A Slave to Magic Preview

Chapter 1

 

Various colors stained the wall of the tiny room where Kwil practiced his magic. As they slid down the wall and puddled on the floor, the various magics came together, popping and fizzing as they met. Kwil approached with caution, choosing his steps with care. Master will be furious if he sees this, he thought.

Kneeling down near the mess, he waved a hand lightly above it. A force field appeared above the mixing colors, neutralizing the magic inside. Fading into nothingness, the magic disappeared before his eyes. At least that spell works the way it should. With a sigh, the young man stood back on his feet and returned to his duties.

Kwil had long believed himself destined for great things. His heart yearned to study magic, and despite the fact that entrance to the Wizard’s College was forbidden to him, he still considered himself a wizard. After all, he had studied every book he could get his hands on, and he practiced at every opportunity. Why should he be denied his education? He had already proved himself worthy to enter the College. From a very young age he displayed a talent for magic. He should have been given his place and allowed to learn.

Unfortunately, Kwil was born a slave. He was a mere human destined to serve a superior race. The Gatans considered themselves above all other species inhabiting Nōl’Deron, and as a result, they enslaved all others who came to their land. No species was safe, and none ever returned. As far as the outside world was concerned, the land of Gi’gata did not exist. There were only stories of a land of fantasy and mystery, where few dared to travel.

Kwil’s parents had traveled aboard a ship that set out to find the mythical land. Though no ship ever returned after making such a voyage, the wandering spirit got the better of many people. Unsure which land his parents had originated from, Kwil could only guess at his true origins. Wherever they had sailed from, his parents had met a fate that awaited many ships that sailed too near the waters of Gi’gata. They were attacked, taken prisoner, and forced to serve as slaves to the Gatans.

Vaguely remembering his mother’s face, or at least the woman he believed to be his mother, Kwil would often compare himself to her. His own eyes were blue, his hair dark, and his skin rather pale considering his long stints of service out of doors. With ears that stuck out slightly from the side of his head, he knew he wouldn’t be considered handsome, even for a human. The face he remembered, however, was lovely. She had golden hair and deep brown eyes, and she sang to him in a soft voice. The image of her face brought with it a sense of peace and warmth, and he took comfort in it whenever he felt low.

His father was unknown to him, but he was certain he must favor him in looks. How else could such a beautiful woman give birth to a child such as him? His father had been a lucky man indeed. Kwil didn’t need to worry about attracting the opposite sex. It was unlikely he would be of interest to slave breeders. Looking down at the plain white shirt and woolen breeches he wore, he felt inadequate, even for a slave. He was slight of build, and as far as anyone else knew, untalented. Love was not allowed among slaves, so Kwil didn’t give much thought to the slave girls he encountered. It was likely for the best. Passing on his magical tendencies to offspring could be dangerous.

With the colors of his magic swept away, he turned his attention to the duties he was supposed to be performing. Stepping outside the door of his quarters, he dropped his pretense as a wizard and assumed his true role as a slave. First, as always, he had to collect water for the family he served. They would insist on cleaning themselves before breakfast, and the punishment would be severe if their baths were not ready.

Moving through the darkened corridor, Kwil found his way outside. The well was not far from this side of the manor, and he was glad of it. A chill had settled in the air through the night, and he would not be given thicker winter garments for another month or so. Taking great care not to splash any water on himself, Kwil filled two buckets and carried them inside.

Fetching water was among Kwil’s earliest memories. He had always been slender, and it was believed that by forcing him to carry water, he would become muscular and strong. Unfortunately his body had other ideas. He fell often, spilling the water and earning himself a beating. No matter how hard he tried to be large and strong, he was physically incapable. As he had grown over the years, he hoped to at least be tall. That too eluded him. His height was average for a slave, slightly shorter than most Gatans.

Carefully opening the door, Kwil smiled to himself. He hadn’t spilled a single drop. He might not be the strongest, but he was meticulous and efficient—qualities required of a proficient wizard. Filling his masters’ baths would require at least a dozen more trips, and that would give him time to concentrate on memorizing his spells. Though having a moment to read was rare, he would soak up any magic words he found and repeat them in his head as he went about his chores. That way he would not forget, and perhaps another day he would learn what the words meant.

Magic came as naturally to Kwil as any reflex. Though he had been warned by other slaves to hide it, he desired more than anything to let the magic flow. Humans in Gi’gata were forbidden to perform magic. Death was the immediate sentence for any slave suspected of doing so. It was widely rumored that humans weren’t intelligent enough to practice magic, but the Gatan leaders were no fools. They were well aware that humans of other lands practiced magic freely, and that their own slaves were quite capable of learning. To avoid a rebellion, they kept their slaves ignorant, refusing to allow them to learn to read or have any education worth speaking of.

Kwil had been lucky in that regard. His failure to develop muscles had led to the easier job of brushing horses for an elderly Gatan woman. She was quite eccentric and insisted that her slaves make no noise in her home. One day while in the gardens, her eye fell on Kwil. She noticed the easy gait with which he moved, and his gentle nature with her horses. She favored him and invited him into her home. For years he served this woman, always taking careful steps and tiptoeing as he went to avoid disturbing her. When she fell ill, she insisted he tend her at her bedside. She helped him learn to read, and eventually insisted he read all of her correspondence aloud to her as she lay abed. With her constant corrections, he learned to read difficult words, and to speak clearly and eloquently. As her mind deteriorated, she mistook him for her own son.

Kwil’s memories of his mistress were mostly good. Though she had been demanding at first, she rarely punished him or any of her other slaves. Her tenderness toward him at the end of her life had been alien to him. No one had ever spoken to him so kindly, nor cared whether he learned to read. Her last words to him had been a whispered “I love you, my son,” which had stuck with Kwil ever since. Though it’s doubtful she would have uttered those words had she been in her right mind, it was nonetheless special to him.

After his mistress died, her estate was divided among her real descendants, who brought in their own slaves. Kwil’s services were no longer needed, and he was sold to Lord Orva. Rumors of Lord Orva’s cruel treatment of his slaves had not escaped Kwil’s ears. It was said that a graveyard existed near the manor, full of the slaves Orva had personally murdered. Kwil was unperturbed.

He was a hard worker, and he would adapt to Orva’s expectations in order to survive. Holding to the dream that one day he would become a great wizard, Kwil’s outlook on life was not as grim as other slaves. A bright future awaited him, he was certain of it.

As he reached the steps, he took great care to balance the water buckets on each side of him. One splash of water on the stairs would render them slick, and if his master should fall, Kwil shuddered to think what might be in store for him. Carefully placing each foot, he climbed to the fourth floor, where his master and mistress resided. Their rooms, which occupied the entire floor, consisted of separate bedchambers, two sitting areas, a trophy room—where Lord Orva’s prized dead animals hung upon the walls—and two separate bath chambers.

Kwil made his way along the corridor, his eyes ever looking down. Making eye contact with his master without permission would lead to trouble. He learned upon their first meeting to follow the lord’s rules. Kwil had been brought before his master along with three other slaves he had worked with previously. Lord Orva barely looked at them before ordering them to be whipped. “A reminder never to cross me,” he had called it. Kwil had been dragged outside, his arms bound to a post, his shirt ripped from his back. Three lashes were more than enough, the spiked leather straps tearing into his flesh. The pain was excruciating, and the bruising lasted for weeks. Kwil would not forget it. Though he refused to live in fear, he made note of his master’s ill temper. He would mind his duties carefully to avoid Lord Orva’s wrath.

The following three months had not been all bad. Kwil steered clear of both master and mistress, doing only as he was told and making himself scarce. Rarely did he encounter either of them, and he intended to keep it that way. As long as he remained unnoticed, they would likely leave him in peace.

Emptying the bucket into Lady Orva’s tub, he was startled by a maidservant who trotted past him. She was Gatan, a paid servant rather than a slave. Her sleek feline form moved silently across the room, adding rose petals to the tub before scurrying away. She barely noticed Kwil’s presence, as if the tub were filling itself. He quickly dumped the second bucket before heading back downstairs to repeat the procedure.

As he reached the top of the steps a voice called to him. “Don’t forget to heat the last few,” the maidservant reminded him.

He turned to face her, bowing his head that he understood. This was the same reminder she gave him each day. How could he possibly forget? A cold bath would probably earn him more lashes, and he hoped to avoid any and all forms of punishment. Perhaps the young woman thought humans were too stupid to remember a daily task, or maybe she felt duty-bound to speak to him. Whichever it was, the pity in her yellow eyes was unmistakable.

Silently he walked back outside, lowering his buckets into the well and filling them. This time, he took the buckets to the fire pit, which the stable hands had already lit. He hooked the buckets a few inches above the flame, allowing the water to heat. If only he knew the correct spell, this work would be much faster. So far, he could do little more than manipulate objects at a distance. Looking around to be sure no one was watching, he gently waved a hand, summoning the smoke toward him. Twisting and shaping, he moved the smoke into spiral patterns, eventually swirling it into the shape of a rose. A half-smile came over his face, but the sound of approaching footsteps forced him to abandon his work. Waving the smoke away, he spun around, grabbing two more buckets.

When both baths were finally full and warm, he made his way downstairs to the kitchen area. He hadn’t eaten since midday yesterday, and his rumbling stomach reminded him that he could not live on dreams of magic alone. Jenn, the elderly slave woman who ran the kitchens, smiled warmly at the young man’s approach. Taking two biscuits from the tray in front of her, she shoved them in his hand and mussed his hair.

“Dear boy,” she said as she turned back to her work.

Kwil took a bite of one biscuit and observed a moment as Jenn went about her work. She hummed as she dawdled through the kitchen, checking various dishes as they simmered or baked. She took pride in her kitchen, despite being forced to work in it. Here was a true example of making the best of one’s situation. Kwil felt a fondness for the old lady, and she reminded him of his former mistress in many ways. She was kind to him, and even among fellow slaves, that was not easy to find. Many of them felt their work was a competition, fearing that a younger man might outshine them.

Kwil had encountered opposition so far only from those who worked outdoors, likely because they felt he had a more comfortable position working inside the manor. They were probably right, but Kwil could not trade places if he wanted to. The master told the slave where he would work, and the slave obeyed without question.

Before Kwil could vacate the kitchen, Lady Orva happened to appear in the dining room. Her black and brown fur was slightly disheveled, her green eyes showing signs of fatigue. It would seem she planned to eat before enjoying her bath this morning. Kwil knew what that meant—he had better keep the water hot.

As he turned to leave, Jenn nudged him gently. “She’s with child,” she said.

“Are you sure?” Kwil asked, wondering how much extra work an infant meant for him.

“If I had a coin, I’d wager it,” the old lady said with a crooked smile.

Kwil nodded. She would certainly know better than him.

As if reading his mind, Jenn looked up from her cooking pot and said, “Don’t worry. They’ll hire on new staff for the kit.” Reaching into her pocket, she said, “I almost forgot.” She handed him a small bundle.

With a nod of gratitude, he peered inside the bundle to see fresh grapes. His eyes went wide. Normally his meals consisted of day-old bread and a handful of raisins if he was lucky. “Thank you!” he said, wrapping an arm around the old woman’s neck.

“Off you go,” she said, waving a hand to shoo him away.

Stuffing the bundle into his shirt pocket, he scurried back outside. Today will be a good day, he told himself.

A horn blasted behind him, breaking him from his reverie. Spinning around, he spotted Lord Orva, perched atop his destrier. He was a large man, who preferred a large, impressive horse when he rode out on the hunt. The tigerlike stripes of his face gave him the look of a fierce hunter. Kwil stepped aside as the lord and his friends galloped past without so much as a glance his direction. Listening to the thunder of footfalls as they moved farther and farther away, Kwil knew how he’d be spending the afternoon—cleaning and processing whatever his master managed to catch. Magic would have to wait for another day.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

“Boy!” Lady Orva called.

Kwil nearly dropped the bundle of laundry he was carrying. Lady Orva rarely came downstairs except to eat, and she had spoken no words directly to him since his arrival at the manor. He dipped his head, a sign that he was listening for her command.

“My daughter is returning home from school this evening,” she said. “Make sure her room is spotless!” With those words, she twirled her skirts and headed back up the stairs.

Kwil was not aware the couple had any children, other than the one on the way. He’d never been asked to clean the rooms on the third floor, likely where the girl’s room was located. The second floor was reserved for guests, and Kwil was very familiar with those.

Bundling the washing under one arm, Kwil pushed open the front door and stepped outside. The weather was pleasant, with few clouds present in the sky. It would be a good day to help with the horses, but it was unlikely any daylight would remain when he had finished cleaning. Making his way past the gardens, he headed toward the large tubs where the laundresses were busy scrubbing garments and hanging them on the line to dry.

“What’s this?” a heavy servant asked. She placed her hands on her hips and stared at the young man. She was a Gatan and had little patience for human slaves. Kwil had encountered her almost daily, and she never bothered to speak a kind word to him.

“Laundry,” he replied, extending the bundle toward her.

“You been wearing these fine dresses?” she asked, cackling with laughter.

Kwil did not reply. He remained silent, still holding out the bundle for the woman to take. After a few moments of looking him over, she said, “Don’t give it to me. Take it over there.” She gestured with a plump thumb toward another servant.

Without a word, Kwil moved forward and approached the girl. She was a young Gatan who barely looked at him as he approached. Reaching out her thin hands, she relieved Kwil of his burden.

“You can bring them straight to me from now on,” she said in a quiet voice. “There’s no need to bother Sal.”

Kwil nodded his understanding, unsure if the Gatan wished him to reply verbally. A glance at her eyes suggested she was kind but shy. She avoided his gaze but showed no anger that he had looked at her. Before he could get himself into trouble, he marched on, avoiding the heavy laundress as he went.

Keeping his head down for fear of running into someone, Kwil moved up the manor steps. Another servant passed him, but she paid him no heed. Stopping on the third floor, Kwil raised his head and looked at the area before him. Rows of paintings hung on the walls, all of them depicting families with young children. As he moved along, he observed their faces, deciding that they must be relatives of the Orvas. Their fur came in a wide variety of colors, as was common among Gatans. Sometimes the children looked like their parents, and sometimes they looked entirely different.

One painting featured an unruly child, which the artist had chosen to depict truthfully. He appeared to be tugging at his mother’s tail, the expression on her face showing her chagrin. Kwil couldn’t suppress his amusement, and he laughed out loud, the sound echoing from the walls. Quickly slapping a hand over his mouth, he turned his head to see if anyone had heard. To his relief, no one was there.

There were only two doors on the third floor, and he hurried toward the one on the left. To his delight, it appeared he had chosen correctly. Inside was an abundance of furniture, all covered with white sheets to keep away the dust. Shaking out the sheet that covered the bed, he observed the plushness of the mattress beneath. Placing his hand on the bed, he pushed down, wondering what it must be like to sleep in such luxury.

As he looked around, he observed a thick layer of dust on every sheet. This was exactly the sort of task he was waiting for. Returning to the door, he focused his mind to the latch, willing it to move into position. With an audible click, the door locked. Kwil smiled to himself, satisfied that no one would enter and find him practicing magic. Cracking his knuckles, he positioned his hands and looked at the sheet covering the desk. Slowly the sheet began to move, drawing itself away from the furniture beneath. It hung briefly in midair before dropping to the ground.

Kwil frowned, wondering what had gone wrong. This was a spell he performed often, and he shouldn’t have had any trouble with it. Bending to pick up the fallen sheet, he sneezed, blowing dust all around him. Could a layer of dust be inhibiting the sheet’s movement? It seemed far-fetched, but he knew little of the intricacies of magic. It was possible that many minute details could affect it.

Deciding to clear the dust away first, Kwil reached for a broom. As he gripped the handle, he realized that dust was no different from any other object. In fact, it was much smaller and lighter. Focusing his mind, he concentrated on the dust that had settled upon the sheet covering a nearby chair. The dust rose in a small cloud, the gray particles dancing and swirling as they moved. Kwil fought back his excitement as it floated across the room, making its way to a trash bin in the corner. As it fell in place, Kwil celebrated quietly to himself. Next, he lifted the formerly dusty sheet, bringing it carefully to his arms to be folded. The delicate work of folding the sheet could not be done with magic. At least, not yet. Fine movements were difficult, and it took a lot of practice. If he had days to clean the room, he would certainly give folding a try. For now, he was content with moving dust and sheets.

Kwil continued cleaning in this manner, celebrating small victories, and confounding himself with his failures. With no master wizard to guide him, he might never perfect his art, but that didn’t stop him from trying. The cleaning went on for hours until a rattling came from the door. His concentration broken, the final bits of dust scattered across the bedroom floor.

“Who’s in there?” a female voice asked from outside the door.

Rushing to the door, Kwil quickly opened the latch and lowered his head.

“About time,” the woman said. She leaned down to look at his face. “You new here?” she asked.

Kwil nodded, taking his first look at the lady before him. She was a youthful Gatan with tricolored fur. Flecks of gold highlighted her darker sections, and splashes of white added personality to her coat. Instead of the dresses worn by most women, she wore a buff-colored blouse with brown trousers. Her pale green eyes stared at the young man intently.

“Do you always lock the door when you’re cleaning?” she asked, observing the stack of neatly folded sheets.

“Forgive me, Mistress,” he said.

“Pffft,” she replied, waving her hand. She shoved her way past him, gently setting a wooden case on her bed. As she placed a bundle of books on her desk, she said, “Call me Nera, not Mistress.”

Kwil stammered over his words, unsure of the correct way to reply. “It is forbidden,” he managed to say.

“Then call me that when no one else can hear you, okay?” she replied. “Looks like you missed a spot,” she added, grinning and pointing to the dust pile on the floor.

Kwil quickly dropped to his knees and swept up the dust, placing it inside the bin. Bundling the sheets, he bowed and made his way back to the door. Shifting the load to one side, he reached for the door. As his arm lifted, he bumped into the books piled on the desk, knocking two of them to the floor. Immediately he dropped to retrieve them, his eyes falling on the titles of the books. All of them were about wizardry.

Gently caressing the covers as he placed them neatly in a stack, he could hardly pull himself away. Here before him was the information he desperately craved, information that could teach him how to properly cast spells.

“Have you finished yet?” Nera called from behind him.

Seduced by the sight of the books, he had momentarily forgotten where he was. Clearing his throat he replied, “Yes, Mist—Nera.”

Nera smiled. “Close the door on your way out,” she commanded. Turning her back to him, she focused her attention to the case on her bed.

Kwil took one more longing glance at the books before exiting. Pulling the door shut behind him, his hand rested a moment on the handle. He must find a way to read those books, even if it meant stealing them. Being caught could cost him his life, but without those books, he would feel as if he’d died anyway. The magic inside those pages called to him, beckoning him to the knowledge within.

 

* * * *

For several hours, Kwil busied himself scrubbing every inch of Nera’s washing room. Unable to concentrate long enough to use magic, he worked directly with his hands instead. Only steps across the corridor was the knowledge he craved. How could he steal the books without causing suspicion? And where could he possibly hide them? Shaking his head, he tried to force the idea away. With Nera back home, it was likely he’d be sent daily to tend her room. That would be his chance to read while leaving the books where they belonged.

Back and forth Kwil moved his mop over the same spot of floor he had already cleaned. Nera had to leave her room eventually. Even if there was no time to learn this evening, he wanted to touch the books at least one more time before going to bed. Hoping she would demand a change of bedclothes or that something hadn’t been completed to her liking, he waited for her voice to call out to him. To his disappointment, she did not.

After what felt like an eternity, he heard a small click of a door. Peeking out into the hallway, he saw Nera walking away. It must be dinnertime, he realized. His stomach was tied in knots, so he hadn’t become hungry yet himself. The only nourishment he craved was in those books. Leaning out to observe, he watched as Nera made her way to the stairs and disappeared out of sight. This was his chance.

Dropping his mop to the ground, he raced across the hallway and let himself into the young woman’s room. The books lay unmoved on the desk where he had left them. Snatching up the first volume, his eyes greedily ran over the pages as his heart pounded against his chest. This particular book focused on basic elements, magic that was unknown to Kwil. As he skimmed the pages, he caught snippets of advice on pulling magic from the elements that surround a wizard. Such magic seemed practical, but Kwil felt no connection to any element. How did one discover which element controlled his powers? Continuing to flip through the pages, he saw passages about wizards who could manipulate two or more elements. Smiling to himself, he hoped he would be able to do that someday.

Moving on to the next book, his eyes drank in the title: A Beginner’s Guide to the Arcane. Clutching the volume to his chest, he knew he had found gold. Carefully opening to the first chapter, he stared at the words on the page. The writing was in the common tongue, but the spells were written in foreign characters, followed by a pronunciation guide. To his great disappointment, he realized he needed to go further back and study the correct language. The other two books on the desk were written in this language as well. Where would he find something that could teach him these words?

With a sigh, Kwil nearly set the beginner’s book aside, but his hand would not let go. Taking a deep breath, he opened it once more and flipped to the first lesson. It was simple enough, naming a single word that would allow the reader to flip pages without touching the book. Stumbling in his attempt to pronounce the incantation, Kwil expected nothing to happen. His eyes went wide as the page flipped. Grinning ear to ear, he repeated the word to flip another page.

Considering himself lucky that the pronunciation guide was so well written, he moved on to the next spell. Along with an incantation, it presented a guide for the movement of the wizard’s hand. It explained how to move one’s fingers at the appropriate parts of the incantation. This would allow him to turn to any page he desired in his books. Leave it to a wizard’s school to teach you to study magic by using magic, he thought. If a student incorporated magic into every aspect of his life, he would surely grow accustomed to it. Eventually, he could perform these spells without thinking. Kwil could only imagine what it would be like when he reached that point. These books could lead him there.

Slowly he spoke the words, attempting to move his fingers along with the rhythm of the spell. Nothing happened. Frowning, he tried again, but this time was no different. As he began the third try, the door swung open behind him. Dropping the book, he spun around to see Nera holding a small plate of food.

Hurrying to his feet, he tucked the volume away neatly on her desk and bowed his head. How much had she heard? What would she do to him? Silently he hoped she would not tell her father. Kwil would rather be turned over to authorities than face Lord Orva. He was a cruel man, and there was no telling what punishment he would have in store for a slave attempting to learn magic.

“I didn’t realize slaves were allowed to read,” she said, setting her plate on the desk.

“I wasn’t reading, Nera,” Kwil lied. “I was only straightening the books.”

Nera narrowed her eyes as she observed the slave. “I heard you pronouncing the words,” she said. “You were reading.” Looking around the room, she added, “Everything in here is perfectly straight, just as you left it earlier. There was no need for you to return.” In a more accusing tone, she said, “I saw the pages move when you cast the spell.”

Kwil felt the redness creep into his face. “Please, Mistress,” he said. “I meant no harm.” Breathing heavily, he kept his head downward, staring at his feet.

“Relax,” she said, picking up the book. “You want to learn magic?”

Kwil’s head shot up, staring at the Gatan. “More than anything,” he said, his voice a hoarse whisper.

The corners of Nera’s mouth turned up, her face showing no sign of suspicion. “I don’t want to learn it,” she said. “My parents are forcing me to attend the College.” Trotting over to her bed she opened the wooden case and pulled out a lute. Leaning back against her pillow, she strummed at the strings. “I prefer music, but that isn’t smart enough for my parents.”

“You’re a free woman,” Kwil replied. “Why not just do what you love?” The idea that a Gatan couldn’t choose her own path was alien to him. A slave had no choice, but a highborn lady certainly had one.

“Papa would likely send me away if I left school,” Nera responded. “What he doesn’t realize is, there are other ways to make magic besides casting spells. And music is much more fun than memorizing spells all day.”

Kwil didn’t have an answer. Instead he stood silently for several minutes as Nera played a soft tune. He gave a quiet applause as she finished. “Can you sing?” he asked.

“Not very well,” she replied honestly. “You?”

“Afraid not, Mistress,” he said.

“Stop calling me that. I already told you my name is Nera.”

“Of course, Nera,” he corrected. “Forgive me.”

Setting her lute aside, she sat up on her bed and looked at him. “You can’t take the book from here,” she said. “If anyone catches you with it, well I don’t have to tell you what will happen.”

Kwil nodded. Once again he would be cut off from learning, thanks to his lowly status.

“What you can do,” she began, “is study it here with me.”

His jaw dropping open, Kwil could barely take in a breath. Was she serious? She was going to help him learn?

“I’m not very good at it,” she continued, “so I won’t be much of a teacher. But you can study while I play my lute. That way no one will hear your voice when you pronounce the incantations.”

His eyes filling with tears, Kwil fought the urge to grab the girl and hug her. Such an act would be completely inappropriate, but he felt an almost overwhelming sense of gratitude toward her. “Thank you, Nera,” he said. “Thank you and thank you.” Not knowing what else to say, his words trailed off.

“You’re welcome,” she replied. “You can begin now if you like.”

Kwil jumped at the opportunity, eagerly grabbing the book and situating himself in a corner out of her way. Today was the beginning of his true life. Finally he had the chance to learn and develop the magic that lingered inside him, yearning to be set free.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 3

 

Each day Kwil spent more time in Nera’s room, reading and practicing the magic written in the pages of her books. He learned a variety of simple spells, and he felt a sense of pride he had never experienced before. After only a week, he was finished with the beginner’s book and ready to move on to the others.

“You’re going to catch up to me,” Nera commented playfully. Most days she took little interest in his studying. She simply sat upon her bed, strumming her lute while he read and practiced. Today, she seemed eager for him to demonstrate what he’d learned.

“I doubt that,” Kwil replied, looking at the books. “I have a long way to go.”

“But you catch on quickly,” she said. “If you could read the runic symbols, I bet you’d learn twice as fast.”

“Can you teach me?” Kwil asked eagerly.

Nera shook her head. “I don’t know it, but I’m supposed to learn this year at the College.”

Kwil’s heart nearly stopped. She was only on break from her studies, and she would have to return in another week. She’d take her books with her, and he would be left with no way to continue learning.

Not noticing the slave’s worried expression, Nera said, “Maybe you could come to school with me.”

Stunned, Kwil stared up at her, wondering how such a thing was possible.

“Not as a student,” she explained. “Second year students are allowed private chambers, and many of them bring a slave to serve them while they study. It frees up time to concentrate on studying—or playing the lute.” The last bit she added with a grin.

“I would love that,” Kwil replied.

“I’ll have to ask my parents,” she said. “But I think I can convince them to let me take you.”

As she spoke, her eyes glanced over at the fireplace, where the fire had dimmed and was nearly out. She started to get up, but Kwil beat her to it. He leapt to his feet, hurrying to tend the dying embers.

“Forgive me,” he said. Neglecting his duties was unacceptable, especially when it came to Nera. He owed her everything, and he felt pangs of guilt at allowing her room to grow cold.

Nera looked thoughtfully at the slave. “You know, the attitude toward slavery is changing in Gi’gata.”

A bright fire roared to life before Kwil turned to face her. He wrinkled his brow, puzzled as to what she was talking about.

“News rarely reaches these sleepy country manors,” she continued. “But in the city, many Gatans are no longer comfortable owning other living beings. It’s an archaic and barbaric practice.”

Kwil couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “If we don’t work for them, what do we do?” he wondered.

“Well, I’ve heard that many are sent back to their original homelands,” she replied.

“Many slaves are born here,” he stated. “I was.”

Nera paused a moment, not sure how to reply. Sure he had an ancestral home, but he had never been there. Would it be right to free a slave and send him back to a land he’d scarcely even heard of? What would happen if freed slaves chose to stay? How would her people treat them? “Maybe those who don’t wish to leave could be given jobs,” she said.

“I already have a job,” Kwil replied. The thought of being turned loose scared him. He had nothing—no money, no home, and no family. Should all slaves suddenly be set free, he would be doomed. Freedom didn’t mean equality. Studying at the College would still be out of the question.

With a sigh, Nera said, “Look, I don’t have all the answers. I only mentioned it because I thought you might like to know. Your future might be something better than serving my family.” She managed a sweet smile, hoping she hadn’t made him too uncomfortable. “Come on,” she said. “I’ll help you with your studies.”

With a nod, Kwil returned to the books and flipped to the next lesson. Nera set her lute aside and watched with interest as Kwil manipulated the fire in the hearth.

“You didn’t need to get up to tend that,” she said with a laugh.

Kwil shrugged, his face slightly bewildered. “I didn’t realize I could do that,” he replied.

“How did you develop an interest in magic anyway?” Nera wondered.

“Since I was very small, I’ve been able to move things,” he said. “And I can create colors in the air,” he added, wishing he hadn’t mentioned it. It was an unpractical and frivolous use of magic, but he enjoyed it.

“Show me,” she said.

Focusing on the air in front of him, he waved his fingers in a delicate pattern. A shimmering butterfly of pink, yellow, and blue appeared before him. It flapped its wings, floating softly to sit upon Nera’s knee. She looked up at the young man, her eyes bright.

“It’s beautiful,” she said.

As Kwil looked at the ground, the butterfly dissolved into a puddle of colors. “It’s silly,” he replied, shaking his head. “But it was the first bit of magic I managed to control,” he explained. “And it’s fun.”

“That’s because you created it,” she replied. “You didn’t just move it around, you conjured it from nothing.” Picking up her lute, she added, “That’s just how it is when you create music.” She plucked at the strings and hummed a merry tune. Looking up, she said, “There’s more to life than what you can learn in books.”

Though her statement was true, Kwil saw no other way to learn the basics than through study. “Music requires study too, doesn’t it?”

“Yes it does,” she replied. “And lots of practice. No different from magic, really.”

As she continued to play her music, Kwil turned back to the book and practiced a few more spells. The hand gestures were becoming more difficult, requiring more-delicate movements in time with the incantation. Growing frustrated, he wondered if he would ever get the hang of it.

Noticing his difficulty, Nera took a seat on the floor next to him. “Like this,” she said, taking a hold of his hand. His skin was the roughest she had ever felt, and a glance at his fingertips revealed reddened blisters and cuts. “What happened?” she asked, not seeing the obvious answer.

Kwil looked at his fingers, unsure what she meant. “What happened to what?” he asked.

“Your fingers,” she replied. “They’re so sore. Doesn’t that hurt?”

With a shrug, he said, “I’m used to it. It’s no different from a farmer who works with his hands.”

“Farmers can afford gloves,” she said quietly. A wave of guilt came over her, knowing that she was a part of this young man’s suffering. Despite her current friendship with Kwil, she had been content to order around servants and slaves all her life. Something had to change. “From now on, I’ll clean my own room while you study,” she declared.

“Nera, it’s my job,” Kwil replied. “I don’t mind.”

“I’ve made up my mind,” she stated. “Now let’s see if we can get this right.”

As she assisted him in performing the gestures correctly, the clock on her mantle chimed.

“I’d better go,” Kwil said. “I’m supposed to help in the kitchen tonight. You have guests coming.”

Nera rolled her eyes. A fancy dinner with her parents was an inconvenience she could do without. But if she tried to stay in her room when guests were present, her father would likely drag her down the stairs. “I guess I’ll see you there then,” she said.

 

* * * * *

Taking inventory of the rows of decadent foods in front of him, Kwil counted no fewer than seven courses. The Orvas’ dinner guests would no doubt be delighted by the variety and quality of foods. Jenn had generously allowed Kwil to sample a few, many of them being far too rich for his stomach. A small taste was all he required to know the foods certainly weren’t for him. A lifetime of a bland diet had not prepared him for the sweetness of chocolate or the texture of goose liver.

Making sure that each dish was covered, Kwil lit candles under the ones that needed to stay warm, and fanned the ones that needed to stay cool. It was not the most stimulating job in the kitchen, but it was better than scrubbing floors. Besides, he looked forward to seeing the night’s entertainment. This would be the first dinner party he had witnessed since coming to work for the Orvas, and he wasn’t sure what to expect. All he knew was, the more lavish the dinner party, the more respected the host.

Jenn floated by him, a twinkle in her aging eyes. Though she had lived her entire life a slave, her spirits were undaunted. Dinner parties were her specialty—a chance to show what she was capable of. Kwil couldn’t help but smile as he watched the old lady darting to and fro with surprising grace and agility.

Behind him the young laundress approached, clearing her throat loudly to get his attention. Kwil startled at the sound, turning around quickly to see who was there. It was the same young Gatan he had met before, and he felt ashamed that he had not asked her name.

Thrusting a bundle of clothing toward him, she said, “These are for you.”

Taking the green and yellow tunic from her, his brow furrowed in confusion. “For me?”

The Gatan crossed her arms and sighed in frustration. “You don’t think they’d want you in front of their guests dressed like that do you?” Shaking her head, she walked away, leaving Kwil behind to ponder her meaning.

He looked down at the shabby clothing he wore every day, the elbows of his shirt nearly threadbare. Though he washed the garments as often as he could, he supposed they could be cleaner.

Jenn crept up behind him and patted him on the back. “In there, Son,” she said, pointing to the cupboard.

With a nod of thanks, Kwil stepped inside and quickly changed into the fancy clothing he had received. The pants were slightly loose, obviously designed for a larger man, and the velveteen tunic with its gold trim felt scratchy against his skin. Plain cotton suited him far better, but he had no room to argue. These clothes meant he would be serving in the dining hall, not waiting in the kitchens to fetch supplies. He had anticipated a night of straining to see the entertainment, catching glances whenever he could. Instead, he would be up front, viewing firsthand whatever the Orvas had planned. The thought sent his heart racing.

When he exited the pantry, Jenn was waiting for him. She reached up and patted his cheek before smoothing out his tunic. “That’s better,” she said, her eyes shining brightly. “You have fun out there, but don’t let them know it.” A soft laugh followed as she turned around to tend the confections, stacking them neatly on a silver tray.

Voices sounded from the hall, signaling the servants that the guests had arrived. A passing Gatan shoved a pitcher of wine at Kwil, which he took gladly. Filling wine goblets was a simple enough task, and it would allow him to move freely about the room and observe the night’s events. After a wink from Jenn, Kwil headed into the dining area, where the guests where laughing and talking. Another servant carried empty goblets on a silver tray, and Kwil decided to follow him, filling the cups as he went. Each guest accepted his drink graciously, not paying much attention to who was doing the pouring. As long as their goblets remained full, they were pleased.

Nera made an entrance wearing a long satin gown. She looked out of sorts, tugging at the tight bodice and grimacing in her mother’s direction. Kwil felt pity for his friend, seeing how much she detested the fancy garment. During their days of study together, he had never seen her wear anything other than pants. For a noble lady, she lacked severely in refinement and poise. She was truly her own person, and she wouldn’t be dictated by the mores of the day.

Kwil hazarded a glance in her direction, noticing that she did not have a cup. Grabbing one off the dining table, he hastened to her side, filling the glass and offering it to her. At first glance, she seemed annoyed, but realizing it was Kwil standing before her, her face broke into a smile. Clearly he wasn’t the only one surprised to see a friend all dressed up. She said nothing, but her eyes sparkled with silent laughter. Kwil blushed slightly before moving away to tend the other guests.

As the night went on, the guests became louder and seemed to find the humor in every little story that was told. Their glasses ran over, thanks to Kwil keeping a close eye to make sure no one was thirsty.

Finally, Lord Orva stood, banging his fork against his goblet. “Bring on the entertainment!” he declared, to the delight of his guests.

Applause broke out, many of the guests jumping to their feet. Being shorter than most of the Gatans, Kwil angled his neck to get a better view. A spectacular display of magic shot toward the ceiling. Colors and shapes flew around the room, including a multitude of butterflies. Nera shot a glance in Kwil’s direction as the butterflies darted past her.

Following the display, a troupe of dancers entered the room. Their feline bodies were painted a multitude of colors, some Kwil had never seen before. The cost of such dyes must have been astronomical, but the Orvas would spare no expense to impress their friends. The men and women danced gracefully, tossing each other into the air and performing tricks on the fly. Kwil watched in amazement, nearly forgetting his duties as wine bearer. It was of little consequence, though, as the guests could hardly look away either. Such a display of acrobatics was captivating, and the crowd fell silent enough to hear the tiniest squeak of a mouse.

When the dancers finished, a second round of colorful magic lit up the dining hall. The crowd broke into applause and whistled their approval at the performers. Kwil stared in amazement, his mind full of wonder. Only the drumming of a hand against the table snapped him back to reality. One of the guests held out an empty goblet.

Rushing to the man’s side, Kwil quickly filled the cup and backed away, his head down. Making his way around the table, he continued filling goblets until his pitcher was empty, then ran to retrieve another.

Nera waited for his return, and then addressed her mother. “Mother, I’d like to take a slave back to school with me when I go. Since I’m in my second year, I’ll be far too busy to tend my own affairs.”

Lady Orva seemed unsure. “Surely the school can provide for your needs,” she said. The cost of tuition was extremely high. In her mind, the school should provide ample servants to wait upon the students.

Lord Orva was not deaf to the conversation. He watched the exchange with interest, his goblet held close to his lips.

Nera tried again. “Mother, all the highborn ladies bring slaves with them to tend their private chambers.” Turning to face her father, she asked, “I will have private quarters, will I not?” At this point, she knew she had her father’s attention. He refused to be outdone or thought of as less powerful than any other lord. Out of pure ego, he would grant his daughter’s request.

“You certainly shall,” he said, a smug expression on his face. “You shall take a slave with you, and you shall have the finest rooms the College has to offer.”

Many of the guests around th

Chapter 1

 

Various colors stained the wall of the tiny room where Kwil practiced his magic. As they slid down the wall and puddled on the floor, the various magics came together, popping and fizzing as they met. Kwil approached with caution, choosing his steps with care. Master will be furious if he sees this, he thought.

Kneeling down near the mess, he waved a hand lightly above it. A force field appeared above the mixing colors, neutralizing the magic inside. Fading into nothingness, the magic disappeared before his eyes. At least that spell works the way it should. With a sigh, the young man stood back on his feet and returned to his duties.

Kwil had long believed himself destined for great things. His heart yearned to study magic, and despite the fact that entrance to the Wizard’s College was forbidden to him, he still considered himself a wizard. After all, he had studied every book he could get his hands on, and he practiced at every opportunity. Why should he be denied his education? He had already proved himself worthy to enter the College. From a very young age he displayed a talent for magic. He should have been given his place and allowed to learn.

Unfortunately, Kwil was born a slave. He was a mere human destined to serve a superior race. The Gatans considered themselves above all other species inhabiting Nōl’Deron, and as a result, they enslaved all others who came to their land. No species was safe, and none ever returned. As far as the outside world was concerned, the land of Gi’gata did not exist. There were only stories of a land of fantasy and mystery, where few dared to travel.

Kwil’s parents had traveled aboard a ship that set out to find the mythical land. Though no ship ever returned after making such a voyage, the wandering spirit got the better of many people. Unsure which land his parents had originated from, Kwil could only guess at his true origins. Wherever they had sailed from, his parents had met a fate that awaited many ships that sailed too near the waters of Gi’gata. They were attacked, taken prisoner, and forced to serve as slaves to the Gatans.

Vaguely remembering his mother’s face, or at least the woman he believed to be his mother, Kwil would often compare himself to her. His own eyes were blue, his hair dark, and his skin rather pale considering his long stints of service out of doors. With ears that stuck out slightly from the side of his head, he knew he wouldn’t be considered handsome, even for a human. The face he remembered, however, was lovely. She had golden hair and deep brown eyes, and she sang to him in a soft voice. The image of her face brought with it a sense of peace and warmth, and he took comfort in it whenever he felt low.

His father was unknown to him, but he was certain he must favor him in looks. How else could such a beautiful woman give birth to a child such as him? His father had been a lucky man indeed. Kwil didn’t need to worry about attracting the opposite sex. It was unlikely he would be of interest to slave breeders. Looking down at the plain white shirt and woolen breeches he wore, he felt inadequate, even for a slave. He was slight of build, and as far as anyone else knew, untalented. Love was not allowed among slaves, so Kwil didn’t give much thought to the slave girls he encountered. It was likely for the best. Passing on his magical tendencies to offspring could be dangerous.

With the colors of his magic swept away, he turned his attention to the duties he was supposed to be performing. Stepping outside the door of his quarters, he dropped his pretense as a wizard and assumed his true role as a slave. First, as always, he had to collect water for the family he served. They would insist on cleaning themselves before breakfast, and the punishment would be severe if their baths were not ready.

Moving through the darkened corridor, Kwil found his way outside. The well was not far from this side of the manor, and he was glad of it. A chill had settled in the air through the night, and he would not be given thicker winter garments for another month or so. Taking great care not to splash any water on himself, Kwil filled two buckets and carried them inside.

Fetching water was among Kwil’s earliest memories. He had always been slender, and it was believed that by forcing him to carry water, he would become muscular and strong. Unfortunately his body had other ideas. He fell often, spilling the water and earning himself a beating. No matter how hard he tried to be large and strong, he was physically incapable. As he had grown over the years, he hoped to at least be tall. That too eluded him. His height was average for a slave, slightly shorter than most Gatans.

Carefully opening the door, Kwil smiled to himself. He hadn’t spilled a single drop. He might not be the strongest, but he was meticulous and efficient—qualities required of a proficient wizard. Filling his masters’ baths would require at least a dozen more trips, and that would give him time to concentrate on memorizing his spells. Though having a moment to read was rare, he would soak up any magic words he found and repeat them in his head as he went about his chores. That way he would not forget, and perhaps another day he would learn what the words meant.

Magic came as naturally to Kwil as any reflex. Though he had been warned by other slaves to hide it, he desired more than anything to let the magic flow. Humans in Gi’gata were forbidden to perform magic. Death was the immediate sentence for any slave suspected of doing so. It was widely rumored that humans weren’t intelligent enough to practice magic, but the Gatan leaders were no fools. They were well aware that humans of other lands practiced magic freely, and that their own slaves were quite capable of learning. To avoid a rebellion, they kept their slaves ignorant, refusing to allow them to learn to read or have any education worth speaking of.

Kwil had been lucky in that regard. His failure to develop muscles had led to the easier job of brushing horses for an elderly Gatan woman. She was quite eccentric and insisted that her slaves make no noise in her home. One day while in the gardens, her eye fell on Kwil. She noticed the easy gait with which he moved, and his gentle nature with her horses. She favored him and invited him into her home. For years he served this woman, always taking careful steps and tiptoeing as he went to avoid disturbing her. When she fell ill, she insisted he tend her at her bedside. She helped him learn to read, and eventually insisted he read all of her correspondence aloud to her as she lay abed. With her constant corrections, he learned to read difficult words, and to speak clearly and eloquently. As her mind deteriorated, she mistook him for her own son.

Kwil’s memories of his mistress were mostly good. Though she had been demanding at first, she rarely punished him or any of her other slaves. Her tenderness toward him at the end of her life had been alien to him. No one had ever spoken to him so kindly, nor cared whether he learned to read. Her last words to him had been a whispered “I love you, my son,” which had stuck with Kwil ever since. Though it’s doubtful she would have uttered those words had she been in her right mind, it was nonetheless special to him.

After his mistress died, her estate was divided among her real descendants, who brought in their own slaves. Kwil’s services were no longer needed, and he was sold to Lord Orva. Rumors of Lord Orva’s cruel treatment of his slaves had not escaped Kwil’s ears. It was said that a graveyard existed near the manor, full of the slaves Orva had personally murdered. Kwil was unperturbed.

He was a hard worker, and he would adapt to Orva’s expectations in order to survive. Holding to the dream that one day he would become a great wizard, Kwil’s outlook on life was not as grim as other slaves. A bright future awaited him, he was certain of it.

As he reached the steps, he took great care to balance the water buckets on each side of him. One splash of water on the stairs would render them slick, and if his master should fall, Kwil shuddered to think what might be in store for him. Carefully placing each foot, he climbed to the fourth floor, where his master and mistress resided. Their rooms, which occupied the entire floor, consisted of separate bedchambers, two sitting areas, a trophy room—where Lord Orva’s prized dead animals hung upon the walls—and two separate bath chambers.

Kwil made his way along the corridor, his eyes ever looking down. Making eye contact with his master without permission would lead to trouble. He learned upon their first meeting to follow the lord’s rules. Kwil had been brought before his master along with three other slaves he had worked with previously. Lord Orva barely looked at them before ordering them to be whipped. “A reminder never to cross me,” he had called it. Kwil had been dragged outside, his arms bound to a post, his shirt ripped from his back. Three lashes were more than enough, the spiked leather straps tearing into his flesh. The pain was excruciating, and the bruising lasted for weeks. Kwil would not forget it. Though he refused to live in fear, he made note of his master’s ill temper. He would mind his duties carefully to avoid Lord Orva’s wrath.

The following three months had not been all bad. Kwil steered clear of both master and mistress, doing only as he was told and making himself scarce. Rarely did he encounter either of them, and he intended to keep it that way. As long as he remained unnoticed, they would likely leave him in peace.

Emptying the bucket into Lady Orva’s tub, he was startled by a maidservant who trotted past him. She was Gatan, a paid servant rather than a slave. Her sleek feline form moved silently across the room, adding rose petals to the tub before scurrying away. She barely noticed Kwil’s presence, as if the tub were filling itself. He quickly dumped the second bucket before heading back downstairs to repeat the procedure.

As he reached the top of the steps a voice called to him. “Don’t forget to heat the last few,” the maidservant reminded him.

He turned to face her, bowing his head that he understood. This was the same reminder she gave him each day. How could he possibly forget? A cold bath would probably earn him more lashes, and he hoped to avoid any and all forms of punishment. Perhaps the young woman thought humans were too stupid to remember a daily task, or maybe she felt duty-bound to speak to him. Whichever it was, the pity in her yellow eyes was unmistakable.

Silently he walked back outside, lowering his buckets into the well and filling them. This time, he took the buckets to the fire pit, which the stable hands had already lit. He hooked the buckets a few inches above the flame, allowing the water to heat. If only he knew the correct spell, this work would be much faster. So far, he could do little more than manipulate objects at a distance. Looking around to be sure no one was watching, he gently waved a hand, summoning the smoke toward him. Twisting and shaping, he moved the smoke into spiral patterns, eventually swirling it into the shape of a rose. A half-smile came over his face, but the sound of approaching footsteps forced him to abandon his work. Waving the smoke away, he spun around, grabbing two more buckets.

When both baths were finally full and warm, he made his way downstairs to the kitchen area. He hadn’t eaten since midday yesterday, and his rumbling stomach reminded him that he could not live on dreams of magic alone. Jenn, the elderly slave woman who ran the kitchens, smiled warmly at the young man’s approach. Taking two biscuits from the tray in front of her, she shoved them in his hand and mussed his hair.

“Dear boy,” she said as she turned back to her work.

Kwil took a bite of one biscuit and observed a moment as Jenn went about her work. She hummed as she dawdled through the kitchen, checking various dishes as they simmered or baked. She took pride in her kitchen, despite being forced to work in it. Here was a true example of making the best of one’s situation. Kwil felt a fondness for the old lady, and she reminded him of his former mistress in many ways. She was kind to him, and even among fellow slaves, that was not easy to find. Many of them felt their work was a competition, fearing that a younger man might outshine them.

Kwil had encountered opposition so far only from those who worked outdoors, likely because they felt he had a more comfortable position working inside the manor. They were probably right, but Kwil could not trade places if he wanted to. The master told the slave where he would work, and the slave obeyed without question.

Before Kwil could vacate the kitchen, Lady Orva happened to appear in the dining room. Her black and brown fur was slightly disheveled, her green eyes showing signs of fatigue. It would seem she planned to eat before enjoying her bath this morning. Kwil knew what that meant—he had better keep the water hot.

As he turned to leave, Jenn nudged him gently. “She’s with child,” she said.

“Are you sure?” Kwil asked, wondering how much extra work an infant meant for him.

“If I had a coin, I’d wager it,” the old lady said with a crooked smile.

Kwil nodded. She would certainly know better than him.

As if reading his mind, Jenn looked up from her cooking pot and said, “Don’t worry. They’ll hire on new staff for the kit.” Reaching into her pocket, she said, “I almost forgot.” She handed him a small bundle.

With a nod of gratitude, he peered inside the bundle to see fresh grapes. His eyes went wide. Normally his meals consisted of day-old bread and a handful of raisins if he was lucky. “Thank you!” he said, wrapping an arm around the old woman’s neck.

“Off you go,” she said, waving a hand to shoo him away.

Stuffing the bundle into his shirt pocket, he scurried back outside. Today will be a good day, he told himself.

A horn blasted behind him, breaking him from his reverie. Spinning around, he spotted Lord Orva, perched atop his destrier. He was a large man, who preferred a large, impressive horse when he rode out on the hunt. The tigerlike stripes of his face gave him the look of a fierce hunter. Kwil stepped aside as the lord and his friends galloped past without so much as a glance his direction. Listening to the thunder of footfalls as they moved farther and farther away, Kwil knew how he’d be spending the afternoon—cleaning and processing whatever his master managed to catch. Magic would have to wait for another day.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

“Boy!” Lady Orva called.

Kwil nearly dropped the bundle of laundry he was carrying. Lady Orva rarely came downstairs except to eat, and she had spoken no words directly to him since his arrival at the manor. He dipped his head, a sign that he was listening for her command.

“My daughter is returning home from school this evening,” she said. “Make sure her room is spotless!” With those words, she twirled her skirts and headed back up the stairs.

Kwil was not aware the couple had any children, other than the one on the way. He’d never been asked to clean the rooms on the third floor, likely where the girl’s room was located. The second floor was reserved for guests, and Kwil was very familiar with those.

Bundling the washing under one arm, Kwil pushed open the front door and stepped outside. The weather was pleasant, with few clouds present in the sky. It would be a good day to help with the horses, but it was unlikely any daylight would remain when he had finished cleaning. Making his way past the gardens, he headed toward the large tubs where the laundresses were busy scrubbing garments and hanging them on the line to dry.

“What’s this?” a heavy servant asked. She placed her hands on her hips and stared at the young man. She was a Gatan and had little patience for human slaves. Kwil had encountered her almost daily, and she never bothered to speak a kind word to him.

“Laundry,” he replied, extending the bundle toward her.

“You been wearing these fine dresses?” she asked, cackling with laughter.

Kwil did not reply. He remained silent, still holding out the bundle for the woman to take. After a few moments of looking him over, she said, “Don’t give it to me. Take it over there.” She gestured with a plump thumb toward another servant.

Without a word, Kwil moved forward and approached the girl. She was a young Gatan who barely looked at him as he approached. Reaching out her thin hands, she relieved Kwil of his burden.

“You can bring them straight to me from now on,” she said in a quiet voice. “There’s no need to bother Sal.”

Kwil nodded his understanding, unsure if the Gatan wished him to reply verbally. A glance at her eyes suggested she was kind but shy. She avoided his gaze but showed no anger that he had looked at her. Before he could get himself into trouble, he marched on, avoiding the heavy laundress as he went.

Keeping his head down for fear of running into someone, Kwil moved up the manor steps. Another servant passed him, but she paid him no heed. Stopping on the third floor, Kwil raised his head and looked at the area before him. Rows of paintings hung on the walls, all of them depicting families with young children. As he moved along, he observed their faces, deciding that they must be relatives of the Orvas. Their fur came in a wide variety of colors, as was common among Gatans. Sometimes the children looked like their parents, and sometimes they looked entirely different.

One painting featured an unruly child, which the artist had chosen to depict truthfully. He appeared to be tugging at his mother’s tail, the expression on her face showing her chagrin. Kwil couldn’t suppress his amusement, and he laughed out loud, the sound echoing from the walls. Quickly slapping a hand over his mouth, he turned his head to see if anyone had heard. To his relief, no one was there.

There were only two doors on the third floor, and he hurried toward the one on the left. To his delight, it appeared he had chosen correctly. Inside was an abundance of furniture, all covered with white sheets to keep away the dust. Shaking out the sheet that covered the bed, he observed the plushness of the mattress beneath. Placing his hand on the bed, he pushed down, wondering what it must be like to sleep in such luxury.

As he looked around, he observed a thick layer of dust on every sheet. This was exactly the sort of task he was waiting for. Returning to the door, he focused his mind to the latch, willing it to move into position. With an audible click, the door locked. Kwil smiled to himself, satisfied that no one would enter and find him practicing magic. Cracking his knuckles, he positioned his hands and looked at the sheet covering the desk. Slowly the sheet began to move, drawing itself away from the furniture beneath. It hung briefly in midair before dropping to the ground.

Kwil frowned, wondering what had gone wrong. This was a spell he performed often, and he shouldn’t have had any trouble with it. Bending to pick up the fallen sheet, he sneezed, blowing dust all around him. Could a layer of dust be inhibiting the sheet’s movement? It seemed far-fetched, but he knew little of the intricacies of magic. It was possible that many minute details could affect it.

Deciding to clear the dust away first, Kwil reached for a broom. As he gripped the handle, he realized that dust was no different from any other object. In fact, it was much smaller and lighter. Focusing his mind, he concentrated on the dust that had settled upon the sheet covering a nearby chair. The dust rose in a small cloud, the gray particles dancing and swirling as they moved. Kwil fought back his excitement as it floated across the room, making its way to a trash bin in the corner. As it fell in place, Kwil celebrated quietly to himself. Next, he lifted the formerly dusty sheet, bringing it carefully to his arms to be folded. The delicate work of folding the sheet could not be done with magic. At least, not yet. Fine movements were difficult, and it took a lot of practice. If he had days to clean the room, he would certainly give folding a try. For now, he was content with moving dust and sheets.

Kwil continued cleaning in this manner, celebrating small victories, and confounding himself with his failures. With no master wizard to guide him, he might never perfect his art, but that didn’t stop him from trying. The cleaning went on for hours until a rattling came from the door. His concentration broken, the final bits of dust scattered across the bedroom floor.

“Who’s in there?” a female voice asked from outside the door.

Rushing to the door, Kwil quickly opened the latch and lowered his head.

“About time,” the woman said. She leaned down to look at his face. “You new here?” she asked.

Kwil nodded, taking his first look at the lady before him. She was a youthful Gatan with tricolored fur. Flecks of gold highlighted her darker sections, and splashes of white added personality to her coat. Instead of the dresses worn by most women, she wore a buff-colored blouse with brown trousers. Her pale green eyes stared at the young man intently.

“Do you always lock the door when you’re cleaning?” she asked, observing the stack of neatly folded sheets.

“Forgive me, Mistress,” he said.

“Pffft,” she replied, waving her hand. She shoved her way past him, gently setting a wooden case on her bed. As she placed a bundle of books on her desk, she said, “Call me Nera, not Mistress.”

Kwil stammered over his words, unsure of the correct way to reply. “It is forbidden,” he managed to say.

“Then call me that when no one else can hear you, okay?” she replied. “Looks like you missed a spot,” she added, grinning and pointing to the dust pile on the floor.

Kwil quickly dropped to his knees and swept up the dust, placing it inside the bin. Bundling the sheets, he bowed and made his way back to the door. Shifting the load to one side, he reached for the door. As his arm lifted, he bumped into the books piled on the desk, knocking two of them to the floor. Immediately he dropped to retrieve them, his eyes falling on the titles of the books. All of them were about wizardry.

Gently caressing the covers as he placed them neatly in a stack, he could hardly pull himself away. Here before him was the information he desperately craved, information that could teach him how to properly cast spells.

“Have you finished yet?” Nera called from behind him.

Seduced by the sight of the books, he had momentarily forgotten where he was. Clearing his throat he replied, “Yes, Mist—Nera.”

Nera smiled. “Close the door on your way out,” she commanded. Turning her back to him, she focused her attention to the case on her bed.

Kwil took one more longing glance at the books before exiting. Pulling the door shut behind him, his hand rested a moment on the handle. He must find a way to read those books, even if it meant stealing them. Being caught could cost him his life, but without those books, he would feel as if he’d died anyway. The magic inside those pages called to him, beckoning him to the knowledge within.

 

* * * *

For several hours, Kwil busied himself scrubbing every inch of Nera’s washing room. Unable to concentrate long enough to use magic, he worked directly with his hands instead. Only steps across the corridor was the knowledge he craved. How could he steal the books without causing suspicion? And where could he possibly hide them? Shaking his head, he tried to force the idea away. With Nera back home, it was likely he’d be sent daily to tend her room. That would be his chance to read while leaving the books where they belonged.

Back and forth Kwil moved his mop over the same spot of floor he had already cleaned. Nera had to leave her room eventually. Even if there was no time to learn this evening, he wanted to touch the books at least one more time before going to bed. Hoping she would demand a change of bedclothes or that something hadn’t been completed to her liking, he waited for her voice to call out to him. To his disappointment, she did not.

After what felt like an eternity, he heard a small click of a door. Peeking out into the hallway, he saw Nera walking away. It must be dinnertime, he realized. His stomach was tied in knots, so he hadn’t become hungry yet himself. The only nourishment he craved was in those books. Leaning out to observe, he watched as Nera made her way to the stairs and disappeared out of sight. This was his chance.

Dropping his mop to the ground, he raced across the hallway and let himself into the young woman’s room. The books lay unmoved on the desk where he had left them. Snatching up the first volume, his eyes greedily ran over the pages as his heart pounded against his chest. This particular book focused on basic elements, magic that was unknown to Kwil. As he skimmed the pages, he caught snippets of advice on pulling magic from the elements that surround a wizard. Such magic seemed practical, but Kwil felt no connection to any element. How did one discover which element controlled his powers? Continuing to flip through the pages, he saw passages about wizards who could manipulate two or more elements. Smiling to himself, he hoped he would be able to do that someday.

Moving on to the next book, his eyes drank in the title: A Beginner’s Guide to the Arcane. Clutching the volume to his chest, he knew he had found gold. Carefully opening to the first chapter, he stared at the words on the page. The writing was in the common tongue, but the spells were written in foreign characters, followed by a pronunciation guide. To his great disappointment, he realized he needed to go further back and study the correct language. The other two books on the desk were written in this language as well. Where would he find something that could teach him these words?

With a sigh, Kwil nearly set the beginner’s book aside, but his hand would not let go. Taking a deep breath, he opened it once more and flipped to the first lesson. It was simple enough, naming a single word that would allow the reader to flip pages without touching the book. Stumbling in his attempt to pronounce the incantation, Kwil expected nothing to happen. His eyes went wide as the page flipped. Grinning ear to ear, he repeated the word to flip another page.

Considering himself lucky that the pronunciation guide was so well written, he moved on to the next spell. Along with an incantation, it presented a guide for the movement of the wizard’s hand. It explained how to move one’s fingers at the appropriate parts of the incantation. This would allow him to turn to any page he desired in his books. Leave it to a wizard’s school to teach you to study magic by using magic, he thought. If a student incorporated magic into every aspect of his life, he would surely grow accustomed to it. Eventually, he could perform these spells without thinking. Kwil could only imagine what it would be like when he reached that point. These books could lead him there.

Slowly he spoke the words, attempting to move his fingers along with the rhythm of the spell. Nothing happened. Frowning, he tried again, but this time was no different. As he began the third try, the door swung open behind him. Dropping the book, he spun around to see Nera holding a small plate of food.

Hurrying to his feet, he tucked the volume away neatly on her desk and bowed his head. How much had she heard? What would she do to him? Silently he hoped she would not tell her father. Kwil would rather be turned over to authorities than face Lord Orva. He was a cruel man, and there was no telling what punishment he would have in store for a slave attempting to learn magic.

“I didn’t realize slaves were allowed to read,” she said, setting her plate on the desk.

“I wasn’t reading, Nera,” Kwil lied. “I was only straightening the books.”

Nera narrowed her eyes as she observed the slave. “I heard you pronouncing the words,” she said. “You were reading.” Looking around the room, she added, “Everything in here is perfectly straight, just as you left it earlier. There was no need for you to return.” In a more accusing tone, she said, “I saw the pages move when you cast the spell.”

Kwil felt the redness creep into his face. “Please, Mistress,” he said. “I meant no harm.” Breathing heavily, he kept his head downward, staring at his feet.

“Relax,” she said, picking up the book. “You want to learn magic?”

Kwil’s head shot up, staring at the Gatan. “More than anything,” he said, his voice a hoarse whisper.

The corners of Nera’s mouth turned up, her face showing no sign of suspicion. “I don’t want to learn it,” she said. “My parents are forcing me to attend the College.” Trotting over to her bed she opened the wooden case and pulled out a lute. Leaning back against her pillow, she strummed at the strings. “I prefer music, but that isn’t smart enough for my parents.”

“You’re a free woman,” Kwil replied. “Why not just do what you love?” The idea that a Gatan couldn’t choose her own path was alien to him. A slave had no choice, but a highborn lady certainly had one.

“Papa would likely send me away if I left school,” Nera responded. “What he doesn’t realize is, there are other ways to make magic besides casting spells. And music is much more fun than memorizing spells all day.”

Kwil didn’t have an answer. Instead he stood silently for several minutes as Nera played a soft tune. He gave a quiet applause as she finished. “Can you sing?” he asked.

“Not very well,” she replied honestly. “You?”

“Afraid not, Mistress,” he said.

“Stop calling me that. I already told you my name is Nera.”

“Of course, Nera,” he corrected. “Forgive me.”

Setting her lute aside, she sat up on her bed and looked at him. “You can’t take the book from here,” she said. “If anyone catches you with it, well I don’t have to tell you what will happen.”

Kwil nodded. Once again he would be cut off from learning, thanks to his lowly status.

“What you can do,” she began, “is study it here with me.”

His jaw dropping open, Kwil could barely take in a breath. Was she serious? She was going to help him learn?

“I’m not very good at it,” she continued, “so I won’t be much of a teacher. But you can study while I play my lute. That way no one will hear your voice when you pronounce the incantations.”

His eyes filling with tears, Kwil fought the urge to grab the girl and hug her. Such an act would be completely inappropriate, but he felt an almost overwhelming sense of gratitude toward her. “Thank you, Nera,” he said. “Thank you and thank you.” Not knowing what else to say, his words trailed off.

“You’re welcome,” she replied. “You can begin now if you like.”

Kwil jumped at the opportunity, eagerly grabbing the book and situating himself in a corner out of her way. Today was the beginning of his true life. Finally he had the chance to learn and develop the magic that lingered inside him, yearning to be set free.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 3

 

Each day Kwil spent more time in Nera’s room, reading and practicing the magic written in the pages of her books. He learned a variety of simple spells, and he felt a sense of pride he had never experienced before. After only a week, he was finished with the beginner’s book and ready to move on to the others.

“You’re going to catch up to me,” Nera commented playfully. Most days she took little interest in his studying. She simply sat upon her bed, strumming her lute while he read and practiced. Today, she seemed eager for him to demonstrate what he’d learned.

“I doubt that,” Kwil replied, looking at the books. “I have a long way to go.”

“But you catch on quickly,” she said. “If you could read the runic symbols, I bet you’d learn twice as fast.”

“Can you teach me?” Kwil asked eagerly.

Nera shook her head. “I don’t know it, but I’m supposed to learn this year at the College.”

Kwil’s heart nearly stopped. She was only on break from her studies, and she would have to return in another week. She’d take her books with her, and he would be left with no way to continue learning.

Not noticing the slave’s worried expression, Nera said, “Maybe you could come to school with me.”

Stunned, Kwil stared up at her, wondering how such a thing was possible.

“Not as a student,” she explained. “Second year students are allowed private chambers, and many of them bring a slave to serve them while they study. It frees up time to concentrate on studying—or playing the lute.” The last bit she added with a grin.

“I would love that,” Kwil replied.

“I’ll have to ask my parents,” she said. “But I think I can convince them to let me take you.”

As she spoke, her eyes glanced over at the fireplace, where the fire had dimmed and was nearly out. She started to get up, but Kwil beat her to it. He leapt to his feet, hurrying to tend the dying embers.

“Forgive me,” he said. Neglecting his duties was unacceptable, especially when it came to Nera. He owed her everything, and he felt pangs of guilt at allowing her room to grow cold.

Nera looked thoughtfully at the slave. “You know, the attitude toward slavery is changing in Gi’gata.”

A bright fire roared to life before Kwil turned to face her. He wrinkled his brow, puzzled as to what she was talking about.

“News rarely reaches these sleepy country manors,” she continued. “But in the city, many Gatans are no longer comfortable owning other living beings. It’s an archaic and barbaric practice.”

Kwil couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “If we don’t work for them, what do we do?” he wondered.

“Well, I’ve heard that many are sent back to their original homelands,” she replied.

“Many slaves are born here,” he stated. “I was.”

Nera paused a moment, not sure how to reply. Sure he had an ancestral home, but he had never been there. Would it be right to free a slave and send him back to a land he’d scarcely even heard of? What would happen if freed slaves chose to stay? How would her people treat them? “Maybe those who don’t wish to leave could be given jobs,” she said.

“I already have a job,” Kwil replied. The thought of being turned loose scared him. He had nothing—no money, no home, and no family. Should all slaves suddenly be set free, he would be doomed. Freedom didn’t mean equality. Studying at the College would still be out of the question.

With a sigh, Nera said, “Look, I don’t have all the answers. I only mentioned it because I thought you might like to know. Your future might be something better than serving my family.” She managed a sweet smile, hoping she hadn’t made him too uncomfortable. “Come on,” she said. “I’ll help you with your studies.”

With a nod, Kwil returned to the books and flipped to the next lesson. Nera set her lute aside and watched with interest as Kwil manipulated the fire in the hearth.

“You didn’t need to get up to tend that,” she said with a laugh.

Kwil shrugged, his face slightly bewildered. “I didn’t realize I could do that,” he replied.

“How did you develop an interest in magic anyway?” Nera wondered.

“Since I was very small, I’ve been able to move things,” he said. “And I can create colors in the air,” he added, wishing he hadn’t mentioned it. It was an unpractical and frivolous use of magic, but he enjoyed it.

“Show me,” she said.

Focusing on the air in front of him, he waved his fingers in a delicate pattern. A shimmering butterfly of pink, yellow, and blue appeared before him. It flapped its wings, floating softly to sit upon Nera’s knee. She looked up at the young man, her eyes bright.

“It’s beautiful,” she said.

As Kwil looked at the ground, the butterfly dissolved into a puddle of colors. “It’s silly,” he replied, shaking his head. “But it was the first bit of magic I managed to control,” he explained. “And it’s fun.”

“That’s because you created it,” she replied. “You didn’t just move it around, you conjured it from nothing.” Picking up her lute, she added, “That’s just how it is when you create music.” She plucked at the strings and hummed a merry tune. Looking up, she said, “There’s more to life than what you can learn in books.”

Though her statement was true, Kwil saw no other way to learn the basics than through study. “Music requires study too, doesn’t it?”

“Yes it does,” she replied. “And lots of practice. No different from magic, really.”

As she continued to play her music, Kwil turned back to the book and practiced a few more spells. The hand gestures were becoming more difficult, requiring more-delicate movements in time with the incantation. Growing frustrated, he wondered if he would ever get the hang of it.

Noticing his difficulty, Nera took a seat on the floor next to him. “Like this,” she said, taking a hold of his hand. His skin was the roughest she had ever felt, and a glance at his fingertips revealed reddened blisters and cuts. “What happened?” she asked, not seeing the obvious answer.

Kwil looked at his fingers, unsure what she meant. “What happened to what?” he asked.

“Your fingers,” she replied. “They’re so sore. Doesn’t that hurt?”

With a shrug, he said, “I’m used to it. It’s no different from a farmer who works with his hands.”

“Farmers can afford gloves,” she said quietly. A wave of guilt came over her, knowing that she was a part of this young man’s suffering. Despite her current friendship with Kwil, she had been content to order around servants and slaves all her life. Something had to change. “From now on, I’ll clean my own room while you study,” she declared.

“Nera, it’s my job,” Kwil replied. “I don’t mind.”

“I’ve made up my mind,” she stated. “Now let’s see if we can get this right.”

As she assisted him in performing the gestures correctly, the clock on her mantle chimed.

“I’d better go,” Kwil said. “I’m supposed to help in the kitchen tonight. You have guests coming.”

Nera rolled her eyes. A fancy dinner with her parents was an inconvenience she could do without. But if she tried to stay in her room when guests were present, her father would likely drag her down the stairs. “I guess I’ll see you there then,” she said.

 

* * * * *

Taking inventory of the rows of decadent foods in front of him, Kwil counted no fewer than seven courses. The Orvas’ dinner guests would no doubt be delighted by the variety and quality of foods. Jenn had generously allowed Kwil to sample a few, many of them being far too rich for his stomach. A small taste was all he required to know the foods certainly weren’t for him. A lifetime of a bland diet had not prepared him for the sweetness of chocolate or the texture of goose liver.

Making sure that each dish was covered, Kwil lit candles under the ones that needed to stay warm, and fanned the ones that needed to stay cool. It was not the most stimulating job in the kitchen, but it was better than scrubbing floors. Besides, he looked forward to seeing the night’s entertainment. This would be the first dinner party he had witnessed since coming to work for the Orvas, and he wasn’t sure what to expect. All he knew was, the more lavish the dinner party, the more respected the host.

Jenn floated by him, a twinkle in her aging eyes. Though she had lived her entire life a slave, her spirits were undaunted. Dinner parties were her specialty—a chance to show what she was capable of. Kwil couldn’t help but smile as he watched the old lady darting to and fro with surprising grace and agility.

Behind him the young laundress approached, clearing her throat loudly to get his attention. Kwil startled at the sound, turning around quickly to see who was there. It was the same young Gatan he had met before, and he felt ashamed that he had not asked her name.

Thrusting a bundle of clothing toward him, she said, “These are for you.”

Taking the green and yellow tunic from her, his brow furrowed in confusion. “For me?”

The Gatan crossed her arms and sighed in frustration. “You don’t think they’d want you in front of their guests dressed like that do you?” Shaking her head, she walked away, leaving Kwil behind to ponder her meaning.

He looked down at the shabby clothing he wore every day, the elbows of his shirt nearly threadbare. Though he washed the garments as often as he could, he supposed they could be cleaner.

Jenn crept up behind him and patted him on the back. “In there, Son,” she said, pointing to the cupboard.

With a nod of thanks, Kwil stepped inside and quickly changed into the fancy clothing he had received. The pants were slightly loose, obviously designed for a larger man, and the velveteen tunic with its gold trim felt scratchy against his skin. Plain cotton suited him far better, but he had no room to argue. These clothes meant he would be serving in the dining hall, not waiting in the kitchens to fetch supplies. He had anticipated a night of straining to see the entertainment, catching glances whenever he could. Instead, he would be up front, viewing firsthand whatever the Orvas had planned. The thought sent his heart racing.

When he exited the pantry, Jenn was waiting for him. She reached up and patted his cheek before smoothing out his tunic. “That’s better,” she said, her eyes shining brightly. “You have fun out there, but don’t let them know it.” A soft laugh followed as she turned around to tend the confections, stacking them neatly on a silver tray.

Voices sounded from the hall, signaling the servants that the guests had arrived. A passing Gatan shoved a pitcher of wine at Kwil, which he took gladly. Filling wine goblets was a simple enough task, and it would allow him to move freely about the room and observe the night’s events. After a wink from Jenn, Kwil headed into the dining area, where the guests where laughing and talking. Another servant carried empty goblets on a silver tray, and Kwil decided to follow him, filling the cups as he went. Each guest accepted his drink graciously, not paying much attention to who was doing the pouring. As long as their goblets remained full, they were pleased.

Nera made an entrance wearing a long satin gown. She looked out of sorts, tugging at the tight bodice and grimacing in her mother’s direction. Kwil felt pity for his friend, seeing how much she detested the fancy garment. During their days of study together, he had never seen her wear anything other than pants. For a noble lady, she lacked severely in refinement and poise. She was truly her own person, and she wouldn’t be dictated by the mores of the day.

Kwil hazarded a glance in her direction, noticing that she did not have a cup. Grabbing one off the dining table, he hastened to her side, filling the glass and offering it to her. At first glance, she seemed annoyed, but realizing it was Kwil standing before her, her face broke into a smile. Clearly he wasn’t the only one surprised to see a friend all dressed up. She said nothing, but her eyes sparkled with silent laughter. Kwil blushed slightly before moving away to tend the other guests.

As the night went on, the guests became louder and seemed to find the humor in every little story that was told. Their glasses ran over, thanks to Kwil keeping a close eye to make sure no one was thirsty.

Finally, Lord Orva stood, banging his fork against his goblet. “Bring on the entertainment!” he declared, to the delight of his guests.

Applause broke out, many of the guests jumping to their feet. Being shorter than most of the Gatans, Kwil angled his neck to get a better view. A spectacular display of magic shot toward the ceiling. Colors and shapes flew around the room, including a multitude of butterflies. Nera shot a glance in Kwil’s direction as the butterflies darted past her.

Following the display, a troupe of dancers entered the room. Their feline bodies were painted a multitude of colors, some Kwil had never seen before. The cost of such dyes must have been astronomical, but the Orvas would spare no expense to impress their friends. The men and women danced gracefully, tossing each other into the air and performing tricks on the fly. Kwil watched in amazement, nearly forgetting his duties as wine bearer. It was of little consequence, though, as the guests could hardly look away either. Such a display of acrobatics was captivating, and the crowd fell silent enough to hear the tiniest squeak of a mouse.

When the dancers finished, a second round of colorful magic lit up the dining hall. The crowd broke into applause and whistled their approval at the performers. Kwil stared in amazement, his mind full of wonder. Only the drumming of a hand against the table snapped him back to reality. One of the guests held out an empty goblet.

Rushing to the man’s side, Kwil quickly filled the cup and backed away, his head down. Making his way around the table, he continued filling goblets until his pitcher was empty, then ran to retrieve another.

Nera waited for his return, and then addressed her mother. “Mother, I’d like to take a slave back to school with me when I go. Since I’m in my second year, I’ll be far too busy to tend my own affairs.”

Lady Orva seemed unsure. “Surely the school can provide for your needs,” she said. The cost of tuition was extremely high. In her mind, the school should provide ample servants to wait upon the students.

Lord Orva was not deaf to the conversation. He watched the exchange with interest, his goblet held close to his lips.

Nera tried again. “Mother, all the highborn ladies bring slaves with them to tend their private chambers.” Turning to face her father, she asked, “I will have private quarters, will I not?” At this point, she knew she had her father’s attention. He refused to be outdone or thought of as less powerful than any other lord. Out of pure ego, he would grant his daughter’s request.

“You certainly shall,” he said, a smug expression on his face. “You shall take a slave with you, and you shall have the finest rooms the College has to offer.”

Many of the guests around the table nodded their approval and lifted their glasses to the lord’s generosity. Kwil had worked his way around the table, adding more wine to Nera’s goblet.

“This one will do,” she said, gesturing to Kwil.

 

Without argument, her father gave a single nod to approve his daughter’s choice. Nera shot a knowing glance at Kwil, who sucked in a quick breath and held it. The young woman certainly had a knack for manipulating her father, and it had worked to Kwil’s advantage. He would soon be off to the Wizard’s College, learning things he could only imagine.e table nodded their approval and lifted their glasses to the lord’s generosity. Kwil had worked his way around the table, adding more wine to Nera’s goblet.

“This one will do,” she said, gesturing to Kwil.

Without argument, her father gave a single nod to approve his daughter’s choice. Nera shot a knowing glance at Kwil, who sucked in a quick breath and held it. The young woman certainly had a knack for manipulating her father, and it had worked to Kwil’s advantage. He would soon be off to the Wizard’s College, learning things he could only imagine.

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