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"What's It All About?" For
Song of the Lioness quartet
The Immortals quartet
Protector of the Small quartet
Beka Cooper series
The Circle of Magic quartet
The Circle Opens quartet
THE WILL OF THE EMPRESS novel
MELTING STONES original audiobook and novel
Anthologies, Short Stories, Collections and Articles:
Young Warriors: Stories of Strength anthology, edited by Tamora Pierce & Josepha Sherman
Excerpt from CIRCLE OPENS: Cold Fire
In the city of Kugisko, in Namorn:
Niamara Bancanor, twelve and sometimes too helpful in Daja Kisubo's opinion, gripped Daja's left hand and elbow. They stood on one edge of a broad circle of ice where the Bancanors docked their household boats in the summer. Now, in the month of Snow Moon, eight weeks before the solstice holiday called Longnight, it was a place to skate, with benches and heaped banks of snow at the sides to protect those less able to stop than experts like Nia. For all her fourteen years, Daja was as much a beginner at this as any three-year-old. She wouldn't have agreed to these lessons, wanting to protect her dignity, but after three weeks of watching the Namornese zip up and down the city's frozen canals, she had realized it was time to learn how to skate, dignity or no.
"Are you ready?" asked Nia. The cold air made dark roses bloom on her creamy brown cheeks and lent extra sparkle to her brown eyes.
Daja took a deep breath. "Not really," she said with resignation. "Let's go."
"One," counted Nia, "two, three."
On three Nia and Daja thrust with their left legs against ice smoothed each night by convict crews who performed that service for the entire city. Daja glided forward, knees wobbling, ankles wobbling, belly wobbling.
"Right, push!" cried Nia, gripping Daja's arm. Two right skates thrust against the ice. Left and right, left and right, they maneuvered across the length of the boat basin. Daja fought to stay upright. She knew her body was set wrong: while she didn't skate, years of training in staff combat told her that she was not at all centered. It was like trying to balance on a pair of knife blades. Who thought of this mad form of travel in the first place? And why had no one locked them up before they passed their dangerous ideas on to others?
She didn't want to think of the picture she made, though she'd bet it was hilarious. Five feet eight inches tall, she towered over Nia by four inches. Where Nia was slender, Daja was big-shouldered and blocky, muscled from years of work as a metalsmith. She was a much darker brown than Nia and the other Bancanor children, whose mother was light brown and whose father was white. Daja's face and mouth were broad. Her large brown eyes--when she was not trying to learn to skate--were steady. She wore her springy black hair in a multitude of long, thin braids. Today she had pulled them into a horse-tail tied with an orange scarf; she wore no fur-lined hat as Nia did, because she had her own way to keep her head warm. Her clothes were in the style worn by Namornese men: a long-skirted coat of heavy wool over a slightly shorter indoor coat, a full-sleeved and high-collared shirt, baggy trousers, and calf-high boots to which the skates were strapped.
"See, this isn't so bad," Nia said as they reached the entrance of the boat basin. "Soon it will be as easy as breathing. Now turn . . ." She swept Daja around until they faced the stair to the rear courtyard, across the small basin. "Ready, left, push," Nia coaxed. Daja obeyed.
Left, right, left, right, they slowly made their way across the ice. Servants coming and going from the house and outbuildings watched and hid grins. Like Nia, they had spent their lives here on the southeastern edge of the Syth. For those who could not afford horses and sleighs in winter, ice skates were necessary. They were a quick way around a city sprawled over various islands in waters that were frozen solid from mid-Blood Moon to late Seed Moon.
By the time Nia turned Daja again, the older girl was starting to get the idea. The trick was to rock as she stroked, using alternate legs to push. If she brought her legs together, sooner or later she would stop moving. Skates, when not in motion, had an ugly tendency to make the wearer fall over.
Nia guided her back to the end of the boat basin, where it passed under a street bridge to enter the canal beyond. Without stopping, she guided Daja onto a course that circled the ice instead of halving it. Three times they went around, Daja feeling stronger and more confident with each turn. It was not so different from being aboard a ship, in a cold way. She enjoyed it so much that she didn't realize that Nia had let go of her. She skated two yards alone before she noticed. Then she made the mistake of looking for her partner. Her knees and ankles wobbled. She frantically tried to recapture the rhythm, managing three strokes of the skates before her feet hit the basin's edge. Daja went face-first into heaped snow.
She sank a foot before Nia pulled her out. Laughing, the girl apologized. "I thought you were doing so well that you'd just keep--"
Daja straightened, wobbling. Nia had gone abruptly silent. A moment later Daja realized the servants had also stopped moving. Everyone stared at the place where she had fallen.
Daja sighed. Her Namornese hosts had told her that she had adjusted wonderfully to their northern winter. She had not mentioned that her mage talents included the ability to control her body warmth by drawing heat from other sources. As a result, her very warm body had melted her precise shape into the snow, down to each finger on her gloves. The snow that had iced her face when she fell was melting down the front of her coat.
"Can Frostpine do that?" asked Nia, putting her own gloved hand into the hand-shape Daja had burned into the snow. Daja's teacher, a great mage dedicated to the service of the Fire gods, was the reason they were spending the winter in Bancanor House. Nia's parents were old friends from the time before Frostpine before he took his vows.
"No," Daja replied. "Even if you have the same magic as someone else, it shows in different ways." It would require too much explanation, or she would have added that she wouldn't have this ability if she had not spent months with her magic intertwined with that of three other young mages. Though Daja and her foster-siblings had finally straightened their powers out, they still carried traces of what the others could do. Daja's ability to draw warmth and see magic came to her courtesy of a weather mage.
"Well," Nia said, determinedly cheerful. "Let's try again."
The lesson went forward. Daja caught the rhythm and managed two circuits of the basin before they decided to stop. Back into the house they went, shedding their winter gear and skates in the long, enclosed area called the slush room. Afterward they followed the halls that made the outbuildings part of the house to reach the kitchen.
Daja accepted a mug of hot cider from one of the maids. She sat near one of the small hearths, where her jeweler's tools and a task that she could handle awaited her. No servant would ask a great mage like Frostpine to mend their bits of jewelry. Daja was fair game; they thought she was a student, willing and skilled. The whispers that she too might be a great mage had not come as far north as Namorn.
Daja enjoyed the work. She liked to sit here doing small repairs, breathing the scents of spices and cooking meat, and listening to servants and vendors chatter in Namornese. Before she had mastered the strange tongue, her travels with Frostpine in the empire of Namorn had been lonely. It was wonderful to know what people actually said.
She touched the necklace the cook, Anyussa, had given her. Daja's left hand bore a kind of brass half-mitt that covered the palm and the back; strips passed between her fingers to connect them. As flexible as her body, its color shone bright against her dark skin. The magic in the living metal told Daja that the necklace was gilt on silver--expensive for a servant, even one so well-paid as Matazi Bancanor's head cook, but Matazi herself would turn up her nose at it.
Daja laid the gilt metal rope straight on the table. She didn't touch her pliers. Gilt was tricky stuff on which to apply any force: badly worked, it would flake off to expose the metal underneath.
She needed to warm it a bit. Turning, Daja reached toward the hearth and called a seed of fire to her. It swerved around the cooks who worked there: Anyussa was watching Nia's identical twin Jorality, or Jory, stir a green sauce. Jory saw the fire seed go by and grinned at Daja, then shifted nervously from foot to foot as Anyussa inspected her sauce.
"Now look--you rushed. It's gone lumpy," the woman said, lifting a few green clumps in a spoon. "That's the ruin of any sauce. If you don't stir enough, or let your attention wander, or add flour too fast, it lumps, and it's ruined." Anyussa turned to chide a footman who had dropped a basket of kindling.
Daja was about to tell the glum Jory it was just a green sauce for fish, not a disaster, when a silver tendril of magic leaped from Jory into the sauce-pot. The girl stirred it in with a trembling hand. Daja stared. She and Frostpine had lived here for two months. No one had mentioned that any of the Bancanor children, the twins or their younger brother and sister, had power.
Anyussa returned to Jory. Daja watched the cook. Had the woman seen Jory's small magic?
Anyussa dipped her spoon again. "I tell young girls, you cannot rush a sauce--" She fell silent as she raised her spoon and turned it to spill the sauce back into the pot. A long, smooth, green ribbon flowed neatly down, without a lump in sight. "But I was sure...."
As Daja repaired the necklace and smoothed cracks in the gilt, Anyussa drew out smooth spoonful after smooth spoonful. She tasted it and poured it into a dish: no lumps. When a baker's apprentice came to argue with Anyussa over a bill, Daja slid over the bench to sit close to Jory. The girl regarded the sauce-bowl with a puzzled frown.
"You know," Daja said quietly, "if you can find a way to fix that spell to a powder or liquid, you could sell it. Cooks everywhere will sing your praises."
Jory blinked at her. She had Nia's large brown eyes and slender nose, set in a face the color of brown honey, a shade lighter than her southern mother's. She was lively, smile-mouthed, and a handful--her twin, Nia, was the quiet one. Her chief beauty and Nia's was the masses of gold-brown crinkled hair that fell to their waists. "What spell?" she asked Daja.
Daja smiled. "What spell? You unlumped your sauce. I can see magic--it's no good telling me you didn't spell that pot." She inspected Jory's face, and frowned. The twins weren't hard to read. "You didn't know?"
"I don't have magic," Jory insisted. "Papa and Mama had magic-sniffers at me and Nia when we were two, and again when we were five. Not a whiff." She grinned at Daja. "Maybe it was a spark. Things glitter in here all the time."
Daja got to her feet and draped her coat over her arm. Anyone who saw magic would glimpse it all around this kitchen. There were runes to keep out rats and mice, spells in the hearthstones to keep a few embers alive until someone rebuilt the fires, and a spice cupboard magically built to keep its expensive, imported contents fresh.
"You would know," Daja said. "If you do figure out what you did, you should write it down."
"Oh, Anyussa just scraped from the bottom or something," Jory said airily. "She wants everything perfect--"
"Fire!" someone yelled outside. "Fire in the alley! Fire brigade, turn out!" Jory fled, Daja assumed to warn her mother and the housekeeper. The kitchen help streamed outside.
Daja put her coat down and followed them, wondering what "fire brigade" meant. She was surprised that Anyussa had allowed everyone to run off to gawk--the woman was fair, but strict. When she reached the courtyard Daja discovered her mistake in thinking the servants had come to watch. A line of kitchen helpers stretched between the well and the alley off the rear courtyard; they passed buckets of water out the rear gate. Another line of people led from the large pile of sand kept for use on icy paths. They passed buckets of sand the same way.
Daja followed the full buckets into the alley. The efficient assembly stretched down its length to the nearby blaze, an abandoned stable behind Moykep House. Daja viewed it with an intelligent eye, since fire was mixed into her power. The stable was gone, that was certain. The closest buildings might be in danger, but it seemed this strange local efficiency covered that as well. Men stood on every roof that might be at risk, soaking shingles with water, keeping an eye out for jumping flames or wads of burning debris.
Daja was impressed twice over. Since her arrival in Namorn, she'd found it hard to feel safe in cities that were almost entirely wood. Here only the nobility and the empire built in stone. Apparently she did not worry alone. Someone was teaching Kugiskans organized ways to battle fires.
"How did this happen?" she asked Anyussa, who stood beside her. "Most places, they have sloppy lines and hardly anyone ever thinks of the neighbors' roofs but the neighbors."
"We got lucky," Anyussa replied. She was a forty-ish white woman with brown eyes, sharp cheekbones, and a full, passionate mouth. Unlike many northern women, she left her hair brown rather than dye it fashionably blonde, and wore it pinned in a coil. "Bennat Ladradun, who trained us to fight fires, studied with the fire mage, Pawel Godsforge."
Daja whistled. Everyone who dealt with such things knew of the great Godsforge, whose home was tucked among mountain springs and geysers in the northwest corner of the Namornese empire. "Ladradun is a mage?" She recognized his name: the Ladraduns lived nearby.
"Not Ravvot Bennat," Anyussa replied, using the Namornese term for "Master." "But he said there was plenty for even a non-mage to learn, and he learned it. When he came home, he talked the city council into allowing him to train districts in Godsforge's firefighting methods. Then he talked some of the island councils into granting funds and people to train. It's paid off. It's been two years since a house burned to the ground here on Kadasep. He--"
Suddenly people in the stableyard were shouting. Above the adult voices rose the thin screams of children. Daja left Anyussa and raced toward the stable, realizing someone must be caught inside. She gathered her power in case she had to do something in a hurry.
In the stableyard, people stood as close as they dared to the entrance of the burning building, full buckets in hand. Their eyes were wide in soot-streaked faces, glued to that dark opening ringed in flame.
Someone went in, Daja thought. They're waiting for him to come out. She was reaching with her magic, prepared to hold back the fire, when a bulky, awkward, gray shape came out of the smoke-filled entrance at a dead run. Behind the shape over-taxed roofbeams groaned and collapsed. The stable roof caved in, sending gouts of flame blasting out the doorway to clutch and release the gray shape. Daja saw a clump of burning straw shoot up through the hole in the roof, swirling in the column of hot air released by the fire. The brisk Snow Moon winds seized it and dragged it higher, toward the main house.
Daja raised her right hand and snapped her fingers, calling with her power. The clump of fire came to her, collapsing until it was a tidy globe that rested on her palm. Holding it before her face, she asked, "What am I going to do with you?"
She looked at the gray shape. Firefighters pulled the water-soaked blanket away to reveal a large, sodden white man with two boys no older than eight or ten. He carried one over a shoulder, one under an arm.
Daja's throat went tight with emotion. There was no glimmer of magic to this fellow who had nearly been buried in the stable. With only a wet blanket for protection he had plunged into flames to save those boys. He'd come close to dying: one breath more and that burning roof would have dropped on his head.
This was a true hero, a non-mage who saved lives because he had to, not because he could protect himself with magic. He was a tall man in his early thirties, coatless; his wool shirt was covered in soot marks and scorches. His russet wool trousers were also fire-marked. He appeared to have forgotten his wriggling burdens as he stared at Daja and her fire-seed with deep blue eyes.
The firefighters tugged on the boys. Recalled to himself, the tall man released them and grimaced. He shook his left hand: it was crimson and blistered with a serious burn. The boys were coughing, the result of their exposure to smoke. Their rescuer eyed them with a frown as a firefighter wrapped linen around his burned hand. "Which of you set it?" he demanded.
A woman in a maid's cap and white apron was offering the boys a ladle of water to drink. She dropped the ladle at the blue-eyed man's words. "Set?" she cried.
"His fault, Mama," one croaked, pointing to the other. "He spilt the lamp."
"You said we could play up there!" cried his companion, before a series of coughs left him wheezing.
The maid grabbed each lad by an ear and towed them into the main house. Daja shook her head over the folly of the young and glanced at the burning stable. The firefighters had given up. They simply kept back and watched for more flying debris. They also edged away from Daja, their eyes on the white-hot fire globe in her hand.
"If you don't want people to be nervous with you, don't do things that make them nervous," Frostpine had advised after they'd been on the road a week. "Or do things they won't notice. You've been spoiled, living at Winding Circle. There everyone's used to magic. Outside, making things act differently than normal turns people jumpy."
Daja didn't like to make people jumpy. She covered her fireball with one hand.
"How did you manage that?" The boys' rescuer walked over to Daja, cradling his wrapped left hand. "You called it. Viynain"--Namornese for a male mage--"Godsforge had that trick, except in ribbons, not balls." He thrust his right hand at Daja. "Bennat Ladradun," he said. Even covered with soot and scorch-marks he was a comfortable-looking man, with the soft, big body of a well-broken-in armchair. His broad cheeks were each punctuated with a mole, one high, one low. His nose was fleshy and pointed; his flyaway curls were reddish brown and losing ground on top of his head. Someone came up with a dry blanket to wrap around him: his clothes were soaked by the blanket he'd worn into the stable.
Daja had to uncover her fireball to shake his hand. "Daja Kisubo," she replied. "You were brave to go in there."
"No, I just didn't think," Bennat replied absently. "If I had, I'd have known better. The roof was about to go." He turned her offered hand palm-up and closed his fingers around it. "Not even hot," he remarked. "A little warm, that's all." He let Daja go. "You're one of the smith-mages, am I right? The pair staying with Kol and Matazi?"
Daja nodded. "The Bancanors' cook says you teach Kugisko to fight fires."
Bennat smiled, his thin mouth tucked into ironic corners. "I teach parts of Kugisko, bit by bit, kicking and screaming," he replied as he inspected the fireball. He held his hand over it and snatched it back. "Well, that's hot, at least. Viynain Godsforge wore spelled gloves so he wouldn't get burned when he worked with flame. Why doesn't the fire bother you?"
"It's magic," she told him quietly. "One of the first things we learn."
He shook his head. "My whole year with Godsforge, only two of our mages learned to hold fire, and they couldn't manage something that hot. What are you going to do with it?"
Daja shrugged and tossed it back to the stable. It vanished in the flames. "Did the blanket really help in there?" she wanted to know.
The man wandered over to a barrel set beside the far wall and sat on it. Daja followed him. "The trick's in guessing how long you have before the fire sucks the damp out," he explained. "I hoped it was wet enough that I could reach the loft, grab our fireflies, and get out. It helped knowing where they were--we saw them, in the window over the door. If I'd had to search, I might be a little charred now." Looking at the burning stable, he shook his head. "I told the Moykeps six months ago they ought to pull this thing down. It was an accident waiting to happen."
"This whole city's an accident waiting to happen," Daja said with feeling. "All these wooden houses--it's mad-brained, that's what."
Bennat looked at her and smiled. "That's right--you're from the south. Somebody told me you were. Wood's cheap in this part of the country--we've got more forests than we know what to do with. And families moving into the city, they want something that reminds them of home."
"Wood," Daja said, shaking her head in disgust.
"You get used to it," Bennat said. "There's real craftsmanship in the carvings on the edges of roofs and on doors and porches. And the builders use different knds of log, to contrast colors and textures in the wood."
"Here I thought they just built these places any old way," Daja admitted. "It never occurred to me they used different woods on purpose." She realized she was being rude. "I'm sorry. It's not my place to criticize your home."
Bennat chuckled, then began to cough. One of the women firefighters came to offer him a flask. Bennat took it and drank, coughing between sips. At last the coughs stilled. He returned the flask. "Thanks," he told the woman after he wiped his mouth on his sleeve. Looking at Daja he asked, "So do you fight fires?"
Daja smiled crookedly. She wasn't sure that he would term sucking a forest fire through her body to douse it in a glacier as firefighting. "Mostly I just handle it in the forge," she replied. "I know a trick or two--there's always the risk of little fires starting in forges or inns--but I almost never use them."
"I'd like to hear about them sometime," Bennat told her. "Anyone who balls up fire and holds it probably knows more about how it works than I do." He lurched to his feet, cleared his throat, and sighed. "I'd better check the outposts, make sure no other wads of debris went flying." He offered Daja his hand. "Thanks for the help."
Daja shook hands. As she walked back to Bancanor House, she eyed the firefighters. They kept watch over the stable as it burned low, but they were relaxed and joking. The worst was over. The stable was gone, but two boys were still alive, and nothing else had caught fire, because Bennat Ladradun had trained these people well. That was far more impressive in this firetrap city than her ability to handle flames.
When the staff returned to the Bancanor kitchens, Daja returned Anyussa's repaired necklace. Then she collected her coat and climbed the servants' stairs to her room.
Her excitement over the fire and Bennat's rescue of the children vanished, leaving ashes in its wake. Homesickness swept over Daja as she walked into her Namornese room with its ornately carved mantel, its high bed heaped with feather- stuffed comforters, its heavily shuttered windows, and the riot of colors in its thick carpet and drapes.
All these things reminded her that she was not at home in Emelan, at Winding Circle temple with its stucco buildings, simple furniture, and many gardens. She was far from the Pebbled Sea, and she couldn't expect to meet her three foster-siblings or their teachers around the next corner. There was plenty to see and do as she traveled, plenty of occasions for excitement, activity, even fun. But every time strong emotions faded, she longed for her foster-family. No one else would talk to her of fashions, constellations, diseases, skin creams, staff fighting, or the art of miniature trees. She even missed their dog Little Bear, big, gallumphing, drooling animal that he was.
Even if she went back now, the others weren't there. Sandry lived with her great-uncle, Duke Vedris of Emelan, in Summersea. She had even given her room away, she'd written Daja, to a terrified novice thread-mage. The last time Daja had heard from Briar, their lone foster-brother, he and his teacher Rosethorn were on their way east. They might not return for two years. Tris and her teacher Niko had gone so far south that Daja fully expected them to return from the north.
It was Frostpine's idea to travel as well, to show Daja the ways of other smiths. She knew it was in part to take her mind off the absence of Briar and Tris. It was also true that she had learned a great deal in smithies that ranged from tiny crossroad places where the specialty was horseshoes to elegant goldsmiths' forges, where she learned to put designs composed of tiny gold balls on metal. Here in Kugisko she studied with Teraud Voskajo, who Frostpine called the greatest ironsmith he knew. It seemed unfair, that she had to go so far to learn so much. At least they had settled for now in a comfortable place. They were not wander-mages here. They were honored guests of the head of Kugisko's Goldsmiths' Guild, which controlled the city's banks.
She wished she could have this learning and her Emelan family. A break from her foster-siblings had been a fine thing at first. After mingling their powers, they had kept a magical bond that allowed them to know what the others thought and felt. When they'd left Emelan Daja had thought she could go months, perhaps a year, without knowing three other people inside and out, as they knew her. She had lasted two whole weeks, she thought ruefully.
One thought brightened her mood: she'd had a nice talk with Bennat Ladradun. A sensible talk, about useful things. Smiling at this simple pleasure, Daja hung up her indoor coat. Bennat had mentioned something that tweaked her imagination: gloves spelled so the wearer might handle fire. Could she make gloves that someone with no magic might use? If such gloves could be made, what about an entire suit? With a fireproof suit, someone like Bennat wouldn't have to rely on the scant protection of a water-soaked blanket.
She thought until she realized that she daydreamed with no purpose. She set the ideas for gloves and suit to heat in the back of her mind and turned to her current project, matching jewelry sets for each of the Bancanor women, even eight-year-old Peigi. For Kol and his five-year-old son Eidart she had already created matching gold neck rings and wrist cuffs, jewelry favored by Namornese men. They were her Longnight presents, her thanks to this openhearted family.
Daja labored over her gifts, shaping the women's jewelry to be as fine and ornate as lace. The cost of the gold was nothing. The strange, unique pieces she made with the excess living metal she took off her hand daily--if she let it go unchecked, she would be coated in it by now--had made Daja wealthy.
She was shaping a sign for health when someone rapped on her door. "It's open," she called, twitching a nearby piece of cloth over her work to hide it.
Jory danced in, followed by her twin. Nia sat beside Daja, while Jory wandered the room, chattering. "Anyussa says cook-mages study from books. They put spells on herbs and sauces and draw symbols on pots and pans. They shape magic symbols in bread, and strengthen herbs and spices to use in spells. They can make people fall in love with a cup of tea, except they'd get caught and arrested for magicking people without permission. She said Olennika Potcracker, who used to be the empress's personal cook, was so powerful that if someone put poison in the empress's food? It all turned green."
Daja crossed her arms and waited for Jory to get to her point. It was a tactic Daja had learned over the last two months.
"And Anyussa says cook-majes are found by magic-sniffers and they all get a license from the Mages' Society here or a medallion from Lightsbridge University or Winding Circle that says they're proper mages and have read all the right books, just like Olennika Potcracker." Jory plumped herself down on a footstool. "So I couldn't be a mage like that. The magic-sniffers said we weren't mages. Twice. It's in Papa's family, but not in us."
Daja touched the medallion she wore under her clothes. Frostpine had made one for each of the four at Discipline Cottage eighteen months before, and given them out at a supper attended by them and their teachers. The front of each pendant had the student's name and that of her or his chief teacher inscribed on the outer edges. A symbol for that student's magic was at the center; Daja's was a hammer over flames. On the other side of the medallion was the spiral symbol for Winding Circle, where they had studied.
The medallions were spelled so that usually the wearers forgot them unless someone asked them to prove they were accredited mages. Winding Circle's mage council had granted the medallions the four had earned only after Frostpine promised to ensure they didn't brag about a credential that most mages studied for years to get. He didn't tell the council that the four weren't likely to brag--the council would not have believed it. Sandry wore her medallion like her nobility: it was so much a part of her that she rarely thought about it. Briar might once have used it to boast, but no longer. Tris wanted the world to forget how powerful her magic was. For Daja the forgetting spell was useless. Not only did her own power tell her what she wore, but the disguising spells on the medallions were Frostpine's, whose magic she knew as well as her own.
For now, she saw no point in telling Jory that as an accredited mage, she knew more about magic than Anyussa. Instead Daja told the girl, "There's another kind of mage, not as common as the ones who train with the Mages' Society or at Lightsbridge. We see a lot of them at Winding Circle. They use magic that's already in things, rather than adding magic to something. It's called ambient magic. You can make it stronger, or bigger, or more accurate, with book studies, but you still draw on magic that's already there. Everything has some magic in it." She looked at Nia. "I suppose you like cooking too? Though I hardly ever see you in the kitchens."
Nia shook her head.
Jory replied, "She won't go near a hearth. She's afraid of fire."
Nia glared at Jory. "You would be, too, if you had any sense," she informed her twin.
The house clock chimed the hour.
Jory and Nia looked at each other. "Music lessons!" they yelped, and tumbled out the door.
Daja uncovered her necklace and went back to work.
After a couple of hours' labor, Daja realized she was stiff. A walk might clear the cobwebs from her skull. Down the servants' stair she went, bypassing the kitchen and its enticing smells, following the corridors that connected the buildings until she reached the slush room. Properly clothed, she wandered out into the waning afternoon and the alley. The rear gate to Moykep House was still open, the trampled and sooty ground around it frozen into ruts and holes. Daja looked in. A tall, rumpled figure in a heavy sheepskin coat wandered through the remains of the stable, kicking apart any large clumps of charred matter. Bennat Ladradun was checking for hidden blazes that might find something to burn if the wind picked up.
Entering the courtyard, Daja threw her power out ahead of her, feeling for heat. "There's nothing warm left," she told him. "I just checked."
The big man smiled. "Another useful skill, Viymese Daja," he said, using the Namornese word for a female mage. He walked carefully across the burned-out mess until he reached her. Places where the firefighters had used water were frozen, making the footing treacherous. As he spread his arms for balance, Daja saw a neatly wrapped bandage on his left hand.
"You got scorched," she said, pointing to it.
He made a face. "Not too badly. There was a piece of wood in the way when I went to get those boys. I knocked it aside, but the blanket slipped and I hit it with my bare hand. The healer says when I take this off, day after tomorrow, I won't even have a scar." Changing the subject, he remarked, "I'm surprised you're not studying with Godsforge. I don't know if you've heard of him--" He slipped on the edge of the building.
Daja instantly steadied him. "I have," she said, releasing him as he got his footing. "I'm a smith, really--fire for its own sake doesn't much interest me. All I know about fire comes from my magic. I know you studied with him."
Bennat shook his head. "We think we're such a worldly city, but really, we're just a collection of villages. Gossip flows quicker than air here. Did they tell you about my birthmarks?"
Daja grinned up at him. "I don't know how they missed that," she replied. She had already discovered that most Kadasep Island residents knew her name and Frostpine's, why they had come to Kugisko, and where they lived. "If you don't mind my asking, why study with a fire-mage if you've no magic yourself?"
"Because he knew how fires burn with different materials, and how to fight them," the man replied. "Things even someone like me could learn. Things like when you're in a burning building, touch a closed door first. If it's hot, you won't like what happens if you open it."
Daja raised her eyebrows in a silent question.
He answered: "Opening the door, you give the fire inside a burst of air. It blasts out and cooks the person in the doorway."
Daja whistled softly. "I'll remember that. And it makes sense. We use a bellows in the forge to pump air into the fire to make it burn hotter. What else did you learn?"
"How to know a fire was deliberately set," he explained. "And wind patterns, the use of sand in winter...." He stared at the ruins, hands stuffed in his coat pockets. "One time there was a barn that had to be destroyed, so he set fire to it. Then he threw a shield over us, so we could stand in the middle of the barn and watch how the fire burned, along the floor, up the walls, in the loft. It was like a carpet of fire blossoms rippling over our heads." He glanced at Daja. "I'm sorry. People tell me that I just rattle on."
"No, no, I'm interested!" Daja protested. "The only time I ever saw anything like that was during this forest fire. Even then, what I saw didn't ripple or anything. I pulled it through me. All I saw was streaks." She realized what she must sound like, and hung her head. "I'm not boasting. It really did happen."
"Oh, I believe you," said Bennat, his eyes blazing with excitement. "What I would give to see that!"
Daja grinned at him. "At the time I wished I hadn't, but it wasn't like I had a choice. I would have died if my foster-brother and sisters and Frostpine hadn't helped with their magic. And I didn't exactly come away unscathed." She rubbed her thumb against the metal under her left glove. Yes, it was useful. Yes, she now made living metal creations that rich people bought at high prices. She had also seen revulsion on the faces of those who touched her hand and found warm metal, or those who saw her peeling the excess from her flesh. She'd also suffered infections when the metal caught on something and pulled away part of her skin. She shook off those memories. "Did you learn about forest fires from Godsforge?" she asked her companion.
"Enough that I prefer city fires," Bennat said with a grimace. "Or at least, I prefer city fires if I have trained people to fight them. Godsforge had us out in the woods digging firebreaks one time, and the fire jumped the break. Without him to protect us ...." He shrugged. "He said that once a really big forest fire gets going, it can't be stopped until it rains or it consumes all the forest it can get."
They were moving out through the Moykep gate, into the alley. "It's true," Daja said. "At least, Niko--Niklaren Goldeye, he was one of our teachers--he said that about lots of things, storms, forest fires, tidal waves. They reach a point of strength, and even the most powerful mages can't stop them. The best you can do is shift them."
He'd come to a halt, and was staring at her. "You studied with Niklaren Goldeye?"
It was Daja's turn to shrug. "He's the one who saw my magic, and taught us to control what we had. Mostly he was my sister Tris's teacher, though." She made a face. "They were well suited--always with their noses in books."
Bennat laughed and offered his hand. "I enjoyed talking with you, Daja Kisubo. I hope we can do it again."
Daja took his hand. "Thank you, Ravvot Ladradun. It's nice to talk to someone who doesn't just think a fire's for use or putting out."
"Call me Ben," he told her. "And I know what you mean. To most people fire's a means to an end, or it's a monster. They don't realize it has moods just like the Syth, or the skies."
"No, they don't," agreed Daja.
They stood in the frozen alley for a moment, smiling at each other, sharing that understanding of fire and its shapes. Then Ben sighed. "I really should go home," he said. "Mother will have fits when she sees my clothes. What can you do?" He wandered down the alley toward Ladradun House, hands thrust once more in his coat pockets.
Daja watched him go. She had thought that once children were grown, they didn't have to worry about a parent's wrath. Maybe it was different when the grown child came to live under a parent's roof once again.
The wind threw a fistful of sleet into her face. She turned and hurried back to Bancanor House.
Copyright 2001 by Tamora Pierce, all rights reserved. Published by Scholastic Press.
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