It was her own fault, Cara thought, for teaching Thing to read so she wouldn't have the illiterate little beast trailing after her demanding to be read to. That had been when Thing was three and Cara was seven. Now Thing was seven herself and she read everything. She'd brought a pile of books from school, half as high as she was, for the spring holiday, but she'd probably be through all of it in two days.
"Hyperlexic little beast," Cara said.
"What's hypaplexic mean?"
"Hy-per-lex-ic. 'Hyper' means 'more than' and 'lex' means 'words' or 'reading'. That you read all the time. Harder books than most people your age read."
Thing tasted the word on her tongue and beamed. "Yes! Teacher let me take the whole pile home when I couldn't choose! All new books!"
Cara went through the pile. "Ooh, the Roman Soldier's Handbook, that's fun. And the Children's Atlas of World History."
"Here's a book about the stars!" Thing said. "Can I borrow your binoculars?"
"If Mum and Dad let you go outside at night, sure. Or I'll go with you if you can't go on your own. I like the stars too."
"Cool!" Thing put some fiction aside and picked up a small thick red book. "Hey, The Wizard's Manual. Is that like Dad's manual? Or Mum's except that she's got a laptop."
"I think it's some kind of -- oh fuck."
"Mum says not to swear."
Cara took a deep breath. "Thing," she said. "No, this calls for real names. Lisa. Can you read the first page?"
She took that as a request, of course. "'In Life's name and for Life's sake, I ass-ert--' what's that?"
"Assert. Say that something is true. You can read it?"
"Sure. There are some hard words in it though."
"Listen, Lisa, you should only read this aloud when you're sure you really mean every word of it. Once you've said it there's no turning back."
"Can you tell me what the hard words mean? Or I won't know to mean them."
In the house of a wizard couple the existence of the manual wasn't a secret. Cara knew enough not to let wizardry get out of the house. But the Speech was all curls and whorls and she'd never been able to read one word of it.
Mum and Dad had always been convinced that it was a question of when rather than whether Cara would get offered wizardry. But Lisa? She was only seven, and technically she'd been offered wizardry first. Cara had heard about the five-year-old girl who'd stopped the Lone Power from putting the stars out and died of it. Did the universe need her little sister for a thing like that?
"Look," she said, "let's go over all the hard words together, and when we decide that we mean it we'll read the whole thing."
"Are we going to be wizards then?"
"Yes," Cara said, "after we read the Oath and mean it, we'll be wizards. I assert that. The first thing we'll do as wizards is going to be really difficult and dangerous, though, so we'll have to be clever and brave."
"You and me together?"
"I think so. We found the book together." They'd probably have a manual each later, if the Powers really wanted both of them to be wizards.
Lisa nodded. "I can be clever and brave when you're with me."
When they understood all the words it was dark outside, with a clear starry sky, and there was a plate full of sandwiches standing beside them. Did Mum know what they were doing? "I'm hungry!" Lisa said. Cara's stomach answered, and they giggled and ate all the food.
They went into the garden with Cara's phone for light, but they didn't need it: the letters themselves were glowing. They'd been working on it so much that even Lisa found it easy: "In Life's name and for Life's sake, I assert that I will employ the Art which is its gift in Life's service alone..."
The stars shone a little brighter.