Apprentice Adramal washed the blood from her hands and stood up. The spell fussed around her as it dissipated, white tendrils retreating like mist before the sun. The young farmer she’d just healed stared at his forearm, poking at where the gash from the ploughshare had been.
"A miracle," he whispered. "Thank you."
Adramal tutted. "We don’t do miracles here. Only magic." She dipped a cloth in the water bowl and handed it to him. "Clean yourself, then rest for about a watch." She gestured to the row of mattresses at the far end of the infirmary, where several of the morning’s patients were recuperating. "After that, you can go home."
He sat up, looking ready to wrestle a bear as he scrubbed his arm. "I feel fine. My wife will be waiting for me."
Adramal shook her head. Most patients were like this the first time they’d been healed by a wizard. "You feel fine now. The spell uses some of your reserves of strength to speed the healing." She must’ve drawn out more than she needed. Judging the right amount was a skill she still needed to master. "That’s what’s rushing around your body at the moment. It’ll wear off soon, and you’ll probably fall asleep."
"Ah. Wouldn’t want that to happen on the way home, would I?"
"No." She covered her mouth to hide a yawn - the spell had taken a good deal of her own strength too. "Would you excuse me, please? I have a class to go to. If you need anything, just ask any of the other apprentices."
Adramal walked past the rows of beds towards the door. The infirmary was quiet - only about a third of the places were occupied. A faint white haze hung over the scene - the remnants of all the spells that had been cast here today. The teachers said it was a sign of her skill that she could sometimes see magic without needing a spell of her own to sense it, but Adramal found it annoying, like someone dropping a veil over her face at random intervals.
At the door, Adramal met Teshan, one of the teachers and a member of the Academy’s Council. She was a kindly old woman, in charge of the healing classes, and the closest thing Adramal had to a favourite among the staff. Adramal smiled and nodded to her, and stood aside to let her enter.
Teshan didn’t smile back. "I was looking for you. Would you come with me, please?" She strode across the square towards the side where the teachers’ houses stood.
"What’s this about, Lady?" Adramal asked as she followed.
"A private matter," Teshan said without looking back.
At those words, something - Adramal tried not to think of it as someone - stirred at the bottom of her mind. I don’t like the sound of that, it said. The thing resembled a girl of about eight, tousle-haired and barefoot. It wore a grubby dress and clutched a crude wooden doll. Adramal had no idea what the creature really was, but its appearance made it hard not to think of it as "she." She had wandered uninvited into Adramal’s mind when Adramal was eight, which perhaps accounted for her apparent age. She deflected or refused to answer questions about herself, giving only a name - Lelsarin. She had told Adramal not to tell anyone else about her. Since she seemed not to be harmful, and was occasionally useful, Adramal respected her wishes.
I doubt it’s anything you need to worry about, Adramal replied. Probably another of the village girls has found out the hard way how babies are made.
Teshan always smiles when she sees you.
You think I’ve broken a rule, then?
Maybe. What day is it?
Sujas. Lelsarin frequently claimed not to know what day or even what fortnight it was, saying she preferred sleep to observing the details of Adramal’s life. And yet she often spoke in response to something Adramal had just witnessed, suggesting that she observed a good deal more than she admitted.
Then in that case, no, said Lelsarin. Sujas’ Day is Galbreth’s turn to be punished for breaking rules no one told him about.
Very funny. Go back to sleep.
They passed Teshan’s house and stopped outside the one Adramal shared with her father. The interior was dark - Father would be teaching the second-year apprentices this morning. Teshan gestured for Adramal to enter. She did, wondering if this might be some complicated trap. But no - Teshan was a strong enough wizard to have no need of subterfuge if she wanted to restrain or punish an apprentice.
"Make light for us, please," said Teshan as she came in.
Adramal took a deep breath and sought a calm place within her mind. Familiar thoughts came together, interlocking like the pieces of a puzzle. Magic could not be forced to obey, only guided in the right direction. She’d taken a long time to learn that, as all apprentices did - doing without trying, a teacher had called it. Father, of course, had expected her to come into the Academy already knowing most of what they taught in the first couple of years, as if knowledge could be inherited. The spell’s final thought clicked into place, and a fist-sized ball of white light appeared at Adramal’s shoulder.
Teshan sat down, as if this was her house, and Adramal merely a guest. She indicated the other chair - the one Father normally sat in. Reluctantly, Adramal pulled it out from the table. It had moulded itself to his shape over the years, and felt as though it was trying to shrug her off.
"I want to talk to you about your future at the Academy," said Teshan.
Adramal’s stomach clenched. "My future?" she croaked, surprised at how dry her mouth had suddenly become.
Teshan leaned over to pat Adramal’s hand. "It’s nothing like that. Well - perhaps it is. It’s about your father. It’s no secret you don’t get on with him."
Adramal relaxed. "That’s like calling snow a bit cool."
Teshan gave a little smile. "Several of the Council, myself included, were opposed to your becoming an apprentice here."
"‘Just because she’s a wizard’s daughter doesn’t mean she’ll be a good wizard herself,’" Adramal said, repeating the words Father had relayed to her after his first failure at getting her admitted at the age of nine. Even now, a few apprentices thought she hadn’t earned her place.
Teshan nodded, and a shadow crossed her face. "We were wrong about that. But we think his desire to make you the kind of wizard he wants is preventing your being the best wizard you can be."
"My apprenticeship will be over in two years, and then I can do whatever I want." She’d considered going east or south to find a village that needed a healer, though she had a nasty suspicion Father would insist she stay here and marry the strongest male apprentice.
"Someone in Kyer Altamar has established another school for wizards."
Adramal sat back, blinking. "They have?" Almost by definition, there was only one. Another would be like a second sun.
"The Council has decided to send you there." She took a piece of paper from an inside pocket, folded and sealed. "This is a letter of introduction for you to present to their Council."
"Oh." Adramal folded her arms. Fear and hope rolled over her, like clouds gathering before a storm. Their confused tangle wrapped around the spell in her mind, pushing and pulling it apart. Her light went out. As she calmed herself to cast the spell again, Teshan made a light of her own.
Teshan leaned forward, a concerned look on her face. "Don’t you have anything to say? I thought you’d be pleased."
"I..." Adramal toyed with a lock of her hair. Black, like Father’s. Why did she have to look so much like him? "I suppose I am, it’s just... unexpected. And... Kyer Altamar. It’ll take two seasons just to get there."
"More like two fortnights," said Teshan. "A traders’ caravan will pass through here later today. You can ride with them to the Aglos, and then a barge will take you downstream to the city. They’ll be glad to have a wizard with them, especially one as good at healing as you."
"Don’t I get any say in the matter?"
"No," Teshan said with a wry grin. "You and your father are a problem that’s vexed the Council ever since you started here. It seemed the only solution was to separate you, but that wasn’t possible. Now it is, and we’re not going to let either of you get in the way."
"I see. Somehow I don’t think I’m the one you’ll have to convince."
As if on cue, a voice within Adramal’s mind shouted her name. Moments later, she heard someone running towards the house. The footsteps stopped, and Father stood in the doorway, leaning on the frame, panting hard. His thoughts sounded inside her head. There you are. Why didn’t you answer? I’ve just heard some... some unbelievable news.
Adramal looked at him impassively, waiting for him to remember his manners and start speaking aloud.
"Alesin," Teshan said, standing up, "I trust you’ve been informed of the Council’s decision?"
"Yes, I -" He looked at Teshan, seeming to notice her for the first time. His eyes glistened in her light. Had he actually been crying? Adramal couldn’t remember ever seeing him weep - not even when Mother died. He took a couple of paces towards Teshan. "How could you do this to me? To us? How dare you?"
"Alesin," said Teshan with a weary sigh, "this matter is not open for discussion. You’ve had five years to convince us you were right. The Council has been extraordinarily patient with you, but our patience has run out."
"But... Kyer Altamar, of all places," said Father, his fists clenching. "The headquarters of the Church of Mathran."
"They’ve obviously weakened since you were there. Otherwise the local wizards couldn’t defy them so openly by founding a school. And Adramal has done very well in the self-defence classes."
Father opened his mouth to speak, and then seemed to think better of it. His voice echoed within her mind. So this is goodbye, then. I hope you’ll come back and visit some day, when your apprenticeship is over.
Adramal stood up. "Farewell, Father." Although she had long looked forward to being able to say that, she was surprised to feel a lump in her throat.
He embraced her roughly, pinning her arms to her sides. You could do me the courtesy of mindspeaking, just this once. His breathing was ragged, the side of his face damp against her neck. She couldn’t help but admire his strength. Most wizards couldn’t hold even a simple spell together when they were this upset, never mind one as complex as mindspeech.
It couldn’t hurt, just this once. She smoothed over the surface of her mind, clearing a space for the spell to come together.
Again, farewell, she said. I’ll try not to get on the wrong side of the priests, and I’ll remember what you and the others have taught me. As she spoke, Lelsarin stirred at the bottom of her mind. She’d have to keep the conversation brief, for fear that Father would notice her.
Be careful, her father said. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing you. I - I know I don’t do a very good job of showing it, but I’m proud of you. Your mother would’ve been, too.
What else was there to say? She cancelled the spell and pushed herself out of his arms.
"I... my class will be wondering where I am," he said. He turned and left, walking like a mourner at a funeral. Adramal watched him to see if he’d look back. He didn’t.
"I should start packing," she said. "The caravan will be here soon." She looked around the half of the house that was hers. Packing wouldn’t take long. Strange to think she might never see this place again. She doubted she would miss it.