I stood outside the tent, shaking, willing myself to go in. I was beginning to hate the smell of chocolate cake. I smoothed the skirt of my robe, then clenched my fists by my side. It was so unfair. I was better than this. My assistant, Keira, nudged me. “Go on, they’re waiting. You don’t want a riot, do you?”
I groaned and tossed my hair back before taking a deep breath and deliberately relaxing my hands. I picked up my wizard hat and stared at it. I’d lived through one of those riots before, when a twelve-year-old had thought I didn’t live up to my reputation as the first female wizard to graduate from Merlin’s School of Wizardry. Mind you, I didn’t think I lived up to my reputation, either. Every other graduate had gone on to work for the Chancellor of Magic, or something equally prestigious. I’d had to fight hard and prove my abilities just to get into Merlin’s, and I’d done well. I just hadn’t counted on nobody wanting to hire a woman wizard afterwards. Not much I could do about that at the moment. I had a job to do, whether I liked it or not.
“No worries. I’ll be right.” I put my hat on and plastered a smile on my face, then threw open the tent flap and strode in. “Welcome, welcome, one and all. Wizard Charmaine has arrived. Be prepared to be amazed and astonished!”
My clients sat in their overpriced metal chairs, as stone-faced as only a bunch of unimpressed rich pre-teens can be. I sighed. These kids would probably be far more impressed if Stanley was here, just because he was a man, despite the fact that he’d barely graduated and was in the middle of a horrendous attempt at growing a wizard’s beard. Anyway, time to focus. I sought out the birthday girl. Shell – Shar – Shallan! That was her name. I pulled my mahogany wand out of its slot on my waistband and pointed it at the girl. Wands were another dumb convention, but I didn’t dare go without it. Not yet anyway. If I could just find a way to prove myself outside of school… “Shallan! Come forth and tell me the magic you wish to see!”
Blowhard. I’d turned into a total blowhard, at least when I was performing. The girl was glaring at me, coming up on stage as requested, but I was pretty sure she’d rather be anywhere else. Too bad. It was tradition to make a fuss of the birthday kid. She shouldn’t have had a party at all if she didn’t want to be the centre of attention. Her parents definitely shouldn’t have hired me.
Shallan shuffled onto the stage, arms crossed and eyes skittering everywhere but at me. The kid who’d been sitting next to her was grinning, appearing to enjoy her discomfort. Maybe I should get him up next, see if he enjoyed it as much when he was under the spotlight. Little monster probably would. Anyway, back to the birthday girl. I sighed. Don’t blame me for picking on you, kid. I want to be here as much as you do. I held my wand high and my gauzy cape wide in my best theatrical pose. “Well, Shallan? What is your request? Ask and it shall be yours, as long as it is in my abilities to do so.”
Shallan rolled her eyes at me, then turned back to the boy. “This wizard’s as much of a windbag as you, Derek.” The other kids laughed but Derek just grinned and leaned back. Her description didn’t seem to bother him in the least. Would she have preferred me to do without the obligatory theatrics? I shrugged mentally. She would probably have insulted me either way.
The girl turned back to me and looked me up and down, a sneer on her face. Ah, one of those kids who cover their discomfort with an air of superiority. If I gave her a chance, she’d probably start judging my shiny high heels, horridly impractical wizard cape covered in stereotypical stars and moons, and pointy wizard hat. Of course, since I was female, the plain black hat had a piece of black gauze fluttering from the top and a garland of black flowers around the broad brim. I felt like yelling at her. I don’t have a choice here! The Chancellor is a sexist pig who doesn’t like women near magic. He made the idiotic dress code, just for me! Oh, and to discourage any other women, of course. Some of them might actually like it though. Ha! If it was my choice, I’d lose the cape, replace the shiny shoes with some kind of practical boots, and take the decorations off the hat. Unfortunately, I’d risk my wizarding licence if I tried to go against the Chancellor’s directives, at least for now.
“What can you do about school? I have this dumb test tomorrow, and I don’t want to do it. Not by being sick or anything. Something good. Like winning the lottery or something.”
Great. The only thing worse than having to put on the theatrics was when they made dumb requests like that. These spoiled rotten kids deserved to be taken down a peg or two. Like the entitled preppy brats at Merlin’s. The other future wizards had seen my gender as an excuse to make my life miserable. Suddenly, none of this seemed worth it. My lips curled into a smile as an idea came into my mind. I hadn’t been able to retaliate at Merlin’s, but now… I drew back my arm and made a scroll appear in my hand. I unfurled it and turned it so that Shallan could see the blank vellum. “Shallan! Read, out loud, the words that appear before you and you shall have your wish granted!”
Letting go of the scroll so that it hung in mid-air, I waved the required wand and made words appear on the scroll. The nonsense words would do nothing, but it kept the brats occupied while I was creating the magic. While Shallan read the words, I was muttering the real spell and gesturing dramatically with the wand. As the girl finished, I pointed the wand theatrically at her. Nothing seemed to happen at first, and the girl rolled her eyes, then looked back at her friend, giving him a thumbs down and blowing a raspberry.
I grinned internally while keeping my face straight. I swung the wand over to the side and started drawing circles in the air. A giant, ornate mirror appeared, with clouds misting the surface. I was really getting into this now. Give the crowd what they want. Even the little snotnoses sitting on the ground were leaning forward, straining to see the mirror’s surface. The girl moved forward, arm stretched towards the mirror. Then, just as she was about to contact the surface, she was drawn into the mirror and disappeared, making all the children gasp. One started to wail. The boy jumped up and ran towards the mirror. I held up a hand and he stopped in front of me, glaring. I put my hand on his shoulder. “Do not go closer, boy, lest you be drawn into the other realm as well.”
The boy yanked himself out from under my hand. “I’m not letting my best friend go alone, you jerk!” He ran towards the mirror and disappeared. The fog cleared, leaving a blank surface before changing to show the pair on a dais with hundreds of well-dressed people below them. Shallan sat on a golden throne, with the boy standing next to her in some sort of fur-lined cape. Interesting. It looked like the magic had made her into the kind of person she already thought she was.
The rest of the children stared at me, their mouths open. That stupid kid was still wailing. Better get out of here before the oblivious parents came back. They’d expect me to bring Shallan and that boy back out of the mirror world.
Too bad I didn’t know how.