, as the door swung open at his too-forceful knock. He startled Tris into leaping off of her bed, and she shrieked, “How dare—“ before she spotted him and bit back whatever was to have followed.

He was too impatient to wait for her to calm down further. “Come on,” he said, knowing that his tone was more brusque than she deserved, but still not in perfect control. He forced himself to gentle further. “Let’s take a walk. It’s time to sort a few things out.”

Tris scowled. “I don’t want to,” she replied.

“Now, Trisana.” The hated long form of her name seemed to quell some of her combativeness, or perhaps it was the edge in his voice that he could not yet dismiss.

Still, she was stubborn, and seemed to have set herself against him today. She asked, “Did you ask Lark? Maybe she wants me to learn the house rules?”

She would have continued, so he interrupted her, no matter how rude he found it normally. “Lark has already given permission. “Up, young lady.”

At that she at least followed him when he led the way back down the narrow stairs. She rallied when they hit the main floor, going to Lark’s workshop door and saying, “Lark, Niko wants to take me somewhere.”

Lark was already lost in the project she was working on, however, and Niko was amused to hear her responding absently, “That’s right, Tris. Obey Niko as you would Rosethorn or me.”

Tris’s frustrated frown was obvious as she turned back towards him, and Niko grinned wickedly, his amusement finally breaking through his urgent knowledge that she needed training immediately. “Good try,” he said, wanting to calm her somewhat. “Come on, now.”

He set a swift pace as they walked from Discipline and out of Winding Circle through the south gate, nearest to the cliff and beach side. It was unfair, he knew, but if she was too rushed she would not have enough air to complain and argue, and he needed the release if he was to be calm enough to teach her meditation.

He stepped off of the grassy verge of the cliff onto the path and heard her squeak of fear. He turned and looked over his shoulder, amused again. “There’s a path,” he said, “come on.”

She followed after him, grumbling occasionally as her skirts caught on the rougher edges of the trail. He led her down to a broad ledge looking out over the shoreline, and escorted her to the mouth of the cave that opened on to the ledge. He sat down, crossing his legs and looking up at her. She stood still, wiping at a reddened and sweaty face with the sleeve of her ugly dress. He patted the ground beside him, “Have a seat,” he told her.

“Why?” she asked, still standing.

He bit back a sigh. “Because I ask. Because you don’t have anything else to do just now. I’d actually meant to talk to you more when we traveled together, but—I forget what distracted me,” he admitted bashfully.

“You found out the captain had been to the Strait of Dragons,” she said, patiently. “You wanted them to tell you about it.” More quietly, she finished, “And right after I got here, you had to leave again, in a great hurry.”

He nodded absently. “That’s right—I had the vision that Third Ship Kisubo was about to put out to sea. Well, nothing’s going to interrupt now. Sit, please.”

Finally, she sat, still frowning at him.

Niko sighed, looking over at her. “I wish that by now you could trust me,” he confessed. He hated that she was so unable to relax around him, or anyone else that he’d seen her with.

She looked away, staring out the cave entrance at the sky. Finally, she said flatly, as if it was as much a fact as that the sky was blue, “Everyone I ever trusted sent me away.”

His heart stuttered to a stop for a moment at the pain and resignation in her voice. His mind went blank, anything he could think to say echoingly empty against her experience. She glanced at him briefly, then turned away and resolutely stared back out at the passing clouds.

He fumbled slightly, then reached out and held her hand, squeezing for a moment, then let go, hoping that whatever he felt made it through to her in some way as comfort.

Finally, he said, “Then I shall just have to hope that you change your mind someday. In the meantime, you’re going to learn meditation.”

She jerked up at that. “Why?” she demanded. “The others don’t have to.”

“They start tomorrow.” He responded. “As for you, why now?” He gazed at her, holding her eyes while she fidgeted. She could not avoid this lesson, nor reject the severity of its cause. “Things happen when you get angry, Tris. First hail, now lightning—if you don’t learn to control yourself, you will kill someone.”

She looked stricken, alternately paling then flushing. Finally she replied, “How do you know?”

He had to approach this obliquely. “Do you know we mages choose the name we bear, once we are trained?” he asked.

She shook her head, looking confused at the apparent non-sequitur.

He continued. “We do. My last name is ‘Goldeye.’ It means that I see things that are hidden to most people. That’s how I know. And I tell you this. If you learn to meditate—if you learn to control your mind—you will be able to keep things from happening when you are upset.”

She looked away, wringing her hands. He waited, hoping that she would take the opportunity now, hoping she trusted him at least that much. Finally, she spoke, her voice sounding choked, “What do I do?”

He didn’t wait any further. “Can you breathe with the sound of the waves? Breathe in as they arrive, hold the breath as they go past, breathe out as they go?”

She settled slightly at the instructions, closing her eyes and listening for a moment to the ebb and swell of the waves. Her first attempt to breathe out ended with a choke, as if she’d been tensed too long to relax even her throat.

“Relax,” he breathed, trying to blend the sound of his voice in with the waves themselves. She needed to lose herself in the process. When she had taken several breaths with the waves he could see her shoulders visibly relax, her back less tight against the faded wool of her dress. He began speaking, a low murmuring sound to give her another point to latch on to. “Waves are the voice of the tides. Tides are life. They bring new food for shore creatures, and take ships out to sea. They are the ocean’s pulse, and our heartbeat.”

He fell silent for a moment, assessing her both visibly and magically. She had calmed further, and for the first time her magic was settling as well, not flashing and striking beyond her skin, but flowing around her, swelling, then fading back with the rhythm of the waves and her breaths. Better, but still not all that she needed. He continued, “They carry the winds.”

Tris took a longer breath now, breathing in as if to catch all the wind herself. Gently, he reminded her, “Breathe out.” She did, once again finding the proper rhythm of the waves. Now her magic was flowing like a sheet, rising and billowing in a strong spring breeze, broad and all-encompassing, and far stronger than she’d admit to. “Feel how you are right now? Like a wind yourself, your wings passing over the circle walls?” She nodded absently, and he continued. “Pull your wings in on yourself. Instead of being a wave of air, draw yourself in until you’re a rope of it. Breath in, and pull in.”

It was working. With each breath in, she was pulling her magic more and more towards herself, contained and centered. Her breaths out remained steady, holding her magic in position until she breathed in again and the magic contracted still further. He dropped his shields further to assess her progress, her magic no longer flickering like untamed lightning.

Something must have distracted her, for she opened her eyes and yelped in shock. Her grasp released and her magic spread wide once more, back to being a sheet of wind. She coughed and choked for a minute and he patted her back, hoping to settle her further. When she stopped coughing, he handed her a canteen of water, still cool against the warming day.

“There, now, wasn’t that fun?” he asked, knowing it would distract her. “We’ll keep practicing that, until you limit the area your mind covers without having to think about it.”

“You have a strange idea of fun,” she replied, and drank more from the canteen. Still, she was calmer, even as he led her back up the path and through Winding Circle to Discipline. Given time and practice, she would learn control. And hopefully, he thought, she would also learn to trust again.

Third Day of the Second Week of Goose Moon, Winding Circle Temple, Emelan

He met them at the Hub the next morning, all four of them. He could tell in an instant something had gone wrong that morning. Briar and Daja both looked agitated, with Briar especially looking as if he’d been denied the release of a fight and didn’t know what to do with the left-over energy. Sandry looked anxious and worried, flicking glances in Tris’s direction.

And Tris herself looked blank, without her customary scowl in place as a mask. Her skin was blotchy, as if she’d paled and blushed many times in quick succession, and her eyes were watery and red-rimmed. She clenched her fists and released them again in short order. Something had happened to all of them. But the weather had not been affected…. Well, if that was the effect of one session of meditation on her, he wished he’d thought to teach her on the ship from Capchen.

He chose not to press them. Questioning them about the incident right before they began meditation was likely to agitate them all further, and distract them from the lesson. Instead, he led them up to the main stair of the Hub, wrangling Briar back into the proper direction when he would have led them to the kitchens instead.

He opened the door and waved them through, watching as each of them walked down the stairs in turn.  When Tris, the last to enter, had gone a few steps in, he followed, shutting the door behind them.  As the door closed Niko felt the spells of containment lock into place, blocking his mage-sight of anything beyond the single spiral of the steps.  He waited as the four children stopped and looked around the stairway, giving himself a chance to adjust.  It was always an uneasy feeling to not see beyond his physical sight, no matter how much he prepared himself for the extra levels of shielding. 

Sandry was the first to speak.  “It feels odd in here,” she whispered.  Around her, the other children were also reacting to the feeling of the stair’s shielding, though Niko thought it was characteristic that it was Sandry to attempt to put words to a feeling beyond language. 

“The staircase is spelled,” he answered her.  “The magical power in the Hub is so great that each part of the tower must be shielded from the others, to keep the different magics from bleeding into each other.  In terms of magic, this is the cleanest spot in all Winding Circle.  You’re having your first lesson in meditation here.”  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Tris frowning.  He didn’t like being imprecise in his language, but it was the first lesson for most of the others.  And he had taken her to another place isolated from the majority of Winding Circle’s magics.  But she had been one child, if her power had overwhelmed her there, he could have carried her back by himself.  Four children, with such diverse powers?  No, better to have them safe in a more secured and central placement. 

“Why?” Sandry questioned.  “We’d be more comfortable at Discipline.” 

“Today we sacrifice comfort for security,” he replied.  Not wanting to focus on their incredible power, he gave the more general answer, learned by rote so many years ago at Lightsbridge.  “Every creature has magic, even if it’s just the magic of life.  In meditation, you open your mind –any magic you have spills out.  By learning to concentrate here, any power you release will stay here, without affecting anyone else.”

Briar broke in following that, “What’s magic got to do with me?  If I have any, it don’t bother me.” 

Niko held back a wince at the broken grammatical structure, while noting that Daja was nodding in agreement.  Briar wasn’t up for the full lecture now, so he simply replied, “That’s all very well and good, my boy, but have you ever thought that you might bother magic?” 

That seemed to stump him.  Satisfied, Niko continued, “Make yourselves comfortable.”  He led by example, sitting cross-legged on the landing.  Each of the children picked a stair and sat as well.  “We’ve only an hour–I couldn’t arrange to keep this floor empty for any more time than that–so let’s begin.” 

Intentionally, he dropped his voice to the tone most likely to induce a trance as he walked them through the pattern of breathing, counting to seven repeatedly with a steady pace.  As their breathing settled into the correct rhythm, he switched to speaking about pulling themselves in, fitting into a smaller and smaller space.  Soon after, he fell silent and began to observe them. 

Briar had the most problems at the beginning, losing his focus once or twice before he settled into a truly comfortable position and found an image which worked for him.  Tris, conversely, was the swiftest to find the rhythm and to begin pulling herself in.  Not surprising, given that she’d had a lesson yesterday as well, but he was still impressed with the speed at which she managed to apply her new skill.  As long as she kept her stubbornness and strength of mind focused on learning, his main problem would be keeping up with her pace.  Sandry and Daja were about equal, each obviously finding a symbolic image that worked well for them. 

A little before the hour was over he pulled the meditation to an end.  All four of them had done very well, and he could see their power coiled in tight as they re-focused on the material world.  As they stood and stretched their powers released and spread out again, but not nearly as far stretched and uncontrolled as before the hour had begun. 

Standing, he spoke again.  “Now, while we’re here I want to take you on a tour of the Hub.”  He led them down.  Best to start with the center, deep in the earth.   Walking all the way down the stair he opened the small door into the center of the Hub. 

He tried to imagine what it looked like from their perspective, having never seen it before.  The center fire was all but overpowering to his mage sight, something he had to shield to see clearly, and it overwhelmed the rest of the room.  Motioning the children to join him off to one side of the great circular room, he began teaching again, his voice hushed to avoid disturbing the dedicates at work.  “This is the heartfire—the true center of Winding Circle.  There are magics that keep this temple city whole, drained, fertile—without them, the bowl in which it rests would be a lake.  All of those spells end in the heartfire chamber, and they are protected by those who guard the fire.”

“What was that glassy stuff in the floor?” Daja whispered her question.  “It seemed—funny.”

Of course she would be the one to sense that.  “It’s not of this world.”  Niko knelt, touching a piece of the stone himself.  “Thousands of years ago, a rock from the stars crashed here, leaving the crater where this place is built.  The stones are its remains.  Their magical power can be used for many things.  They made it possible for Winding Circle’s builders to anchor complex protective spells here without their affecting the magical work done afterward.” 

None of the children had anything to say in response to that, so he stood and led them back up the stairs, this time going past the ground floor landing they had begun at.  He noticed them staring at the message cables, and explained, “That’s how information coming into the upper floors is passed to Honored Moonstream and the individual temples.  The dumbwaiter carries the slates to the ground floor, where runners pick them up.”

Daja interjected, “I saw no runners when we came in.”

Of course not, Niko thought, exasperated.  All that work telling them that their meditation might disturb magic and that he’d gotten permission to seal the stairwell off for an hour, and she wonders that they didn’t send runners in to disrupt the space?  Aloud, he simple replied, “They waited outside, until we had finished meditating.  They would have found us—distracting.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Briar of course, had to question further. 

Sandry interjected then, “It’s to do with the thing Niko said, about us spilling magic?”

Well, at least Sandry had paid attention to what he said.  He smiled at her and responded, “That’s exactly it.” 

Tris had remained out of the conversation, but he could feel her grey eyes staring at him, seeking further answers to questions she did not yet ask.  Ignoring it for a moment, he led the children further up the stairs, opening finally on the place of hearing.  He let the children look their fill as they gazed quietly upon the listening dedicates and the novices ferrying messages.  He waved them back to the staircase, closing the door gently behind them, and waited until they’d climbed several more steps before he began speaking.  “That is the place of hearing,” he began.  “Those initiates—“

“What’s an ini-whatsit?” Briar interrupted to ask. 

“You saw the black stripes on their habits?” Niko asked.  When Briar nodded, he continued.  “That means they are initiated into the methods of temple magic.  They listen to the winds for voices and report—“

He broke off suddenly as Tris fell.  Daja, being closest, hauled her up and asked. “What’s the matter with you, merchant girl?”

But Tris ignored her, stepping forward and grabbing on to him.  “They hear voices in the winds?”  She looked suddenly desperate, her eyes feverishly bright.  “They hear people talking?

Unsure of what had set her off on this particular subject, he resorted to his basic instinct, and answered her question.  “From every imaginable location.” 

Still she held on to him, and continued to ask, “Thy really hear voices?  Really?  They don’t just make up things, or—or hear what isn’t there?” 

No.  No, he didn’t want to believe it.  He didn’t want to believe that Stone Circle Temple or the other mage-sniffer, or he himself had missed something so vital.   “You hear voices?”  He couldn’t bring himself to modulate his voice, knowing that he sounded overly harsh.  This was too important.  “What do they speak of?”

Evidently, she wasn’t bothered by a harsh tone when she was desperate for information.  Or she was too puzzled by the question to worry about the delivery.  “They—plenty of things,” she replied.  “Shipping, weather.  Sometimes booty, cow disease” she stuttered slightly, blushing now, “or sex.  My family said I was crazy, or lying, or cursed.”

Sandry broke in then, wrapping an arm around Tris to comfort her, and glaring at him as if to demand that he fix this immediately.  He only wished he could repair the full damage her family’s words had inflicted. 

He smoothed back his mustache, trying to marshal his words.  “Your family was mistaken,” he started, hoping that the full meaning would strike home for Tris.  “The voices of madness are far more interesting than what you’ve heard.  From now on, tell me anything that you see or hear this way, understand?  It may be important.” 

It wasn’t enough.  He did not have Lark or Sandry’s easy way of providing comfort, he knew, and he didn’t believe Tris would take the sympathy from him that she was hesitantly receiving from Sandry.  But for her to hear voices on the wind without training was yet another symptom of how powerful she was, how much her magic was erupting without her control or consent.  It worried him, almost more than her propensity for lightning strikes when angry.  This was far subtler, and would be correspondingly harder for her to understand and control with the training he could provide before she accepted her magic. 

He waited in silence, shooting a warning glance at both Daja and Briar, who looked sympathetic, at least, to Tris’s pain.  When she finally stepped out from Sandry’s embrace he nodded briefly at her, then led them onwards.  They stopped briefly at the scrying room, then at the dove-cote.  All four of the children were entranced when he led them into the room housing the mechanisms for the great clock of Winding Circle.  Something about the gears turning sparked their interest far beyond what he had expected.  Finally, it was nearing midday, and he shooed them back down the stairs.

Before they left, he turned and asked them, “Practice the trick I taught you—the pulling-in, becoming small—whenever you can.  See if you can do it without having to meditate first.  You all know me well enough that you’re aware I don’t ask things without good reason.”

Predictably, it was Sandry who asked for the group.  “Then what is the reason?”

He hesitated.  Sooner or later, if they didn’t come to an awareness of their power on their own, they would need to be told.  And there was a valid argument for telling them sooner, rather than later.  He knew waiting ran the risk of one or more of them deciding that they had been lied to when they finally found out.  There were horrific stories of what happened when a young mage in the first flush of their power, with no true control yet, felt that they had been betrayed by a trusted mentor. 

In the end, though, the time did not feel right.  Not here, not now, before they’d had a true chance to adjust to Discipline and their new place in the world.  He would have to trust in their good natures a little longer. 

“I’d prefer not to go into it just yet,” he said, genuinely regretful.  “Some things will be easier for each of you if you work through them yourselves first.”

At that, the great clock struck for midday, and Niko was glad that he’d gotten the children and himself out before it rang, as he would have been deafened standing within its room.  “Now, back to Discipline.  Tris, I’ll come for you after the rest period.  We have more work to do.”  He opened the staircase door.  “And all of you, practice your meditation!”

Third Day of the First Week of Goose Moon, Winding Circle Temple, Emelan

He’d watched the storm brewing during the rest period.  All to the good, when it came to practicing Tris’s control.  So far she’d mostly exacerbated existing storms and invited the damage closer to her than when it was present.  If she could practice control now, when the storm was present, he thought she could stop herself from creating new weather without intending it.  The last lightning strike of the previous storm had hit too close to her for his sanity. 

She was waiting in the main room when he came, pacing nervously.  Good, at least this time she was ready to come.  If he’d had to collect her from her room again, they’d never make it to the cave again before the rain hit.  He didn’t mind getting wet for a good cause, but Tris’s stubbornness for stubbornness sake didn’t count, as far as he was concerned. 

He handed her an oiled cloak and a wide-brimmed hat, and this time she followed with no complaint as he led her back out the south gate of Winding Circle and down the cliff to the cave mouth they’d met at yesterday.  If anything, she seemed invigorated by the strong winds and the first drops of rain, walking faster than she had yesterday.  They made it to the cave before the storm began in earnest, and he watched as she stared out towards the stormy sea, tilting her hat back to see more clearly. 

Over the roar of the rain and the crash of thunder, he shouted, “Watch the lightning.  Concentrate on it.  Think about it.”  If he could get her consciously used to the feel of lightning, she’d be more likely to recognize it before she channeled it unconsciously. 

“What is it?  Lightning, I mean?” She asked, shouting herself. 

He took advantage of a brief break in the severity of the storm to answer at longer length without shouting himself hoarse, “Power builds in the sky and ground in a storm.  The power in the ground strives to meet that which is in the clouds.  When they connect, lightning shows the path the power takes.  Never forget, all power must go somewhere once there’s enough of it.” The last sentence or so he shouted, as the lightning flashed again and thunder rumbled.  “Thunder is air along the path.  It heats so fast it booms like a drum.”  Waiting till it abated, he continued, more quietly again, “Now that you know what lightning is, concentrate!  Try to feel where the next bolt will strike—feel for the power building up.”

Tris bit her lip, looking nervous.  “What if it decides to come after me?”

It could, he knew. If she had ever wished to die during a storm, if she gave into despair and called for it with all her might, it would have come for her and she would not have survived it.  Already it was coming near her when she was angry, and it would not take much more for it to strike at a person instead of a nearby object, if she was truly enraged.  So far she had done neither, and he blessed her stubbornness for keeping her alive thus far.  But for an untrained mage like her, with power so near to the surface, thought became word became act too quickly.  If she believed it could come after her and she was afraid, it very well could strike her.  And he could not predict if her magic would let her survive it, or if she would be consumed. 

“It won’t,” he lied.

 Or at least, he told himself, he misrepresented her particular risk.  Sandry or Briar would have been at no risk at all, as their magic had no relationship to weather.  Daja was at slightly more risk, working with metals, but only if she were working metal magic at the wrong time and in a very high place.  And regular mages were at no greater risk than the general population.  He continued, speaking in general terms to soothe his conscience, “Magic only attracts lightning when it’s meant too, thank the gods, or those with magic wouldn’t live to be mages.”  True, but shaded.  She was already prone to using her magic to invite lightning where it shouldn’t go. 

To distract both himself and her, he prompted her again, “Where will the next bolt strike?”

She stared out at the storm.  Petulantly, she replied, “I can’t tell.  It just goes any old where.”

The thunder rolled in, but he wasn’t waiting for it to finish.  “Try!” he screamed, “It’s connected to you—feel for it!”  The thunder had died mid-sentence, leaving the rest of his words to ring out over the comparative quiet. 

“Ouch,” she complained, and rubbed the ear nearest him.  He was half tempted to grab hold of her by said ear and shake it, if she didn’t start at least attempting to sense the lightning. 

“Stop dodging the lesson.” He ordered sternly.  Maybe if he tried explaining it to her again, more directly?  “Tris, there’s only so much that I, or anyone, can teach you.  To control the power that makes your life so hard, you must be able to grasp it at any time, in any place.  Let nothing stop you from bearing down, understand?  Or do you want to kill someone, one day, and only find out afterward that you didn’t mean to?”

She looked terrified at his words.  Well, good.  He was terrified on her behalf.  She was running right up to the edge already, and even though he knew most of it was the fault of those who had failed her up to this point, she still would bear the consequences if she failed to control herself.  If she didn’t start taking responsibility for her power, here and now, even before she brought herself to name it as magic, sooner or later he feared she’d hurt herself or others.  And that was a hard path to walk back from, before it was too late. 

Lightning struck in the stillness after he spoke, destroying a tree on top of the peak on Bit Island.  Tris shrieked, her voice near-drowned out by the crash of thunder following.  Even with mage-sight fully engaged he could not tell if the strike had been her reaction to his words, or natural.

“A good thing it only struck a tree, and that tree alone on a rocky peak,” he said, as the thunder ebbed.  “Lightning creates hundreds of wildfires every year, burning acre of forest and croplands.  It kills people and animals, too.  It’s a dangerous toy—keep that in mind.” 

Tris’s grey eyes grew pensive as she thought.  Finally she asked, “If it’s so dangerous, why not push the storms out to sea?  Or better yet, stop them cold?  I mean, I’d miss them, but wouldn’t that be easier for most people?”

A valid question, Niko granted, though the thought of what it would do sent a shiver down his spine.  He’d seen too many die or go mad because they underestimated the power they were channeling until they lost control.  “Oh no!” he replied.  “Easy perhaps for the people, but it would mean death or madness for a mage.”  He paused, letting the thunder growl in the distance.  “Nature has her own power.  Tempting as it is, mages should never tinker with Nature, not in a storm, or in an earthquake, or with the tides.  She may allow it for a time, but eventually she always loses her temper.  The results can be devastating.  Trust me.” He sighed, remembering too many friends lost to just that hubris.  “Even the greatest mages have their limit—and Nature is it.”

Still, she questioned.  “But—aboard ship—those knots.  The captain said mimanders tie the wind in those knots.  Isn’t that meddling with nature?”

And thus, she proved his point.  He smiled, knowing there was absolutely no joy or humor in it.  “Mimanders who specialize in wind spend their lives learning nothing else—those who survive apprenticeship, anyway.  Just one in ten lives to be a journeyman, you know.  As masters, they coax the winds into thinking that the curves of the knot are the open lanes of are where they usually travel.”  Turning to her, he asked, “Are you prepared to spend ten years or more learning to be a simple puff of air?  Learning only that, and nothing else, and that only if you live?”  That should do it, he thought.  Tris had already shown she was voracious in learning, and the thought of restricting her knowledge so much should be enough to make her recoil from the very thought of trying to control Nature when she finally acknowledged her magic.

Indeed, she was staring out at the waves as if enraptured by the sheer immensity and power they held.  The storm was fading off, out into the distance, so they couldn’t go much further into understanding lightning now.  Wanting to settle things on a more positive note, he tweaked her ear gently under her hat.  “Let’s try the exercise again.  Breath in, two, three, four, five, six, seven.  Hold.  Release.  Breath in…”

Fifth Day of the First Week of Goose Moon, Summersea, Emelan

The next day passed more quietly than the previous two, for him at least, though he heard the story of the stolen shakkan from both Rosethorn and Dedicate Crane.  He met the children at Discipline, and they practiced meditation there, after Lark and Rosethorn warded entire cottage.  The afternoon followed, with another lesson in mediation for Tris down at the cave, without the elaborate discussions of the power and limits of magic, for which he was immensely grateful. 

The following day had already been set aside for Lark and Rosethorn’s trip to Summersea, and Niko found himself joining in as well.  He had been meaning to check in with Duke Vedris about this rash of earthquakes anyway, and this trek gave him the chance to do so without further disrupting the children’s studies. 

They were up before dawn, the children yawning as they nestled themselves in between the goods Lark and Rosethorn intended to sell at market.  Niko rode alongside the cart, listening as Lark told Rosethorn a story of her days among the tumblers.  They made it to the market in good time, and he stayed long enough to see the children help unload and place the goods for sale under Rosethorn’s sharp directions.  Once the cart was emptied, he left with Lark to stable the horses.  They parted, Lark to return to market, and Niko to meet with Vedris and his advisors.

The morning was spent in long discussion.  Niko contributed little, overall.  He had had no strong visions since the one that had sent him on to find Briar, but with the continuing pattern of minor earthquakes, it was not hard for one who had studied the patterns of weather to predict that they would continue until the fault in the earth released the rest of its pent-up magical energy.  They were far enough away from the main faultlines that they would likely avoid a strong quake, and Summersea and Winding Circle both were built with strengthening magic to keep most of the buildings and walls intact even in a greater quake.  Vedris and his advisors went on to discuss the storage of food, medical supplies not housed at Winding Circle, and issues with the outlying regions of Emelan.  A brief mention of the ongoing drought in Gold Ridge caught his attention, a flicker of awareness that this might be important, but nothing concrete that he could point to.     Amused, he wished he could explain this to Tris, with her thoughts on magic and mages being so powerful.  Niko knew himself to be one of the most powerful vision mages of his generation, and he still spent most of his time feeling as if he was chasing butterflies made of soap bubbles backwards through a mirror, impressions only gaining certainty when they became inevitable. 

The meeting broke up while he was still distracted with the thought, but Vedris pulled him aside when he would have stood to leave.  “A moment, of your courtesy, Master Niko.  I would like to hear more of my great-niece’s experiences at Winding Circle.  Would you join me in a ride after Midday meal?” he asked, dark eyes serious.  “I have her letters, of course, and messages from her dormitory supervisors but they are such stiff things.  It is hard to tell how she is doing from them.”

Niko smiled.  “I can do you better, and bring you to her today.  She has moved into Discipline, and Dedicates Lark and Rosethorn have brought their boarders with them to the market.  I’m sure that they would be willing to spare you some time to talk to Sandry.” 

Duke Vedris smiled rakishly and agreed, before they were met again by the servants and directed into the hall for their meal.  They spent the meal discussing Winding Circle, with Niko explaining more about Discipline cottage and especially Lark, who would be Sandry’s main teacher.  With the keen insight Niko had come to expect from Vedris, he followed up with further questions about the other children at Discipline, and listened as Niko told the story of the spring’s adventures seeking out each hidden or lost child, and their coming together.  Lark had heard the story of Sandry’s defense of Daja at the main dining hall, and had shared it with both Niko and Rosethorn.  When Niko relayed it to Vedris, the Duke laughed heartily at the line, “start lapping, kitty!”

“She has her mother’s temper there.  But a stronger sense of justice than either of her parents.  My nephew and his wife were rather selfish and oblivious creatures, for all that I loved them.” He said, his voice soft and reflective.  “If she keeps that kindness and that justice, she will be a much better noble than the general run.  A good thing too, if she is as strong a mage as you think.” 

Niko nodded.  “A very strong mage, as far as I can see, and Lark concurs.  She will always have power.  Lark will be good for her, will nurture gentleness and a kind strength.  If I do half so well with Tris, I will be glad.”

Vedris laughed.  “If Tris is all you say, you’ll have your work cut out.  I know the type, and it’s the intelligent and stubborn ones that will make you sweat.  I drove many of my teachers to the brink when I was young, for the same reason!”

Niko winced at the thought.  Vedris was closer to the mark than he wanted to admit, with that.  They let the servants enter the room to clean the remains from their meal, and Vedris excused himself briefly to change into riding boots.

They rode out, chatting more idly now, on a book both of them had read over the winter months while they followed the road down from the duke’s castle down through the town.  They were only a few streets away from the market square when the provost guards met them with a story of a children’s fight escalating into unscheduled magic and accusations of attacks. 

Niko didn’t have to guess which children would be at the center of this.  He sighed as Vedris raised a brow in his direction, and they hastened their pace.  They rode into the square as Rosethorn’s voice rose above the crowd, “Maybe we need a truthsayer.  Question the boys and our charges, to get the whole story.”

Duke Vedris took that as his cue, with a wry glance at Niko.  “I’m sure Master Niko would act as truthsayer.  That is part of your skills, isn’t it, Niko?” 

Their entrance stopped at least some of the surging tension in the crowd, as the adults and children present bowed before their duke.  Off to one side, Niko heard Briar whisper, “Who’s the Bag?”

 Niko ignored Sandry’s response to Briar as he replied to the Duke, “I often work as a truthsayer, your grace.  If it will simplify things, I can do so here.”  He rode over to where Tris was sitting in Lark’s cart, bleeding from a cut on her forehead, white and shaking from her exertion.  He leaned over, brushing a hand against her cheek in an attempt to reassure her.  Rather than shrugging him off as she had done on previous occasions, she grabbed hold of his hand and clung.  He squeezed back, hoping some of his support would register. 

One of the women present interrupted then, calling out, “Your grace!  My boy was attacked with magic!  Look at him!

Another spoke up as well, “Look at our sons!  They too were attacked!”

A Trader called out, “One of them called up a waterspout.  What if it had turned on ships?  It nearly attacked the market.  You can see where it dug cobbles from the street.” 

At that Niko was somewhat distracted from Tris’s distress, as he looked to where the Trader was pointing.  Sure enough, several cobbles were missing from the street, and the surrounding cobbles were scoured clean.  A waterspout?  Tris’s first deliberate attempt at magic and she produced a waterspout?  How did she even manage that? 

Sandry intervened then, passing a muddy dog over to Briar and standing with the grace of a queen.  “Your grace, may I have leave to speak?  It is my right.”  Her voice was calm and rang out over the crowd like a bell, even with her youth.  Her parents might have spent more time traveling than raising her, but no one could quibble with the training she had received on speaking to nobility.

Duke Vedris leaned forward over his saddle horn, in what many present might read as a bow if they were paying attention.  “As one accused, you may speak, Lady Sandrilene fa Toren.  Proceed.”

Niko was amused to hear the first woman hissing a question to her son, a particularly sulky young man in a green tunic.  His reply was perfectly audible, “She bit me, Ma!  And she’s dressed like normal folk!” 

Sandry remained poised and quiet until the murmuring died away before she continued, “Your grace, my friends and I were visiting the market when I heard an animal cry.  Six boys were hurting it, in an alley back there.”  She pointed to one side, where the fight must have begun.  Her face had paled with so much attention fixed on her, but Niko could see no other sign of anxiety on her, unlike Tris, who was still trembling next to him.  “If you assign blame for the fight, give it to me, please.  I attacked them.  My friends came to help me—just as the boys’ friends came to help them.  And I still think they were very, very wrong to harm a helpless animal.”

Duke Vedris was controlling his expression, but Niko could read the amusement in his eyes and the twitch of a lip.  He was proud of his great-niece, both for her speech and for her care for the helpless.  No trace of his amusement showed in his voice, though, as he questioned, “Did you inflict all these injuries, Lady Sandrilene? 

Daja rose then, leaning on her staff wearily as she interrupted, “Some of that was me, your grace.” 

The Trader present glanced at Daja and then deliberately turned away from her, muttering, “Trangshi,” under his breath.  Sandry looked away from Vedris for a moment to glare at the Trader, before she turned back to her uncle. 

Daja continued, undeterred.  “San-Lady Sandry is saati—a true friend.  They knocked her down, and I went after them. 

Briar stood then, passing the dog back to Sandry.  Niko noted with amusement that the squirming dog did detract from her dignified posture, as Briar spoke up.  “Don’t be greedy.  Some of those poor sniffer’s ouches are mine, your worship, sir.”

Duke Vedris nodded briefly at Daja and Briar, but turned to the townspeople gathered.  “But this is a quarrel among children,” he said, the question of why they were bringing it to him implied.  

“There was magic!” the Trader cried.  “A waterspout attacked the boys!”

Niko felt Tris move beside him as she lurched to a stand, wobbling slightly.  “It was an accident!” she cried.  “I meant to dump water on them, and only water!”  She stopped, swallowing, flushing dark red.  “I lifted it out of the sea, and—someone spun me around.”  She dropped his hand, wiping at her face with her sleeve.  “When I looked again, the water was spinning.  I couldn’t—it got away from me!” 

Niko saw Vedris glance briefly at Tris.  He was a compassionate man, and Niko had told him her story earlier.  Vedris knew as well as Niko that this was Tris’s first attempt to do magic herself, and the significance that she had done it to protect the other children. 

Vedris nodded at him, and then spoke to the crowd, in the same clear and quiet tone that Sandry had used to such effect earlier.  “Two cases are before me.  In the matter of the injuries done to these youths, the healer’s bills shall come to me, to be paid by funds held in trust for these young people.  But—those bills must be for legitimate wounds, and they must be sworn to before a truthsayer.”

Briar muttered something to Daja, and she nodded briefly. 

Vedris folded his hands on the saddle horn, then continued, his voice sterner.  “There is also the matter of cruelty to an animal.  The law is plain.  Here in Emelan, where the Living Circle is honored,” and at these words Vedris nodded to Lark and Rosethorn, who bowed in return, “we no more harm animals for sport than we do human beings.  The fine, for those who have forgotten, is twenty silver astrels.” 

Vedris glance around the crowd, his gaze slowing as he looked at the boy in the green tunic in particular, and at some of the other boys showing more visible injuries.  “Those who wish repayment for the healer’s fees will tell the truthsayers if they are also liable for damages to the animal.  If they are, the fee for that must be paid first.  All parties will pay the truthsayer’s fee.”

The crowd was silenced for a moment.  Few present could afford either fee leveled, and they knew it well.  It was still scrupulously fair, for if any of the boys had been truly innocent and severely injured they had a chance at reparations.  But Niko doubted any of them or their parents would want to risk it. 

Indeed, the mother of the sulky boy was the first to flinch and walk away, rejecting the need for a truthsayer or a healer.  Many others followed her lead, leaving only the Trader and a few merchants to confront the children and Duke Vedris.   

To those merchants, as well as to the children, Vedris then spoke, “Penalties for the unlicensed use of magic are high.  This must also be addressed.” 

Around the market, Niko saw heads nodding.  This was his cue.  “Your grace, if I may,” he started.  “Trisana did not know she is a mage.  The law does make allowance for the,” he stuttered then, trying to find the right words to convince the crowd and settled on, “accidents caused by young mages, without proper teaching.”

“Poppycock!” shouted a baker.  “How could she not know?  This was a ship-killer, not milk curdling in the churn!”

A woman spoke up from the crowd as well, “If she’s ignorant of it, why is she with Lark and Rosethorn?  Everyone knows the mageborn are placed in their care?”

Niko winced as the children startled and looked at one another.  Everyone in Summersea and Winding Circle knew, of course, but none of the children knew the reputation of Discipline yet, something that had worked in their favor while they were letting the children settle in.  He should have advised that someone else make Lark and Rosethorn’s run in to market until they had addressed this. 

Briar muttered something to Daja, but again, Niko was too far away to hear clearly.  Beside him, Tris was growing more agitated with each call out from the crowd.  Finally, she shouted out, “My kinfolk told me I was crazy!”  Her voice cracked under the strain.  “The tester said I had no magic, and they got rid of me!” 

Lark ignored the crowd for a moment, climbing into the cart beside Tris and cradling her against her side.  Turning to Vedris, she spoke, “She’s exhausted.  She needs food, and she needs to go to bed.  If you mean to punish her, may we wait until she knows what’s happening?”

Her soft-spoken words seemed to spark compassion amidst the crowd, Niko noted.  Several wandered away, and even the more hostile seemed to start for a moment, as if they were only realizing now that their anger was directed towards a ten-year-old child. 

Duke Vedris capitalized on this, turning towards the three remaining merchants.  “Are you satisfied?” he asked.  Perhaps only Niko caught the edge to his voice indicating that the duke would not accept much more in the way of a complaint. 

The goldsmith spoke then, “Until we hear of another such incident.  She’s a danger to everyone as she is.”

Niko could not argue with that, much though he might want to.  It seemed Vedris agreed, as he continued, “And if I confine her to Winding Circle until Master Niko says she has control over her power?  Is that agreeable?”

The baker stepped back in, “If they leave the city as soon as possible, I will be satisfied.” He said, while the goldsmith nodded beside him.  The Trader walked away, his agreement implied, Niko guessed. 

Duke Vedris spoke briefly with Rosethorn about the dog, wrapping up that business.  Tris had collapsed completely against Lark’s side, and seemed oblivious to any further conversation.  Indeed, she said nothing as they left the market square, and it was only with Lark’s encouragement that she ate her supper at the eating-house Vedris found for them.  When supper was ended and the streets cleared of the worst of the traffic, she climbed into the back of the cart again, and fell asleep under a blanket donated by a compassionate guardsman.  Niko rode beside the cart again, keeping watch over her as Vedris and Sandry talked.

They were still a ways out from Winding Circle when Tris woke, her voice tight with anxiety as she called out, “I’m going to be sick!”

She lurched to her feet, clinging to the side of the wagon, where Briar moved to steady her.  Niko rode closer.  It was hard to see in the deepening darkness, but her face looked paler than normal.  “Tris?” he asked.  “What is it?”

She didn’t answer for a moment, and then she gasped.  “A wave—there’s a wave in the ground!  Tide’s coming in!”

A wave in the ground?  Niko puzzled at the thought, barely hearing the Duke’s rejection of the idea.  Sandry chimed in, “I feel dizzy.”

Lark was the next to speak, brushing her hair back as she sat up, “Are we on a boat?” she asked, right before the tremor hit. 

The ground beneath them lurched, the cart shuddering.  Niko saw several of the guardsmen stagger, and his own horse was trembling beneath him, the whites visible all around his eyes. 

“Earthquake summer,” a guardsman muttered, then traced the god’s circle over his chest. 

“No earthquakes for me,” Tris replied, wiping sweat from her face.  Now that the tremor was past she sounded more stable herself.  “I’ve had enough fun so far, thanks all the same,” she continued wryly. 

That broke the tension, and the guards laughed, while their sergeant asked if she could pass along any more warnings if she got them. 

Niko smiled thinly.  He echoed Tris’s sentiments.  The day had been exhausting enough without any further earthquake activity to add to the confusion.

Still, it seemed to have woken up all of the children, and they stayed alert for the rest of the journey into Winding Circle.  Hoping to avoid discussions until the next day, when they were all better rested, Niko remained mounted as they dropped the children off at Discipline.  He could follow Lark to the stables, and from there retire easily enough to his own rooms for the night. 

A comment from Tris put an end to those plans, as she whispered to Sandry, “I wish we could talk to him.”

Sandry clearly agreed, for she called to him, “Niko?  Might we—the four of us and you—have a word?”

He knew he’d already lost the battle.  Knew it before Sandry asked, because if Tris was finally ready to hear the truth it was his duty to tell it to her.  Still, he had to give them a chance to rest on it first.  “Can’t it wait until tomorrow?” he asked. 

Daja spoke then, her voice firm.  “Now is better.”

Lark grinned at him, “Time to face the music,” she teased. 

At that he gave up, and dismounted properly.  Before he could ask Lark to take his horse as well, Rosethorn had the bridle in her hands.  Her grin was wickeder than Lark’s as she spoke, “I believe I’ll take your horse to the stables.  Since you’re staying here with the kids.” 

And how long had it taken her to pick up on that bit of thieve's cant from Briar?  She’d only known him four days now.  “Coward,” he muttered, before he turned to enter the cottage, the children and their new dog following after. 

He called a magelight and set it to fill the center lamp of the main room as he took a seat.  The children lined up facing him, as if they were going to call him to accounts.  He suppressed his first instinct to launch into the full story.  If he did that he’d only tell them what he considered important to know, not what they wanted and needed to hear.  Instead, he gave them an invitation to ask the questions, “You have something to say to me?”

He had almost expected Sandry to be the first to speak, as she was fast proving herself to be the spokeswoman for their group.  Instead, it was Tris who asked the first question, her voice beginning to break with exhaustion and the pent-up emotions of the day, “Why didn’t you tell us?  If you’d even hinted…”

He cut her off there.  “You, my dear, were adamant that you had no magic.  I think that it was the only way that you could bear your family turning you out, if you thought that there was something dreadful and alien that was wrong with you.”  He struggled to keep his face clear of any emotion.  He was still too angry for words with all of Tris’s family, and it had taken great control and meditation these past few days to keep him from seeking one or more of them out to deliver some sort of justice for their role in damaging his young charge.  “I feared that if you learned the truth too soon you would reject it, and keep rejecting it.”  And that, he continued silently, would have been far too dangerous for any of us to handle. 

Daja broke in then, disrupting the darker path his thoughts were treading.  “What about me?  And Sandry, and Briar?  Nobody told us, either.”

He sighed, and tried to put more of the compassion he was feeling into his tone.  This would have been much easier in the light of day.  “All four of you have endured a very difficult year, in one way or another,” he began.  “My reasoning was the same as it was for Tris; I preferred that you grow into knowing your power, instead of having it thrust on you, to keep you from damaging your spirits any more that they’ve been.”  He paused for a moment, sweeping his gaze across all four of them, begging them to understand that which would be hard for adults three times their age.  “Were you all that surprised to hear it today?” he asked. 

“Yes,” growled Briar, an automatic rejection.  But his face seemed uncertain as he said it, as if he were re-examining past memories and seeing the hints slot into place. 

Daja looked down at her hands, and then looked up at him and asked, “Why didn’t our people know?  Why didn’t the mimanders pick me out?”

“Why didn’t that magic tester know?”  Tris interjected, as she slumped down to the floor and cuddled the dog up into her lap.  Staring at the muddy fur she continued, “He was supposed to be the best in all Capchen.”  Her voice had lost most of its aggression, and now she sounded more tired than anything else.

“I think I understand a little.” Sandry interjected.  “We don’t do things like normal mages, do we?  None of us made our toys move when we were small, I bet.  Or made pictures for people to see in a fire, or made things glow?”  She looked around at the other children as she spoke, reasoning it out as she went.  “Those are the usual mageborn things.  I never did any of them.”

Briar shook his head, and Daja answered aloud, “We’re tested for it when we turn four.  They found no magic in me.”

Niko spoke then, wanting to answer the unspoken question they were all raising.  “It isn’t their fault,” he said, the corollary it isn’t your fault either going unstated, but implied.  “Even I had to look very deeply to see the power that’s in each of you, and my specialty is finding things—and people—that are hidden.  That’s why I brought you here instead of to the university.  There are more mages in Winding Circle whose power speaks through workaday things, plain things, as yours does.”

Tris frowned, and combed her fingers through the dog’s curls.  “So our power isn’t that big or important,” she grumbled. 

…A girl who could control lightning and sense an earthquake approaching thought her magic less big or important than an ordinary mage’s cantrips?  Niko sighed.  “It is greater than you think.  There is weather, or threadcraft, or metalwork, or growing plants,” and he pointed to each in turn as he spoke, “everywhere in the world.  People cannot live without any of these things.  They may not like it, but they can live without the products of traditional magery, such as love potions or seeing the future.”

Daja spoke up softly, “Kirel said Frostpine might be the greatest smith-mage in the world.  That sounds important to me.”

Niko nodded, “It is—and Frostpine has searched for twenty long years for a student who shares his gift.”  He shifted.  “Any more questions?”

None of the children spoke, their exhaustion finally overwhelming their curiosity.  “Then I will see you in the morning,” he continued, pushing himself up to a stand.  “It’s time for you to get to work, now that you know what we’re dealing with.” 

He made his way down the path towards the main building, spotting Rosethorn and Lark on their way back to Discipline. 

At least, he thought, they were past the worst of it.  Now that the children knew what they were, it would be simpler to explain their magic and give them all a thorough grounding.  The rest of their training would flow more normally, leaving the excitement of the past behind them.  Tris in particular, once she had her meditation well in hand, could be set to a more organized field of study with the academics and theory behind weather leading her as much as her own instinctive talent would. 

Yes, things would go much smoother from this point onward.  And even the earthquakes could be instructive, as long as they stayed these more minor tremors. 

Midsummer’s Eve, Willow Moon, Winding Circle Temple, Emelan

The weeks after Tris learned of her magic were far easier in many ways, Niko knew.  Rather than fighting against him when it came to meditation, she sank into it, learning to sense her power and its feel more quickly than the other children at Discipline did.  The books he found for her, on weather patterns and their causes, she devoured, drinking up the new knowledge like thirsty soil absorbing the rain. 

In truth, each of the children, once they had accepted their powers, grew by leaps and bounds.  Evenings at Discipline, watching as the children practices spinning or worked on their crafts with their teachers, became truly pleasant.  Niko considered himself more self-contained and comfortable being alone than many mages were, but he found himself regretting it when duties made him absent himself from the post-dinner gatherings.  When Lark took a week of evenings to teach the children tumbling tricks and Tris joined Sandry in foregoing skirts after the tenth time she tangled herself in them, Niko found he had to bite his tongue and avoid looking at Rosethorn, as her wicked grin would set him off laughing.  To think, his proper merchant-girl of a student playing in the grass with a noble-lady, a thief, and a Trader! 

***

He woke at dawn on Midsummer’s Eve, tense and worried without reason.  He fumbled out of bed and pulled on the nearest set of robes before reaching for his scrying basin.  Normally he could scry without its aid, but it did bring clarity, and the nagging sense he had of impending doom told him he would need more than his normal cantrips.

Splashing water from the ewer next to his washstand into the scrying bowl, he muttered the focusing spells under his breath, forcing himself to calm when every instinct was telling him to make haste.  The water quivered, then went still, before blazing with silver light as he stared beyond its depths and into his mage-vision.

Tris at the beach, waves lapping at her feet—no, gone still, then beginning to churn.  A rock disintegrating at a touch—Little Bear barking anxiously—a breath, then an explosion of sound and light as the sea roared into a giant wave…

Niko staggered for a moment as he dragged himself from the vision.  That stupid, reckless, impossible girl!

He clattered down the stairs and raced towards the south gates of the temple.  He stopped only when he nearly ran into Kirel, Frostpine’s blacksmith apprentice.  The path down to the beach was steep, and would be difficult to climb back up carrying Tris if he caught her in time.  Ruthlessly, he suppressed the part of his mind that pointed out it would not be any easier carrying her back if he was not in time.  He ordered Kirel to follow, not bothering to explain the details.  Frostpine had trained him well, Kirel knew the times when he needed to listen and obey first, and find out later what the consequences were.  Niko found himself regretting that Tris had evidently not learned that lesson the way that he had hoped she would. 

He scrambled down the path, catching himself on the rock of the cliff-face on more than one occasion.  Kirel followed afterwards, more cautiously, and hence, slower.  Niko was most of the way down the path when he caught sight of Tris. 

He thought his heart had stopped for a moment when he saw her on the beach, slumped down atop a small boulder.  She was so still, her hair garishly bright against pallid skin.  His knees gave out as he reached her body, and he couldn’t stop his hand from shaking as he reached to feel for a pulse, staring for her chest to rise and fall.  Seconds stretched on into agonizing eons before he felt a soft flutter beneath his fingers, saw her take a slow breath.  He let out his own held breath in a shuddering gasp.  She’d let go of the power, then, before the backlash hit.  It was the only thing that could have saved her life, interfering with the tides like that.

Letting go of the fear that had gripped him since the first moment he had seen her in his scrying bowl, he shook for a moment.  Beneath the fear, he was furious.  He had warned her.  Warned her from the first that magic was powerful and dangerous.  Warned her that nature had power of its own, beyond what any mage, no matter how strong they were, could handle.  How dare she nearly kill herself trying to prove her power! 

He stood there, pulling himself in and concentrating on his breathing.  He could not let himself react in his anger, much though he might like to.  Kirel had reached him on the beach by the time he had pulled himself back under control. 

He waved Kirel back for a moment.  Tris was stirring, and he didn’t think she would do well being reprimanded in front of anyone, no matter how tempted he was to start shouting loud enough for the entire Temple to hear. 

Her eyes fluttered open for a moment, and Niko could see the moment she registered who it was that she was looking at.  “Uh-oh,” she murmured, and closed her eyes again, as if she hoped he would leave if she wasn’t looking at him. 

Biting back the first two replies that came to mind, he said, “Now you know why only one in ten Trader windmages lives to adulthood.” 

She squirmed then, under his gaze, and tried to push herself up.  The boulder she had been sitting on gave, then shattered beneath her, spilling her onto her back.  Ah, so she’d been smart enough to dump at least some of the power out, rather than holding on to all of it.  He would consider himself grateful that she’d given at least that much thought to her own survival. 

“What happened to my rock?” she asked, still sounding only half aware of where she was.  “It’s all to pieces.”

“It’s where you placed what you took from the tides, isn’t it?” he asked in return.

She nodded, still looking confused. 

He explained.  “You put in more than the stone can hold.  It’s dissolving.”  He looked down at her.  Now that the fear and rage were subsiding, it was easier to think beyond the moment.  He should have known not to believe that any mage-child would be easy to teach, and especially not her.  All mages had to learn the painful way at least once.  Hopefully, she had learned this lesson for good.  Still, better to reinforce the idea when the lesson was still searing into her brain.  “Now, let me ask—have you had a lesson today?”

“You look very tall from down here,” she said.  He couldn’t pull back the frown at that piece of inanity. She continued, quickly, “When my teacher tells me it’s a bad idea to try and fight the power of nature, I should listen.”

He prayed that would be enough.  Reaching down, he took her hands in his and helped her pull to a stand.  He felt her wobble as he nodded Kirel forward.  “I don’t know that I can walk,” she mumbled, looking more shame-faced at that than at her near-death.

“I know very well that you can’t,” he replied.  “Your luck is in.  The moment I knew you were in trouble, I recruited a friend.”

“Hullo,” Kirel said, walking up to the both of them.  From the way Tris started, then swayed at the motion, she had not seen him until then.  “You must be Daja’s friend—the crochety one.”  He smiled as he knelt and lifted her gently into a stable hold over his shoulder while Niko watched. 

“This is so humiliating,” Tris grumbled.  Niko bit back a smile.  She had created her own punishment, he knew, in exhausting herself and her mage-powers like this, so he would not inflict much more on her for the sake of punishment.  But he could not help but be glad that she would learn so thoroughly the consequences of her actions, even in something as simple as being carried back to Discipline.

“Let’s go,” he said instead, and lead the way back up the path. 

He had a strong suspicion that Tris would continue surprising him, for as long as he would teach her.  She was too creative, intelligent, and stubborn for her to not challenge him, going forward.  But hopefully she would carry the memory of this moment forward for as long as he would.  Hopefully know she would respect both the power and the limits of the magic she possessed. 

He would give her this: the next several years looked to be far more interesting and challenging than he had planned.  And he had a strong suspicion that there was far more that she would be teaching him, in the years to come. 

If she didn’t give him a heart attack with another one of these stunts, it might even be fun.