It was a time of Kings and Queens. Of full harvests and lavish parties. And, most importantly, of magic, abundantly. Or at least to my story.
My mother was always proud of me, even when I broke something. My father, on the other hand, never wanted to see me doing anything other than housework with my physical two hands. Living in two different worlds was more comfortable than living my father’s standards of a daughter, at least until a sickness hit our small village.
Mother and Father came home from the market, and by supper, she had collapsed on the floor. She couldn’t even lift her hand. It sizzled to touch her.
Being the oldest daughter, I took on her responsibilities. I cleaned up after meals and made them. I got the little one ready for bed and ready for the day. I did my chores and helped them with theirs as usual but had to fit in mother’s as well.
I would go to bed tired and wake up the same. I couldn’t hide it as well as Mother. That’s what Thomas, my eldest brother, told me when he forced me into a chair and started washing the supper dishes.
He was tired as I was from working on the farm with Father and three of our younger brothers. But he always found the time to do the supper dishes or look after mother for a time to let me get a little more rest.
Father never caught on. Never had an idea, until Thomas was brought to his knee in the fields when he couldn’t stop coughing.
Father was extremely red when he busted through the front door with Thomas in his arm. He definitely wasn’t that way from being outside all day. Oh, how I wish it were.
He dragged me from Thomas’ side. He dug his nails into my arm tight enough to pop the stitching on my sleeve. When we were alone, he threw me to the ground.
"You Godforsaken progeny! What have you done?!"
"Nothing! Nothing, I swear!" I told him.
"Don't lie to me, you sinful wretch! You are a plague upon this house."
“He wanted to help!”
“It is not his duty. It’s yours!” He raised his open hand.
I couldn’t look at him in the eye through the conversation, but never have I ever been scared to look at him. He was a good Christian man. The only time he hand raised his hand was with a farm tool in the fields. He had only raised to his voice to the crows and at Mr. Cornwall, who is deaf. Mother might be the one sick, but he was the sickening one.
"Get back to work." He snarled, turning to leave.
It wasn't the time for what I said next. I told him I could help them. I pleaded with him to let me. It was just what he needed to excuse his behavior.
He slapped me off my knees back to the floor. "If you want to stay under my roof, you will never speak of this again!"
I stayed there, on the floor, for the night.
In the morning, I washed the grim of the floor off of me. Before I could get the kids ready, he took me to the market, like nothing happened last night. Like he didn't cause the burning in my cheek. Like he didn't hate what I could do, what I am.
We traded our freshly harvested crops for meats and things we can’t make from corn or greens. After some convincing from me, Father got some herbs from the village physician to ease Mother and Thomas’ conditions. He had his fill of me after that. He left me outside of the smith as he inquired about some new tools for the rest of the harvest.
I flopped up the hood of my cloak when people started to stare. I didn’t want to tell them how my mother was doing. Nor that Thomas is sick. Nor about my bruise. I didn’t know what to say, but how I was feeling, I was going to say the wrong thing: justifications and excuses.
I stood alone with only the smell of rain to comfort me. Everyone moved around me as if I was reading a story. They buzzed around from stand to shop, blurring as supporting characters. Their faces didn’t matter. What they did had no importance outside of daily doing. Your eye bounced to them and away without a membrane of them.
Except for one.
He sat across the way under the arch of the old aqueduct system. His brown eyes, matching hair. Skin touched by the sun but not red like my father’s. A wall of giggling children hid the rest of him.
My mouth was agape when he looked up at me. I look away, with his brown daggers digging into my soul. When I looked back, my right cheek matched my bruised one.
I barely got another look at him before the heavens started to cry. The blurs scattered in mass, creating a wall between us. After the mass exodus, he was gone.
The next day was Sunday. Anyone that went to the market would have been crucified. I wouldn’t tempt the temper of my father to try.
Like the autumn leaves, my bruise change as Father increasingly worked the rest of my brothers. Taking their responsibility, they tried, but they were too young to pick up Thomas’ load. It was several days before we had sufficient funds to go back to the market.
Father was moving slow. At the time, it felt like he was torturing me. Taking his time like he knew I wanted to be somewhere. Punishing me for it. As I know now, he worked so hard through the nights, giving me the chance to free my curiosity.
He went into talk to smith, probably inquiring about borrowing his sons for work. It’s the only reason I could come up with to why he refused to tell me why I had to stay outside: to protect his pride.
I really don’t care, though. He didn’t yell at me, and I got what I wanted. The boy was there again. His attention was taken up by a crowd of children, though smaller than last time. Hovering over blue woodland creature smoke figures, his hands danced around like puppet controls.
I stared even when he met my gaze. Even giggled along with the children. I couldn’t help myself.
I pulled out my notebook from my cloak. When mother taught me how to read and write was the only time mother and father argue in front of us when mother taught me how to read and write. I drew a picture of his act at the bottom of the page before Father had to pull me away.
He didn’t scold me on the way home, so he must not have seen what the boy was doing. He would have been the first in line to stone or light the fire in King Uther’s court. I fear I’ll face that one day if Mother dies.
That day came a lot sooner with how the rest of the day unfolded.
I went on with my chores, but without my usual dedication. The corners of my mind were far more captivating.
I knocked into Martha a few times, not helping with her new toddling. Nearly chopped off a finger or two. Hemmed Ruth’s dress cock-eyed. Started a fire in the kitchen. The rest I can’t admit to.
All I wanted to do was mimic the boy. I’ve never seen anyone else do magic before. Not in this kingdom. Not out in public. It was either brave or extremely crazy.
I had moved things and healed scraps, but I never created anything.
The first few times nothing happened. I propped up my notebook on the table and focused on the picture as I shucking some peas. The fire in the cooking pot hid my cloud of smoke. By dinner, they were passable for animals, not bunnies and squirrels but animals.
I passed out dinner. Only interrupted by baby Susanna’s babbling, the room was silent, like a sleepy night. My brothers could barely raise their spoons, and Father was like a stone.
Life couldn’t get any sadder than this. The only relief came through a grave like sleep. The boys barely made it to their room before crashing into the floor. Father simply disappeared. I had to put and watch my little sister fall asleep.
I still had two important tasks to undertake: help feed mother and Thomas.
They’ve both grown weak. Neither of them could sit up on their own. They were merely planks of wood upon bedding. I nearly cried every time I went into their rooms.
They both requested I feed the other first. Being the second one sick, Thomas had more force after all he was his father’s son. Mother never caught on. How could she? She didn’t know the difference between breakfast, lunch, and dinner anymore.
She fell asleep before finishing. I wish I could too, but Thomas. I left her bowl on my chair and left with a ruckus. She didn’t wake but Paul, the son after me, did. I would have been sorry, but I had no time for that.
Paul took my place and I went to Thomas. He was sneezing when I came in. “Just go to bed~” he barely said.
“I will not.” I sat in front of him.
“You will to~” he said, turning his head from the spoon.
“I rather have you mad at me than Father. So you will eat then I can go to bed and everyone will be happy!” I said, every word being clearer than the last.
He didn’t fight me anymore. Didn’t say another word. Just stared at me as he ate. “I’m sorry~,” he had a coughing fit, “I hate to see you this way.”
I put the bowl aside. “Me too.”
“I don’t... deserve... it.” He put his hand on his chest. “You deserve better.” Placing his other hand on mine.
“Let me show you something.” With a smile and a giggle.
With a flick of my hands, the blue spirits arose from the dirt on the floor. They hoped and spinned, dancing around the space between us. And Thomas’ face, well, I saw Mother in his eyes.
The door crashed open. My figures disappeared whence they came. And as loud as he could, Thomas was yelling as I was ripped from his side.
I was dragged through the house and thrown to the dirt of the road into town. When I looked up, all I saw was the flames in my father’s eyes. “You devil child! How dare you corrupt your brother with your sin?” He smacked again. “Leave and never come back!”
He slammed the door, cutting me from the light of the candles.
The sun rose in my face. My head hurt. All I could see was light.
A hand touched my shoulder. And another on the other. I jumped before I saw a face.
“Are you alright?” The boy’s face appeared, invading the light.
I don’t know how. I was under the old aqueduct, sitting on the crate I saw him sitting in yesterday.
“Are you alright?”
I touched my forehead with my fingers coming back red. “No.”
“You are coming with me.” He lifted me to my feet before I could say anything.
I think I blacked out again. I don’t remember anything between crate and chair. Definitely not where and what building I was in.
The boy sat in front of me with a cloth and a bowl of water. “Good Morning, again.” He dabbed my forehead.
“What’s your name?”
“Well, Dorothea, I’m Merlin.” He washed the cloth. “You don’t mind if I asked what happened?”
“My father has forsaken me.”
“He hates me for my magic.”
He stopped everything, with his hand inches from my forehead. “I guess I was being careless.”
“Like you didn’t know.”
“I guess this wouldn't be inappropriate then.” He stood and brushed my hair out of my face. I can’t say I wasn’t happy, but I didn’t expect him to kiss my forehead.
The light in my eyes disappeared and my head started to clear. When he moved, I touched my forehead: no blood.
Merlin scrooched down, with his hand on my shoulders. “You should get some rest. There’s a bed in the back.”
He looked like he needed more than I did now. But I was out of arguing power.
I fell asleep as soon as my feet were off the ground.
I felt my hair being moved. I open my eyes expecting to see Merlin’s. Instead, I was looking into a wide pair of green ones. I jumped, throwing myself into the back wall.
“Are you sure she’s one of us, Merlin?” she yelled over her shoulder.
Merlin stood on the other side of a table in the middle of the room. Another person sat on the table, with his back to me. “I’m quite sure.”
“Only quite?” She flashed up next to him.
She flashed again, sitting next to the other person. With my notebook in her hands, she said, “She does have a beautiful hand, both written and artistic.”
The other turned to his side, yelling hey, grabbing my book back.
“Tessa! Alwyn! Stop it.” He pushed them apart.
She was in front of me again. “Let’s get you in something clean.” She pulled me up and dragged me out of where I still didn’t know.
“Do you really think she’s the one?” Alwyn turned to Merlin.
Merlin took my book from him. It was on the page where I drew his act. “I know it!”