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The Mage Sister

Fifteen-year-old Arinda has never made a friend, or worn a pretty dress, or performed a spell in school like all the other girls her age. She has no idea how extraordinary she really is, just that she has a different kind of magic; different in a bad way. What Arinda does know is that she must never reveal this difference to anyone lest the King find out about her and send her away to a secretive society called the Circle of Mages, where she would be magically bound to and enslaved by one of these monstrous mages forever.

When Arinda and her snotty older sister, Amaris, are sent away to school, Arinda is alarmed by the amount of interest the Headmaster Jahx Rife shows in her, terrified that he might find out about her dire secret. However, what she doesn’t know is that the Headmaster is, himself, a secret member of the Circle of Mages, and she has bigger problems than whether or not the King finds out about her.

Then Arinda’s world is turned upside down when her own magic betrays her during a fierce argument with Amaris. Now Arinda must face the very people she has feared her whole life, and call upon powers she has been too afraid to explore in order to endure in a society she has been taught to dread.

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Jeanne Bradford

Jeanne Bradford lives in a smidge of a town in the Midwest surrounded by corn and soy fields, far from the Pacific Northwest where she grew up.

Very shy as a child, Jeanne has been a voracious reader and writer since she was old enough to put words together. She could be found buried in a stack of books in the library as often as possible, or playing make believe to bring her stories to life. In elementary school, she wrote and illustrated her stories in homemade 'books' and proudly presented them to the school librarian to add to the library. Fortunately, the librarian, though somewhat amused by this audaciousness, was nonetheless very supportive and displayed her precious 'books' for everyone to enjoy.

The Mage Sister is Ms. Bradford's first published book. She has worked in a variety of settings such as healthcare, education, and the concert industry, and is always taking not of all sorts of interesting tidbits to weave into her work. She is also a member of the Nebraska Writer’s Guild.

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Excerpt

Prologue

“What do you have to say for yourself, Jahx?” Otto Rife demanded. “This is thoroughly unacceptable… and so close to your graduation. I’m disappointed in you, son.”

Jahx scowled and shrugged, keeping a stony silence.

“Are you overwhelmed? Do you need help? You have very little time left and I will not graduate you until you’ve met your requirements like the other boys.” Otto paused to give his son an opportunity to speak up for himself. “Don’t just stand there, boy! Say something!”

“Why can’t you leave me alone? I hate this! I hate you!” the boy snarled, and stormed out of the house. The walls vibrated from the force with which he slammed the door.

“You see, Headmaster? He has a vile attitude!” Pritchard, the Magicker Master in charge of Jahx’s class, exclaimed. “He doesn’t listen. He doesn’t do his work. He’s disrespectful! I’m fed up to the teeth with his insolence!”

Otto sighed, reminding himself not to display his frustration with his son in front of Pritchard. Not for the first time, Otto wished that he believed in smacking the boy, just a little. “How long has this been going on?”

“Ever since that business with his sweetheart! I am sorry for the boy, the way it happened and all, but I still have to do my job by him and he doesn’t seem to care anymore! I must say, I do wonder if moving him directly into a teaching position is the sensible thing to do. I can’t say that he deserves it, and I’ve heard very disturbing reports of his behavior outside of school.”

“I have to admit I have seen an alarming change in him, too, but he won’t talk to me or his mum. I just don’t know what to do with him.”

“Influencers do get sulky like that. They don’t take humiliation well—stubborn, prideful... arrogant, that’s what they are! Can’t help it I suppose, it’s what he is.”

As Pritchard spoke, Otto glanced toward the window and saw his son’s moonlit figure walking down the street. Where was he off to this time of night? Alarmed, he prayed that it wasn’t where Jahx appeared to be going… Marbhanam Wood. “Thank you for bringing the matter to my attention, Pritchard. I’ll see that he gets caught up with his work. I don’t want to keep him back another year.”

“I agree, Headmaster, but what of his attitude, what do you intend to…?”

“I’ll take care of it,” Otto interrupted. “Forgive me, I’m needed elsewhere. Please see yourself out.”

 

****

 

It had been a rotten day and Jahx had been in a mean temper for most of it. He woke late from a nightmare and had been late for class. Pritchard had chosen this, of all days, to press him about his assignments, refusing to accept his excuses that he hadn’t had time to complete them. “What of the last four assignments, Rife? Haven’t had time to do those either?”

Jahx sat in the back of the classroom, his head down on his desk. Pritchard, however, called him to the front of the room and kept trying to engage him in the lesson. He called on him again and again, forcing him to reason out responses that were incorrect. Jahx was certain the professor was picking on him.

“I have nothing left to prove to you!” he finally burst out. “What more do you want from me?”

“I want you to prove that you are ready to graduate from this institution,” Pritchard retorted. “How do you expect to teach if you can’t even manage to graduate first? Do you think they hand out Magicker Master ranks to just anyone?”

“Headmaster Rife would never have offered it to me if he hadn’t been certain I was ready, so I don’t care what you think of my qualifications.”

His classmates gasped, scandalized as the confrontation between teacher and student escalated. “Rife! Sit down!” one of his friends hissed, trying to grab him and pull him back into his seat. Jahx shook him off and stood defiant in front of the furious teacher.

“Don’t you throw your father in my face, boy. You were offered a teaching position, and further trainingto become a Magicker Master. It’s not to be presented to you like a gift.”

“I know that! I’ll do what I have to!”

“Will you indeed? I’m sure the council will be thrilled with that answer when they ask you how you plan to achieve your goals! Allof your plans depend on whether you finish your studies this year, and I will not pass you until I see fit. Tomorrow you will present yourself with all previous assignments due in hand and complete, today’s assignment, and an additional ten-page essay on the cause and effect of residual spell energy, with accompanying research, and if there is one single error in the lot, I will fail you.”

“You can’t do that! How can I possibly do all that in one night?”

“I can and I will, and that is your problem. I’ve had enough of your insolence, and I will be speaking to Headmaster this evening about your attitude. You, sir, are dismissed.”

“But…”

“GET OUT!”

Jahx scooped up his belongings and strode from the room. The door slammed shut behind him and he kicked it with a resounding thud and stalked away.

 

****

 

Pritchard had made good on his promise to speak to Headmaster Rife and arrived shortly after dinner. It had been humiliating for Jahx to stand so accused before his father. He knew he’d put Da Otto in a difficult position, which only made him angrier. Why did Pritchard have to make trouble? Why couldn’t he just graduate him so they could all get on with their lives? What did he care whether Jahx succeeded or failed? It was none of his business!

Teaching positions at Rowan Grace didn’t open often. Beginning his career there would be a stellar accomplishment, giving him his pick of a position in any Magicker program throughout Rowan, provided he did well on his Master exam. If he didn’t graduate this year, Da Otto would have to hire another teacher and it would be ages before another position opened. Everything would fall to pieces now.

Jahx looked up into the brightness of the moon. “Why me?” He slumped down the steps of the veranda and strode down the road toward Marbhanam Woods. The wood was a favorite haunt of his and he went there often, especially when he was troubled. It was also forbidden territory, known to be home to the Coubirigh.

The Coubirigh, wild, vicious creatures with venomous fangs and sharp claws, were known and feared by every single citizen of Kynllaria, though few had ever seen one. Nocturnal and shy, they lived in the woods and had a mysterious magic of their own—they could appear and disappear at will. They looked like a strange hybrid of human and feline and were small and spindly in appearance. However, this frailty was deceptive for they could toss a full-grown man like a feather. They also had a mean temperament and a hatred of people and did not hesitate to attack if one was unlucky enough to stumble across the creature unaware. The attack was swift, merciless and thorough, and it was rare for a person to survive the encounter.

The woods were also home to the Circle of Mages, the rare folk who survived the attack of the Coubirigh. After surviving such an encounter, the victim became ageless and invulnerable. During times of high emotion, such as rage, lust or fear, they took on characteristics of the Coubirigh, suddenly sprouting fangs and becoming fierce in demeanor.

Due to this alarming transformation and their invulnerability, any survivor of a Coubirigh attack was driven away, and invariably found his way to the Marbhanam Woods where a settlement of the ungodly creatures had developed. Over time, they had begun to come out of the woods to mingle and trade with normal folk. It was against the law to try to harm them or refuse them service, though many did at least the latter. However, mage wares were extraordinarily fine, so most folks simply pretended not to notice that the tradesman they were dealing with had wild, brilliant eyes and longer hair than any woman—a fashion the mages elected to wear. But when one got right down to it, the mages were feared almost as much as the Coubirigh, and their position in Kynllarian society was tenuous at best. The mages might come out of the woods, but no one in their right mind ever went in.

Even so, Jahx loved the woods. It was dark and silent and, best of all, he was alone. “I’ve never seen any sign of the Coubirigh. And anyway, I can take care of myself!” He said this to himself every time he went there, and tonight was no different as he strode angrily through the trees.

It was dark, but Jahx knew his way well. He lifted himself into the branches of an old oak tree and scrambled to the top where he perched upon a sturdy limb. Once settled, he leaned back against the rough bark. A breeze blew and the forest erupted in a chorus of sighs. Jahx sighed with them. Nightmares had troubled his sleep lately, forcing him to relive the night his real father had died. It was comforting to be awake in the peaceful night.

The silence was shattered by the sudden whisper of a snarl. Jahx sat upright in alarm, searching the canopy for the source of the sound. His eyes swept from limb to limb, straining to see through the darkness. Nothing. A breeze rustled the branches and whispered through the blackness of night. It must have been his imagination, he decided, not quite certain that it was. He was just settling back again when he saw them… two orange pinpoints glowing in the dark on a nearby branch.

Terrified, Jahx leapt up to run, forgetting in his panic that he was high up in the tree. He plunged to the forest floor, catching at branches as he fell. It slowed his fall but the jolt as he landed knocked the breath out of him. The creature pounced down on him from above. Jahx scrambled to gain his feet, but the Coubirigh was already upon him.

It seized his hair with its spiky claws and sliced across his back, ripping his shirt away as if it were no more than tissue. Jahx screamed in pain, struggling to free himself but the creature was strong and its hold on him was unshakable. As Jahx’s strength ebbed, the Coubirigh roared and sank needle-sharp teeth into his shoulder. The blood roared in his ears and he screamed again. The last thing he heard as blackness enveloped him was the savage screech of the creature as it went for his throat.


 

Chapter One

352 years later…

“Nanny, what’s wrong with being myself?” Arinda asked. As the girl grew, Nanny was having difficulty hiding the truth about her, and Arinda wasn’t entirely blameless. “Why is being a girl magicker bad? Boy magickers get treated special. Teacher said so! I want to be treated special.”

“We don’t get treated special,” Nanny muttered through the pins clamped in her teeth as she adjusted the hem of the dress she was fitting for the girl. It was an ugly dress, an old dress, shapeless and miles too big for the girl, however Nanny’s aim was to make her as plain as possible.

There were a few obvious signs that identified magickers. Most obvious was their brilliantly colored eyes, which flashed and sparked during times of strong emotion and when they worked their powerful magic. The kyn, as the folk that populated Kynllaria called themselves, could only coax the magic of other things to life by using incantations, runes and other such means, but a magicker’s power was a part of them that came from inside.

Nanny, an old magicker herself, believed that by making Arinda as plain and dull as possible, it would prevent anyone else from being curious enough about the girl to discover that she was a magicker. Society had an opposite view of female magickers than that of male magickers. Female magickers were something to be hidden away or else bring shame on the family.

Folks were reluctant to explain why this was; they’d only say that the girl would attract mages, and then we’d have trouble. This referred to a phenomenon between mages and female magickers. A mage did not choose his mate, his magic chose her for him, and the only type of girl it would choose was a magicker girl. Thus, if a mage came into close proximity to a magicker girl and his magic was attracted by her, the mating—an abrupt and somewhat violent event—would take place. The Circle of Mages had put measures in place to prevent these sudden matings, and even though such an event had not happened in longer than anyone could remember, the belief held. So magicker girls werehidden away or disguised in hopes that no one would ever find out what they truly were.

However, as Arinda grew, so did her resistance to Nanny’s efforts to conceal her secret. She complained about her drab clothes - she wanted pretty dresses; about being lonely - the foolish girl wanted to play with the other children; about not participating in school - she wanted to learn to use the very magic Nanny was trying so hard to conceal. And Nanny had caught her any number of times without her spectacles, which had been bespelled to hide Arinda’s bright green magicker eyes.

“But why?” Arinda whined. “I could just tell teacher, and…”

“Oh certainly! Never mind that the kyn think girl magickers are shameful and repulsive! You’ll be the only one who isn’t, I’m sure,” Nanny retorted. “They’d turn you over to the king before you could say ‘knife in the back’, and he sends all girl magickers straight to the Circle of Mages. You don’t want to go to the mages, do you.” It was a statement, not a question.

“How’d he ever get to be king? He doesn’t sound like a very nice man.”

“I’ve heard tell he’s one of them, but that’s a dangerous way to think. Don’t you ever let me catch you repeating that. Still, I’ll never understand how he could allow them to steal those poor girls away from their families.” Nanny shook her head.

“Why do they haveto go to the Circle?”

“It’s the law.”

“But why is it the law?”

“I don’t know!” Nanny snapped. “The King said so!”

“Ow!” Arinda squealed as Nanny jabbed a pin through the hem and stuck her in the leg.

“Well, stop wriggling, then!” she snarled, as she placed the last pin. “Now take it off so I can mend it.”

“Are we breaking the law, Nanny? I’m not sure we should do that.” Arinda shrugged out of the dress with relish. It was ugly and she didn’t like it.

“Well, my dear, if you want to go off to be some mage’s slut, go on then! Is that what you want?”

“Maybe I do! It’d be better than being invisible!”

“Arinda Fletcher, you nasty girl!” Nanny slapped her hard. “Do I need to speak to your mother about you?”

“No,” Arinda said. Tears welled in her eyes and an imprint of Nanny’s hand rose on her cheek.

“You just keep that spell up, like I showed you, and keep out of sight or that’s exactly what I’ll do!” Nanny said, referring to a magical shield she’d helped Arinda construct that fit her like a second skin.

Arinda couldn’t feel the shield, and no one could see it or touch it, but those who could see magic couldn’t see past it either. Therefore, as long as she maintained the spell, no one could discover that Arinda had a great deal of magic. All she had to do was feed it a little bit of her power every day, and Nanny made sure she didn’t forget.

Sometimes Arinda wondered if there really were people in the world who were as cruel as Nanny said the mages were, but she didn’t dare ask. Nanny would only get angry, and few people ever spoke about them… those who did spoke warily. From what she heard, they weren’t to be trusted.  For generations the girl magickers of Rowan had been hidden away and taught by rote what would happen if they were found out—a mage would descend upon the village, ransack it until he found her, then he’d attack her and drag her away to a life of shame and degradation, never to be seen by decent people again. And no one dared to question it, for to question was to get caught and find out the hard way.

“There was once a girl who lived right here in this village,” Nanny had told her. “Her name was Hilien. She was walking along one evening, just minding her own business, and a mage attacked her. Just fourteen years old, she was!”

“Really? Here in Amok?”

“Oh yes, I saw it myself. He was a monster, and he had fangs as long as your fingers, and long, wild hair.”

“What happened to her?”

“He flung her to the ground and he kept biting her with those awful fangs. Oh, the screaming was horrible! Blood everywhere! Then he dragged her off and we never saw her again. Pity… shame… she was a good girl before that.”

“Why didn’t anyone help her?”

“There’s nothing you can do against a mage. That’s why it’s so important that no one ever knows what you are. A magicker girl is the only kind of kyn that a mage will take. Now you don’t want that to happen to you, do you?”

“No, Nanny.” Arinda sniffled.

“Then you just mind Nanny and you’ll be fine.”

 

****

 

Spring had come early to Rowan. The grass in the meadows was sprouting, the trees were budding, and puffy clouds floated in a blue sky. The sun shone, but not warm. There was still the nip of winter in the air as Sheppard Fletcher drove his two eldest daughters to Vespith Royal Academy.

Though Amaris was seventeen and Arinda was now fifteen, it was to be their first year at Vespith. Arinda hadn’t been making progress at the local school in their home village of Amok. She still had not completed her primary studies, although students typically finished them at age twelve and went on to their median levels, which they finished at age eighteen.

Nanny had convinced her that she must be silent during her classes and not participate. She worried that if Arinda excelled at her studies, they were certain to find out that she was a magicker. However, Arinda was so tired of sitting quietly in class day after day, pretending she didn’t understand. Despite not being able to speak or participate in her classes, she listened to every word the Headmaster had said, absorbed every single lesson, and she was actually very intelligent indeed. She resented being thought of as dull and stupid.

She itched to raise her hand to answer questions in class. She knew every one, even when no one else did. It galled her to remain silent and she had to grit her teeth to do so. She knew for a fact that she was more powerful than all of the other students, and she desperately wanted to learn about that power. But even if being a girl magicker hadn’t been her disgraceful and dangerous secret, there was no magicker program in Amok. If there had been, she would have risked everything to spy on them in hopes of learning anything, no matter how trivial, about her magic.

“I’m afraid she’s quite dull, Mistress Fletcher, and she’s not likely to get any cleverer,” Nanny had told Arinda’s mother, only a few weeks ago. “Why continue to tax her when she would be better off to learn a trade? I think, perhaps, a position as a nanny would be appropriate? I know of one or two that might suit her. I could put a good word in for her.”

Arinda’s heart fell when she’d overheard them. Her face burned with resentment as tears sprang to her eyes. She didn’t want to be a nanny. The little school at Amok wasn’t the finest educational establishment in all of Rowan, but it was the only contact with the rest of the world she had. Nanny made sure of it, walking Arinda to school every morning and waiting for her on the doorstep each afternoon. Arinda wasn’t allowed to play with or even talk to the other children, and as a result they thought she was dim-witted. The girls often giggled at her behind their hands as she shuffled by with Nanny, and sometimes the boys would jeer. How she hated them, those horrible kyn kids; how she wanted to be one of them, and have someone to giggle at, too.

“I’m not stupid!” Arinda muttered to herself aloud after hearing the exchange between Nanny and her mother. She thought she was alone in the bedroom she shared with her older sister, Amaris. But Amaris, a sly sort of girl, had been watching her through a crack in the door.

“Yes, you are.” Amaris swung the door open and breezed into the room as if she hadn’t been watching, and had simply overheard Arinda in passing. Arinda knew better. “I’ve actually never met anyone as stupid as you are.”

“I can do anything you can do and more!”

“Prove it!” Amaris sneered, then looked insincerely contrite. “Oh, I’m sorry. Mum said we should be kind to ‘damaged’ people.”

“I am not!”

“Oh, you know you are,” Amaris insisted in that infuriating tone, and continued to insist, taking perverse pleasure in her sister’s anger as it escalated to rage in the back and forth exchange.

“I’ll show you, you cross-eyed, pig-faced witch!” Arinda screamed and ran out of the house and slammed the door. She ran into the woods, which sat just behind the house. Angry as she was, it felt good to be out there alone, far from Nanny’s oppressive glare. As she walked along, her tears abating, she scooped up an acorn from the ground. She gazed at it, lying in the palm of her hand and thought about the spell that they had been learning that morning at school—just a simple incantation to coax seedlings to grow. On impulse, she whispered the words of the spell, trying to see the mighty oak it would become in her mind. “Pfff!” She frowned as she squinted at the innocuous little nut in disappointment. Not so much as a wobble.

She looked around to be sure she was alone and, cradling the acorn in her hands, infused it with her power, again whispering the words of the spell… believing them. The acorn began to tremble and roll around in her palm. Terrified, she pitched it away just before it erupted into life. It sprouted a massive trunk and branches and leaves that rocketed upward at an alarming pace, uprooting other trees and squashing them with its girth. Arinda scuttled backward, frightened. That wasn’t supposed to happen! She ducked behind another tree and covered her face with her arms as the enormous, distorted thing exploded into millions of splinters. 

“There you are! How dare you go off without permission?” Nanny seized her by the ear and began dragging her home, scolding her all the way. “What if someone had seen that? I ask you! Don’t you care whether you get caught?”

“What’s going on?” Her mother met them at the gate. “Unhand her at once! What is the meaning of this?”

“This is yourfault, Mistress Fletcher. I barely got to her in time to keep her from killing herself! If I had not been able to contain that spell…”

“You did not!” Arinda exclaimed, more from surprise that Nanny would tell such a lie than to sass her.

“Arinda, much as I am pleased to hear of you taking an interest in your studies, you know you’re not to practice by yourself.”

“But Mum, I…” Arinda started. Nanny clamped a heavy hand down on her shoulder.

“You see why she needs to be removed from school? She’s a danger to herself and everyone else!” Nanny sputtered.

“I’d like to hear what my daughter has to say,” Mum insisted.

Nanny’s hand felt like a lead weight. “Nothing, Mum,” Arinda whispered, tears welling in her eyes for the second time that day.

“Arinda, go inside and go to bed,” Mum said, her eyes like ice. Arinda had a cold feeling in the pit of her stomach as she went to her room. She thought her mother was cross with her until she heard angry voices in the garden. She edged up the window, just a tiny bit.

“…none of your business! She’s my child, I’ll thank you to remember and I’ll have no more of your interference!”

“Well, that’s all the thanks I get! After all I’ve done, since the day she was born…”

“And not a day longer! You may stay until morning, but you pack your things and be gone.”

“I’ll not stay another hour in this house, you ungrateful witch! Good luck dealing with that defiant, insolent brat!”

Arinda caught her breath as the door slammed. The cold feeling in her stomach spread throughout her body. What would she do without Nanny to protect her?

In the aftermath of Nanny’s departure, things went from bad to worse for Arinda. Her mother declared it was time the girls had a decent education at a decent school, and that meant they’d have to be sent away to board. Despite the fact that she had longed for the opportunity to really learn, the idea of being sent away terrified her.

“They already go to school,” her father had snarled.

“They need to go to a proper school. I want to send them to the Academy in Vespith.”

“You can send Amaris, but the idiot girl stays here!”

“Sheppard! We have to do something!”

“Why bother? She won’t amount to nothin’, and I’m not paying good money for a serving wench to go an expensive school! Get that woman back. She seemed happier with her around.”

“You mean you were happier.”

“I told you when she was born I wasn’t having her. Nothing’s changed.”

“Don’t you think it’s a bit silly…?”

“You and I both know why, Elspeth, so don’t start.”

She glared at him. “Well, it seems a perfect opportunity to have her out from underfoot then,” she said and left the room.

To be honest, Arinda’s mother didn’t really expect the Academy to take Arinda with her poor academic record, but Sheppard’s attitude goaded her to stubbornness and she pushed ahead anyway. However, Vespith Academy held a certain number of spots each year to be filled by students who needed extra help, and the school offered one to Arinda. Now Elspeth was determined to change her husband’s mind and plied him with every argument she could think of, though her pleas fell on deaf ears. In the end, it was Arinda’s older sister who convinced her father to relent.

“I want her to go!” Amaris insisted. “And if she doesn’t go, I’m not going either!”

“Now Amaris, love...” he began.

“You never give me what I want! I hate you and I’m never speaking to you again!” she screamed at her father. Sheppard, completely baffled, gave in. Amaris was her daddy’s girl, and what she wanted, she got.

Amaris wanted Arinda to go to Vespith Academy for her own reasons. She knew Arinda’s secret, and more than that, she knew Arinda would rather die than reveal that secret to anyone else. Therefore, it provided beautiful leverage over her. Amaris was counting on Arinda to make her look extraordinarily good, because Vespith Royal Academy wasn’t just any school. It boasted an excellent record, attributed in main to its very dedicated Headmaster, Jahx Rife. Everyone loved Headmaster Rife, and it certainly didn’t hurt that he was a stunningly handsome man.

“I don’t understand,” Arinda said when Amaris told her of her plan.

“You don’t need to understand. All you have to do is do as you’re told. See him? That’s Headmaster Rife.” She pointed to a portrait of a man in a small student handbook that Amaris had gotten from a friend. Arinda picked it up. The portrait showed a man with long, neat, black hair, a handsome face and a dazzling smile that just didn’t seem suited to the Headmaster of a prestigious Academy. She pictured the Headmaster of the tiny schoolhouse in Amok—a severe-looking old man with gray hair and a beard that he kept clipped to a sharp point below his chin. That was a teacher to her.

“Are you sure?” Arinda said frowning. “He doesn’t look much like a Headmaster. What exactly are you up to, Amaris?”

“You’re going to make him fall in love with me. He’s going to be so enraptured with me that he will sweep me off my feet.”

Arinda rolled her eyes. “And how am I to do this?”

“Obviously you’ll cast a love spell on him. A place like Vespith must be stuffed to the rafters with them.”

“Of course, and all the other girls would just be overlooking them for all the stars in their eyes.”

Amaris sighed. “Look, once we get there, I’ll find what I need. Then you cast the spell. That’s all you need to know.”

“Suppose that it did work. Spells don’t last forever, even strong ones… and in your case it’d have to be mighty powerful. Eventually it’d wear off and don’t plan on me hanging around forever to recast it over and over again.”

“Arinda, if you insist on trying to think, dear, think about the fact that if you don’t do as you’re told, and Headmaster doesn’t fall in love with me, I’ll tell him everything I know about you.”

“Such as?”

“You know what I’m talking about…”

“Why don’t you cast your own spells, if you’re so clever?”

“…and if you don’t want everyone else to know, you’ll do as I tell you.”

 

****

 

Arinda carried a bleak and angry gloom in her heart as she sat in the back of the cart, trotting ever closer to a new school and a terrifying new life. Birds chirped happily. The sun shone and a blissful breeze tripped along, teasing strands of her hair into dancing as the cart jogged steadily down the road on its way to her doom.

“Stupid cow!” Arinda thought, an angry tear sliding down the side of her nose. “I hate her!” But it made no difference now, as Sheppard turned off the dirt track onto the cobbled road and into the township of Vespith.