Carlie came running into the house, fresh from the library, a stack of books almost too large for her still short arms crushed against her chest. Kit entered the house a beat behind, just as their six year old released the stack of books from her grasp to slither all over, and some of them off, the coffee table.
“I’ve got some things to look into,” he said, dropping a peck on NIta’s cheek and half walking, half jogging toward the study, manual tucked under one arm.
Carlie sorted through her stack of books and brought one to Nita. It was a big, flat volume with a cover done in beautiful water colors, blue and green splashed with gold. She read the title automatically, “Till Universe’s End,” she read. In the Speech. Carlie had picked out a picture book from the local library that was titled in gold lettering with the intricately curling characters of the Speech.
“Read it to me, please?” Their only child, at least so far, Carlie was calmer, more graceful, and more mature than either of them had any right to expect. Six going on thirty, they sometimes kidded. And unlike most human children her age, she had walked through Crossings with her parents to visit family and friends on a dozen worlds, watched wizardly workings from the safety of a Pack and Play, and had a disconcerting tendency to talk to animals and get them to talk back.
“In a minute, honey,” she said. “Mommy would like to look at your book.”
She opened the book to the first page. “The Battle of the Trees,” was the title. Still in the Speech.
She flipped to the next. “A Most Important Question.”
“Mommy needs to look at her Manual,” she told Carlie. “Look at the pictures for a minute, OK?”
The Manual, sensitive to the information she wanted to know, opened obediently to “Outcomes of Recent Ordeals, Earth and Environs.”
Down the list. Successes and failures, wins and losses, each loss the loss of an adolescent or, recently, a child. She looked more closely. Just in the past couple of months, three children lost, years younger than human children were when they were usually offered wizardry. One had been barely eight years old.
The Powers That Be would not call children so young unless some great threat were approaching, a threat that needed the tremendous power and flexibility of the youngest children with the potential to succeed. Like Carlie.
She realized then, the beautiful picture book, the writing in the Speech. Wizardry almost always skipped generations, to lighten the burden any one person would have to carry. So The Powers That Be were not merely calling her child. They were calling her. It was a sacrifice too great for them to test, to risk her child without her explicit consent. Her child would only be chosen if she made the offer herself.
Her heart raced.
“Mommy, are you okay?”
She’s your only child, a darker power whispered. How dare they ask so much when you have lost so much already?
Funny how those planted doubts had just made her decision easier. “Come here, Carlie, sit on my lap. Do you remember how I told you the story of the Battle of the Trees? Well, it’s here in this book.”
“Oh,” Carlie breathed.
It was the short version, of course, and beautifully illustrated in watercolors that moved subtly as she read. Carlie was entranced, but not surprised, she had seen magical books before after all. Once begun, the storybook portion lasted several pages, but eventually she turned to the page headed with “A Most Important Question.”
Nita read, “Being a wizard is hard, and scary, and dangerous. It is also interesting and fun. You will have to work hard. You will have to be brave. You will have to love this world with your whole heart.”
She paused, looking at her daughter’s face, the baby soft curve of her cheek framed by her plaited hair, the teeth capturing her bottom lip the way it did when she was deep in thought. “If you want to learn how to be a wizard, turn the page.”
Nita waited. Five seconds. Ten. “Is this something you want, Carlie?”
There was another hundred year pause. “Is it okay?” Carlie asked.
Nita nodded. Carlie turned the page, slowly. The Oath appeared on the following page, printed in gold against deep blue. “I can’t read all the words,” the kindergartener said.
“I’ll read it to you first, then you read. I can help you with the hard words. How does that sound?”
Carlie nodded. She settled herself more comfortably on her mother’s lap. Nita read the whole Oath through, aloud. She could feel the universe closing around them, attending to their words.
One quick, decisive nod. Carlie’s finger moved over the letters as she read, a light soprano lilt in her voice. “In Life’s name, and for Life’s sake…”