Kraznir Complications: A Resolution

We rode into the forest, far enough to avoid capture by either army. We dropped to the ground and lay amongst leaves and needles. We didn’t worry about our horse making noise, for they were trained to be still.

Little John pointed and waggled his fingers as Nix had done.

“Bae von ox nae,” I whispered while thinking of Kraznir’s army, “bae von ox nae.” And then we waited. And waited.

Both armies remained frozen. Because there was no movement, no blink of an eye, no leaning one direction or another, there was no way to determine if the spellbind had worked.

Time passed and we became hungry. “I’m going hunting,” Little John whispered. “I think I saw rabbit tracks.”

Doughty fell asleep. My eyes grew tired, but I kept them focused on the armies, looking for change. My head fell to my chest, then I forced it upright. Over and over I battled my body.

“I caught one” Little John said as he held up a good-sized brown rabbit. “Can you get a fire going while I skin it?’

I scooped together leaves, then sticks, then searched for larger branches. When I felt there was enough, I held my hands over the leaves, closed my eyes and thought “fire” for I didn’t know the actual spell. Imagine my surprise when a flame burst forth from the heart of the leaves!

I placed several sticks on top, then when they began to smolder, even more.

“Looks great,” Doughty said. “Add the bigger branches. That should work.”

Just when flames rose to shoulder height, Little John appeared with the rabbit on a spit. He held it over the flames, just out of reach so it wouldn‘t char. Soon the smell of cooking meat tickled our noses. My mouth filled with saliva in anticipation.

“There,” Doughty said, “it’s done.” He tore off a leg, bit into it, and smacked his lips with pleasure. “Wonderful.”

We enjoyed our meal. It was not the best one we’d ever had, but since we’d not had meat for the days of our journey, it was exactly what we needed.

“Can I have some?” an unfamiliar voice asked.

Doughty jumped up, pulling his dagger out of his belt. “Who are you?”

“Mastix, sir.” The man wore Kraznir’s army’s uniform. “I’m hungry. If there’s even a tiny bite left, I’d love to eat it.”

I tore off a piece, gave it to him, then watched him slowly chew with his head held back and his eyes closed. “Um, that’s delicious.”

“So, is there something else you want?” Doughty asked.

“A bath, clean clothes and a soft bed.”

“Okay,” I said. “But why did you approach us? Shouldn’t you be afraid of being seen with us?”

The man laughed. “You’re my friends, right? Can I go home with you?’

Little John laughed as movement surrounded us. In front of us stood Kraznir’s entire army, officers and lowly men-in-arms, all with wistful looks on their faces. “Your spell worked,” he said to me with a wink and a grin. “The war is over.”

“For now,” Doughty said. “Only for now.”

“We have no more food,” I said, “but if you ride with us back to Siln and swear allegiance to King Taden, you can live in peace in Siln.”

An officer stepped forward and bowed. “Yes. My men and I will gladly follow you. We have yearned for the freedom and prosperity of Siln, but had no way of getting there. You have offered us everything we’ve dreamt of. Freedom instead of torture, instead of forever being indebted to Kraznir. For that we are grateful.”

Doughty stood and held out his hand. The officer extended his. Once grasped, Doughty pulled the man to his chest in what was considered a bond of trust.

“We’d better leave now,” Little John said. “if we ride hard, we’ll be home by tomorrow night.”

My heart felt light. My spells had worked. No lives had been lost. No injuries incurred. Not a single soldier from Siln had deserted, but the entire army Kraznir had sent was now happily singing their way to Siln.

I knew that from now on I would no longer be a magician-in-training for I had saved Siln’s men from harm. Kraznir, for now, was no longer a complication.

Kraznir Complications: Into Danger

Nix called a halt sunder some low-hanging trees o that we could dry our mounts as well as ourselves. I removed Ruthie’s gear then walked her to an unoccupied patch of grass. She immediately got to her knees and then rolled onto her back. I laughed at her antics. I so wanted to roll about as well, but I felt that Nix would disapprove.

We ate a bit of biscuit and refilled our skins with fresh water. Doughty, Little John and I found a quiet spot away from the others.

“I’m worried,” Little John said. “Nothing has challenged us. Nothing has slowed us, not human or beast.”

Doughty nodded. “By now something would have heard us coming. It’s impossible to move a group this size without attracting attention, so it’s logical to assume that there will be battle soon.”

“What should I do? I’m useless with sword and spear.”

Little John snickered. “You and me both. The one advantage I have is size. I can slink under the bellies of their horses and cut cinches. Then we’ll laugh when Kraznir’s entire army slides off their mounts!”

I rested my chin in my hands. “I’ve been learning some new wards. There’s an invincibility one, but I haven’t mastered it yet. Maybe I’ll set that one up before we enter the forest.”

That’s when the call came to mount, so I saddled Ruthie and as I rubbed her muzzle, I said, “Arq ve naw. Arq se baw.” I repeated it three times, a powerful magical number, hoping that by following the norms, the ward would work.

Was I invincible? Probably not, but it didn’t hurt to think that a few magical words could protect myself, my friends and our entire force.

Nix did not lead the way which told me that he expected trouble. What captain would hide amidst soldiers rather than inspire them by his daring? One who feared death, that’s who.

I pushed my way forward until I was within talking distance of Nix. When Nix and I entered the forest, a loud, piercing scream rattled me so much that I pulled back on the reins, terrifying Ruthie into bucking. I hung on to the horn and gripped her sides with my legs so tightly that my knees ached. I leaned forward until my nose was buried in her mane and spoke reassuring words until her front hooves touched sand once again.

Our ranks were in disarray. Instead of an orderly procession of two horsemen riding  side-by-side, many of us stood alone. I, thanks to being near Nix, was engulfed by armed soldiers brandishing spears and longswords. No word was spoken, no orders given. All acted in unison, however, which must be due to years of rigorous training.

I pulled my sword from its scabbard and tried to hold it steadily aloft, but I was no trained warrior. In seconds my arm tired and the sword fell at my side. Instead I did what little I could do: I chanted wards over and over hoping that at least one would keep us safe.

Karznir’s army surrounded us. We couldn’t move in any direction. Only the outer soldiers could inflict damage, but the enemy was as well-trained as we were. They formed a line about ten feet away: far enough that no sword, no spear could harm them.

Nix glowered at me as he waggled his fingers at the enemy. I understood what he wanted: I was to employ a magic spell that would numb the minds of Kraznir’s men. I was to freeze their bodies into living statues. I was supposed to spellbind them to yearn to be free of Kraznir’s leagues and to skip to our side.

I raised my hands, palms down, closed my eyes and screamed so that my voice would carry over those still harbored in the forest, “Tre at na lee.” I repeated it three times, as all wards were meant to. Were their minds numb? Well, it seemed as if they were as all about me all I saw were blank eyes. Good for the enemy, but not for us! I hadn’t learned how to target spells at some leaving out others!

That left Doughty, Little John and I. The wards couldn’t touch us thanks to a reflection ward my mentor had employed before we left. We were the survivors. We could do whatever we wanted.

Doughty rode up next to me and whispered, “What do we do now?”

I shrugged and turned to Little John. He said, “We could sneak off into the forest, across rivers and mountains to another kingdom. But eventually King Taden’s forces would find us, tie us up, and throw us into the dungeon of Siln.”

“Or,” Doughty said, “we could ride among both sides and steal their weapons. If Touchfire can keep the ward alive, we should be able to disarm all soldiers and hide their weapons deep in the forest.”

They looked at me with hope in their eyes. I nodded, raised my hands, and chanted again. Doughty worked on our soldiers while Little John stole Kraznir’s mens’ weapons.

It took hours. Whenever I lowered my hands, within fifteen minutes a man would stir here or there. Eyes might blink. Coughs might rattle lungs. Then I’d raise my hands and chant, “Tre ot na lee,” and “Linx fa bay,” which was supposed to turn them into living statues.

I was greatly relieved when my companions were by my side once again.

“I have an idea,” Doughty said. “Follow me.”

The three of us wove in and out of Taden’s horsemen until we were alongside Kraznir’s. “Did you learn the spellbinding ward? The one the allows minds to change?”

“I was just starting to work on that one.”

He smiled a devilish smile and said,” Well, give it a try. If we can convince Kraznir’s men to join with us, this battle will be over once and for all.”

I closed my eyes and pictured the words in my spell book. I sept my arm across the enemy ranks and softly chanted, “Bae von oz nae.”

“Do it again,” Little John said.

When I was finished, he asked me to send out a suggestion that they come to Siln of their own free will.

I nodded, closed my eyes, relaxed my breathing, and imagined words traveling into minds. Words changing minds. Words changing allegiance.

We rode into the forest, far enough to avoid capture by either army. We dropped to the ground and lay amongst leaves and needles. We didn’t worry about our horse making noise, for they were trained to be still.

Little John pointed and waggled his fingers as Nix had done.

“Bae von ox nae,” I whispered.

Kraznir Complications: Preparations Begin

Doughty shook his head then wiped his mouth from which stew oozed down his chin. “Magic is important, yes. But you also need to know how to fight so as to support the army in battle.”

He was right even though I didn’t want to admit it. So I didn’t complain when after lunch I learned how to ride with a spear. It was hard to balance while bouncing up and down, at the same time trying to keep the point of the shaft aimed at the heart of a dummy on the other side of the corral. I rode again and again, stopping only when permitted, but despite hard work and countless attempts, my skills never improved.

Feeling quite useless, I returned to the barracks for a bath and change of clothes, then sat in the common area waiting for my companions. None of them showed up, so when fatigue took over, I went to bed.

 

Rumors spread that a force was being sent to counter Kraznir’s army which was thought to be assembling just outside Hagg Forest, too close to Siln to be ignored. Archers, crow bow wielders, horsemen and all varieties of wizards were to travel, forthwith.

Since I had no fighting skills and limited magic, I figured I would remain inside the castle grounds, but oh, no, that was not to be. An emissary from King Taden appeared in the barracks where I lived with a dozen other females late one evening. “Touchfire?” he called.

I rose and stood at attention, as dictated by protocol. The King commands you to prepare to join the battle force. Pack your bags and head to the stables.”

“But I’m useless! I’m just a trainee and a poor one at that!”

“Do as commanded or I have been instructed to remove you to the dungeons.” He waved his right hand and two heavily humungous soldiers entered.

I knew by their armor that they belonged to the King’s Guard, the mostly highly skilled soldiers in the kingdom. There was no way I could fight them and live, so I bowed my compliance. Once they were gone, I pulled my stuff-bag out from under my bed and shoved in clothes appropriate for travel: a heavy cape, a split-skirt, winter boots and two tops, one long-sleeved and one Sherpa-lined sweater.

The weather had turned while I was training. The days were chilly and the nights downright cold. I would need whatever protection my garments would provide.

I slung my bag over my shoulder and trundled to the stables.  Ruthie was brushed, fed and saddled. I lashed my bag in place, then stood by her muzzle until instructed to mount.

We were all agitated, riders and mounts alike. None of us knew what to expect. Would there be a battle in which we died? Or would someone negotiate a treaty to stop a useless war? I prayed for the treaty. I didn’t want any more of my friends lost and I certainly didn’t want to die either.

The pounding of boots approached the doors. When I heard them coming, I thrust my shoulders back and stood at attention. Captain Nix, wearing his best blue uniform, strode in with a sneer signaling what he thought of his so-called army. “Well, well,” he snickered. “How can a bunch of misfits defeat Kraznir’s well-trained armies?” He stopped in front of a short, stubby scout named Will.

“I don’t know, sir,” he croaked.

Nix sauntered down the line of us, flicking dust of the shoulder of one, slapping the back of another, harassing each person he passed. Until he stood before me. Then he laughed. No, guffawed. A loud, deep, gaggle of sounds erupting from the bottom of his chest. “What good are you?”

I cast my eyes downward to show deference.

“Answer me.”

“I can do a little magic.”

Nix turned to a soldier standing behind him. “Check with the quartermaster. I don’t recall asking for someone who can do ‘a little magic’. I wanted a master magician.”

The soldier bowed so low that his chin would have touched his knees were it not for his armor strapped tightly to his chest. He turned without saluting and left.

We stood at attention while Nix paced in front of us. He fiddled with a harness on Athor’s horse, the saddle on Will’s and had just reached toward Ruthie, my trusted mount, when the soldier returned. I let out the breath I’d been holding. If Nix’s fingers had gotten any closer, Ruthie would have snapped them off. I would then have been executed as a traitor.

The soldier bowed. “She’s coming with us,” he said.

“By whose orders?”

“Taden’s, sir.”

“But she’s useless!”

“Taden says no other magicians are available. They’ve been dispersed to the outer villages for weeks now. All except for Old Oscar whose blind and this one. Taden says Oscar remains and this one goes.”

Working Together

Sun looked down at her friend the Earth and smiled. All was good. Trees grew straight and tall. Flowers bloomed. Waters ran, following her magnetic pull, east and west, north and south. Earth was warm where her rays fell, cool where they did not. Both friends were satisfied.

For billions of years Sun provided the things that Earth needed, but what did Earth give Sun? Nothing, Sun thought and so she decided to ask Earth for a favor. “Please, my friend, I am lonely. There is none other like me. I am light and fire while you are air and water and warmth. Tell me where I can find my own kind?”

Earth was puzzled. She knew about nutrients needed to grow things, she knew about the benefits of clean water, but nothing about friends for Sun. “I would love to help you,” Earth said, “but I don’t know where to look. Do you have any ideas?”

Despairing over the lack of help, Sun cried. Flames dripped from her eyes, sparks shooting off into the blackness.

“Hey,” Earth said. “Do that again.”

Sun let loose a whole stream of tears which spewed off in countless directions.

“Look now,” Earth said.

Where there once had been complete darkness, now pinpricks of light dotted the surrounding darkness. Most glittered, but some flew through the dark, trailing brilliant streaks of light.

“Those lights, those flames, they are your children,” Earth said. “In time they will grow and multiply. They will become your friends and companions.”

Sun felt better, but there was still an ache in her heart. “That’s great,” she said, “but what do I do for now? My loneliness has not eased.”

“Love me,” Earth said, “and bless me with a gift of life that we both can enjoy.”

Sun considered the many things she could do. In time, an idea came upon her to create living, moving beings that would subsist on the wonders that Earth could offer. She sent tiny sparks to Earth’s surface. Not enough to cause fire, but the right amount to burst into something new: four-legged and two-legged and winged beings.

Earth was thrilled. “Thank you, my friend,” she said. “I feel the tickle of feet and the whoosh of air as the beings cross my lands. I giggle when they eat of my fruit and drink my water. You have given me a marvelous gift.”

Sun was happy for her friend. She loved the sparks of light in the sky, but she was still lonely. “Earth, my friend, I need your help.”

“I wish I could share my gifts with you,” Earth said. “because I have more than enough. I feel your sadness. What can I do to cheer you up?”

Sun had weighed many possibilities and eliminated all but one. “Since I am light and can create light, maybe since you are the world, you can create other worlds?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never tried.”

“Imagine,” Sun said, “a world like you that travels across the sky. It is sometimes in my light, but sometimes in the dark as well. When it’s in light, it would be my companion. When it’s in dark, it could be yours.”

“Let me think about it.”

Time passed. Day after day Sun lit up first one side of Earth, then the other. She was careful not to let things get too hot or too cold. She watched the beings traverse Earth’s lands and waters and air. She marveled as the plants grew fruitful and then rested only to resurge again. She witnessed rain and snow and shimmering days.

But Sun was growing impatient, so she asked Earth, “Have you any ideas?”

“Yes, I do,” Earth said. “I am willing to give something a good try. I will concentrate as hard as I can, imagining a world that floats like I do, but is sometimes in your light and sometimes in the dark. It might not work, but at least we can say that I tried.”

While Sun waited she also thought of a floating world. In her imagination, it was like a human man, with a face that smiled both at her and at Earth. Time passed with no change, but then as Sun spread her light over one side of Earth one day, something changed. There was a pull, like a string.

Sun woke up her friend, saying, “Something is happening.”

“I feel it, too.”

Out of the darkness came a sphere. Slowly, slowly it moved closer and closer to Earth. It came to a stop between Sun and Earth. Earth was pleased. “It worked! I created a world!”

Sun was also pleased. She shone her light on it and saw a face. An old man’s face, just like in her dreams. “What shall we call him?”

“Moon,” Earth said.

“That’s a perfect name.”

“Moon,” Earth called. “Wake up.”

Moon opened his eyes and was pleased with what he saw. Above him shone Sun and below him lay fertile Earth. “I am happy,” he said.

“Will you be our friend?” Sun and Earth asked together.

“Yes, I will,” he said, “as long as you will be mine.”

All was good. Sun had a friend part of the time and Earth had a friend the rest. When Moon was in Sun’s light, he glowed as if lit from inside. When Moon was on the side of Earth, he faded into the sky, but his pull was always there, moving Earth’s waters back and forth, back and forth, caressing Earth and making her very, very happy.

 

 

Summer Romance Dreams

It began like a million days before it. Blue sky dotted with wispy clouds. Slight breeze: just enough to tickle your cheeks. A chill in the air, but soon to be gone as the sun warms the earth.

But it wasn’t an ordinary day for Thomas. He had just graduated from high school, so no early alarm, no classes, no plans.

After breakfast he headed out to meet up with Saul, his best friend of many years.

Saul had something that Thomas had always dreamt of having: magic.

Saul wasn’t a showy magician like you’d see on television. He couldn’t levitate people or saw them in half or escape from a gazillion locks before drowning in a pool of water.

He could, however, predict the future, which came in handy when gambling on which of their favorite teams would win. Today they were going to try Saul’s skill on dating.

Thomas had fancied Marisal for years, practically drooling over her long brown hair and curvy body, while Saul was  in love with Janice, a brilliant brunette who had outscored them both on the ACTs.

The problem is that Marisal’s family only permitted her dating boys with some degree of magic, which ruled out the unhmagical Thomas. Thomas, with Saul’s help, planned on convincing her parents that, by association, he was an ideal candidate.

Saul’s problem was that Janice controlled various types of magic, from elementals to wizardly powers, such as altering substances and making things disappear. Her magic was way beyond Saul’s, which meant that they had never been in the same class, starting from preschool, since her skills had emerged at birth while his took time to reveal itself.

Sitting before Saul’s computer, the boys scanned which of the local baseball teams was at home. Fortunately, because of the easier commute from Fremont, the Oakland A’s were playing the Houston Astros. The Astros were sure to win, meaning that Saul wouldn’t even have to use his magic when making a prediction. He would need it, however, to convince Janice’s parents to let her go to the game with him.

“Okay,” said Thomas, “so how can you help me?”

“Well, let’s do a search,” Saul said as he typed in appropriate words.

Up popped links that seemed promising. The first one they chose suggested flowers of the non-magical kind, a box of chocolates and a good book. “I can do all that,” Thomas said, “but somehow I don’t think that will make a difference.”

The next link said to buy an amulet that promised love at first sight. “Let’s do that,” Thomas said. “Where do we get one?”

“Easy,” said Saul. “Mieve’s shop on Mowry. She carries a variety of magic items.”

The boys took off walking as neither owned a car. Along the way they spotted a kite flying over Jason’s house, no string attached. “That’s cool,” Thomas said. “I wish I could do something like that.”

“No use dreaming of what you don’t have. Concentrate on what you’re going to ask Meve for and how you can use it on Marisal.”

Meave’s shop was nestled into a corner of a strip mall just past the intersection of Cedar and Mowry. Neon lights blinked off and on, advertising a variety of potions and spells. Thomas’s attention was called to one appropriately titled, Call me Honey. “That’s what I want!”

“Don’t decide before you talk to Meave,” Saul said as he opened the door.

Three walls were lined with shelves full of vials, tubes and bottles. The labels were both colorful and intriguing. While Saul moved to the romance section, Thomas scoured them all, picking up one item after another, putting most back, but tucking the rest in the crook of his arm.

“Stop! Those things can be dangerous in the hands of a non-magical person,” Saul said. “In fact, even a skilled user can wreak havoc with just one of those if he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Put them back.”

Thomas put one back, but carried the rest tightly against his body, shielding them from his friend’s view.

Meave appeared dressed in t-shirt and jeans. Her hair was closely cropped, hugging her scalp in a tightly curled hood. “What do you boys want?”

Saul nodded toward his friend. “He has no talents, but he wants to woo someone who does. And her parents only approve of magical boyfriends. Can you help?”

She tapped her fingers against her chin, her eyes scanning her shelves. “Well, I’m not supposed to do this, but you seem like nice kids. I’ll only sell a potion if you agree to supervise.”

Saul nodded and Thomas smiled.

She sauntered over to the romance section and pulled down three different vials. “This one adds sparkle to the user, making him appear more attractive.” She held up a blue liquid, saying, “This sends out a signal that is designed to attract a target, but it often reigns in the wrong person.” She handed Saul the last vial, which was filled with smoke. “And this one is to be opened only in the presence of the target. It is the strongest, and therefore the most dangerous.”

“Can we take them all?” Thomas asked.

Meave carried them back behind the counter. She closed her eyes as she stood silent. “I see unexpected results if you use all simultaneously. Therefore I can’t legally sell all three to you.” She put the third one on the shelf behind her. “Only two. Only these two, but you still cannot use them at the same time. Do you want them anyway?”

Thomas nodded. After purchasing the potions, the boys returned to Saul’s house. They opened both packages so as to read the instructions.

The one which would work on Thomas said he’d have to sprinkle it liberally on his face five minutes before encountering the person he wanted to woo. “I can do that,” he said. “Easy.”

The blue vial had to be opened within about three to five feet of the target. “That’s going to be tricky,” Saul said. “How do you plan on getting near Marisal?”

“Let’s just go over there. When she opens the door, I’ll uncork the vial and wave it under her nose.”

“Where will I be?”

“Nowhere near.  I don’t want her to fall in love with you.”

The boys meandered down Smith Street, past a park and elementary school. Marisal’s house was at the corner of Allendale. It was easy to spot, primarily because of the gigantic plants in the front yard, all improved by Marisal’s mother’s gardening talent.

Thomas opened the first vial just as he stepped up to the door. He knocked. Footsteps. He held the blue vial up before his face, ready to pop the cork. The door opened. Thomas released the potion, then gasped.

Marisal’s face did not fill the doorway. Her brother Nathan stood there, all six feet of him, broad shoulders completely filling the doorway.

“Look who’s here,” Nathan said as his eyes slowly opened wider and wider. “You’re looking awesome,” he said with a wink.

“Marisal,” Thomas said as he took four steps back. “Is she here?”

Nathan leaned against the door frame, one hip suggestively thrust forward. “No, but I am. Want to come in?”

Thomas turned and ran down the sidewalk, putting as much distance as possible between him and the house. Saul caught up with him in front of the school. “So, what happened?”

“Nathan. Nathan happened, that’s what.”

Saul laughed a deep, throaty bellow. “So he’s in love with you?”

Thomas threw both vials into bushes near the park. “This stuff is crap.”

“Okay, so let’s work on my problem. How do I convince Janice’s parents that I’ve got powerful enough magic?”

Thomas shrugged. “Just be yourself.”

They crossed Smith Street and headed north toward a fairly new complex of condos. They found Building C, then climbed to the third floor. “Only talented families live here,” Saul said. “Be careful. Don’t touch anything. Not even the handrail. Everything will be protected. It could be dangerous for you.”

Saul rang the bell at Suite 307. Janice answered. “Hi,” she said as a smile brightened her face. “Come on in.”

The boys found seats in the front room. Janice sat in between, slightly closer to Saul. “Thirsty?” she asked.

“Sure,” the boys said in unison.

Janice snapped her fingers and two glasses of cola appeared on the coffee table before them. Saul leaned forward and indicated that Thomas was not to touch, but not in time.

Carelessly ignoring his friend’s command, Thomas tipped the glass to his lips and took a huge gulp. Immediately he began twitching from head to toe. His body stiffened, throwing his head over the back of the couch.

“What happened?” Janice shrieked.

Saul hustled to his friend’s side, cradling his head. “He has no talents! He’s been poisoned.”

“Didn’t you warn him?”

“Of course. I saw this happening, so I told him not to touch anything.”

“What do we do?” Janice said.

“Do you stock any antidotes?”

Janice went down the hall. After a few minutes she returned carrying a small brown bottle. “I think this might work.”

Saul held it in his free hand, closed his eyes, and began humming a low-pitched sound. He nodded, opened his eyes, and told Janice to pour some down Thomas’ throat. As soon as the tiniest drop touched his friend’s tongue, the tremors stopped. The next drop unfroze Thomas’s body, collapsing him into the couch. The last drop eased his breathing.

“He’s going to be okay,” Saul said as he handed the bottle back to Janice.

“Thank goodness you knew what to do! Wait till I tell my parents. You’re amazing.”

Saul blushed as he returned to his seat, Janice tucked against his side. He slowly put his left arm over her shoulders. She leaned her head against his and planted a kiss on his throat.

“So,” she said, “what are you doing this afternoon?”

“How’d you like to go to a ballgame?”

“Who’s going to win?”

“Astros. But the As will hit three homeruns and two doubles. It will be close.”

With that, Janice left a note for her parents. Before they walked out the door, they lifted Thomas’s legs in order to make him more comfortable. Saul gave his friend a thumb’s up as they closed the door behind them.

 

 

A Dilemma

She opened her portfolio and turned to Martha’s picture. It had been hastily chosen, but it perfectly captured the image of the washerwoman Ziana had wanted. She held her hand over the image and said the word alive. Martha appeared in the room and without command, began cleaning the messy kitchen.

Next she found Jackson’s image, that of an old English gardener. Ziana brought him to life and sent him out to trim hedges and mow her expansive lawns.

She released Jacques and set him about preparing a fancy dinner for twenty. She loved watching him work. His arms flew with lightning speed as he chopped, diced, mashed and rolled. And his creations were divine.

Ziana was pleased with her life. From the time she was a small child she had been able to animate pictures. Her skill had been honed by a series of private tutors, the most recent being Suzanne, from the Illustrators Academy in Woodside. Suzanne taught her not just animation, but anything Ziana was able to learn. She wasn’t adept at all skills, but at many.

When she was of age, she enrolled in the academy where her progress was rapid. She graduated well before her peers and then was hired as an instructor, where she taught a variety of skills, but specializing in animation. She was happy in both her career and her abode, nestled deep in a wooded enclave in Woodside, California.

The one thing that Ziana had never been able to magic was a suitable boyfriend. Her first attempt was a strongman from an ad that appeared in the Sunday paper. He was handsome with blond hair and bulging muscles, but all he could talk about was cleaning products.

Her next boyfriend was a well-dressed man in a three-piece suit. His smile was seductive, and Ziana imagined herself falling into his arms. Unfortunately his repertoire was confined to the quality of the fabric, and limited to the fact that his clothing was made in America.

She had tried a race car driver, a politician, a late-night host and a singer whose voice gave her goosebumps, but all had failed miserably. These so-called boyfriends lacked depth, which Ziana yearned for in her life. She did not want a poster-man as a husband and father to her children.

And those children were important to her. She wanted them to be gifted like her, but to also be able to survive in the greater world. To be college professors or town mayors, engineers or even, well, yes, to be president. She knew what she liked in a man, but unless he was a living, breathing real-life person, she would never fulfill her dreams for herself and for the future of her magical world.

That left the employees of the academy as her only options. She had to marry someone who understood the importance of magic and who wasn’t repelled by its use. The man had to be able to speak about a variety of topics in order to hold her interest, but to capture her heart, he would have to focus on her and her many attributes.

To win that man’s heart, she created her people on this day, of all days. Tonight she was hosting the Spring Dinner, a formal affair for all those who resided in the academy’s private grounds. It was a time to see and be seen, to walk about her gardens and have private chats. To stroll arm in arm and fall in love.

Ziana wanted the stage to be perfectly set, so while her house was being cleaned, her yard trimmed and her food prepared, she brought forth a hairdresser she liked and a dressmaker whose skills she had used many times, who would add the finishing touches to her gown. She smiled, for in a way, she felt a little like Cinderella whose bidding was done by birds and animals and eventually by a fairy godmother.

Among the many who would come tonight, there were two men who she thought might do. James, who taught the art of growing things, was tall, slim and a tad handsome, but not gorgeous. He was intelligent, kind and patient, qualities which Ziana admired. And single. He was the one that all the single women lusted over, but Ziana had never seen him walk about with any of those women. She felt her chances were quite good to snare him.

But there was also Parker, the headmaster. He was recently widowed after the death of his wife of thirty years. He was a bit old, but still intellectually stimulating and not too bad looking, despite random hairs sprouting from his nose and ears and hair that was rapidly disappearing from the top of his head. The good thing about Parker was that he ran the academy with aplomb, not favoring particular students or skills, but rather treating all as equals. And he was rumored to be an old-fashioned romantic.

Once the house was in order, Ziana retired her helpmates, and called out three who would serve drinks, food and cater to the whims of her guests. She sent them off to a room reserved for staff, and had them dress in evening attire, black suits with crisp white shirts.

Her guests arrived in a flurry of excitement. The married ones brought spouses and the singles arrived either alone or in small clusters. There was much talk and after a few rounds of champagne, quite a bit of giggling.

Ziana began to panic when an hour had passed and neither Parker nor James had arrived. She asked a few of the guests about them, and found out that the two had last been seen going into the academy’s observatory, a room that only a select few had ever entered. Rumor had it that James was being promoted, but only if he could demonstrate mastery of invisibility, a skill that few ever attained. If completed, James’ repertoire would include all the major magic skills, making him the best candidate for headmaster whenever Parker retired.

While she waited and worried, Ziana flitted about. She kept an eye on her employees, correcting here and there when she found them lacking. She spoke with teachers about students, the caretakers about the condition of the academy’s many buildings, and the spouses about children that seemed to be appearing with alarming speed. One woman already had five kids, four of which had magical skills, and was soon expecting twins. Another had just given birth to her tenth, the most recent one being without talent.

Something was happening, but no one could explain. It used to be that magical parents had magical children, period. But over the past few years, change was robbing the community of talented heirs. Doctors had been crafted and scientists set to work, but so far none had been able to identify the cause nor stop the downward slide.

Ziana hoped to counter the trend. She knew that if she married either James or Parker, their kids would have the best possible gene pool. With their combined skills, they would represent the entire magical spectrum. Such power would counter whatever negative factor was destroying the future of the community. Or so she hoped.

When it was time for dinner to be served, Ziana had planned on seating James to her right, Parker on her left, but since neither had yet to arrive, she sat between too old teachers whose spouses were not in attendance, claiming fatigue and illness, but Ziana thought it was probably due to boredom. Too tired to keep on living, a symptom of the rising death rates of an aging population that wasn’t being rejuvenated by the young.

One of the teachers, Tabath, was a dour woman whose face was shriveled and covered with fine white hair. Her voice was grating, but her command of magic and her ability to teach was unparalleled. “Have you heard from James?” Tabath asked.

“No. Sorry, but I’m expecting him shortly,” Ziana replied.

“I’ve heard he’s going to take over next year,” Quinton, the dean of discipline, contributed. “That’s why the meeting tonight. To formally pass the baton, so to speak.” He winked at Ziana as he laid his hand on top of hers. Which she quickly removed.

“James would make a wonderful husband,” Tabath said as she leaned toward Ziana conspiratorially. “He’s kind, smart and dependable. Plus he’s handsome. Have you considered marrying him?”

“What? Why, no. I mean yes,” Ziana stammered. Before she could embarrass herself further, she arose and stood by the large window at the front of the mansion.

Just at that moment a limousine appeared, stopped, the chauffeur jumped out, ran around and opened the door. Ziana smiled as first Parker, then James emerged. Both straightened their tuxedo jackets, then walked in tandem to the front door.

Ziana greeted them both with a handshake, saying, “I’m glad you made it, but dinner has already been served. I can have the staff heat up plates for you, if you like.” She escorted the men to the dining room, where they were heartily greeted by a round of upheld champagne glasses and shouts of “Hoorah” in rather drunken tones.

“Parker, please sit here,” she said as she showed him an empty seat next to Stephen, a large, sweaty man who oversaw the academy’s grounds. “James, take this spot,” which just happened to be between two married, but not on speaking terms, teachers.

Ziana sauntered to the head of the table where she stood until silence filled the room. “Ladies and Gentlemen, I am pleased that so many of you were able to come this evening. Together we are the most talented magical community. Our combined skills are incomparable anywhere within the state. In fact, most likely anywhere in the world. It is with great pleasure that I present Parker Masterson, our headmaster.” And then she sat.

Parker stammered a bit, seemingly embarrassed by the hoopla. He raised his glass, saying, “To my coworkers and friends. May we be blessed by many happy years of magical living.”

When the meal was over and the table cleared, the guests moved into the back gardens, where they split into small groups as they meandered through the beautifully blooming flowers. Ziana walked side-by-side with Parker and James. “So, how did your meeting go?” she asked.

“Pleasantly,” James said.

“We think we have a solution to our problem,” Parker said. “Our scientists have found an increase in lead in our water supply. After much testing, they have decided that lead is damaging our children. That it is robbing them of their full potential.”

“Oh, dear,” Ziana said. “What can we do about it? Doesn’t our water come from the reservoir that feeds the city? So it isn’t just affecting us, but the nonmagical community as well.”

“True,” James said. “But there is a solution that only people with our talents can handle.”

“Yes,” Parker said. “We will construct a filtering system that will remove lead before it is able to enter the reservoir. For the nonmagical community, it would be cost prohibitive, but for us, it is quite simple.”

“How so?” Ziana asked.

James touched her lightly on the arm and turned her toward the maze in the center of the yard. “We create it. Just like you create people and I create plants and buildings.”

“The scientists have given us a design. All we have to do is magic it into being,” Parker said. “I’ve put James in charge of the project. It will be a good test of his ability to manage and direct groups of people both inside and outside of our community.” At that Parker bowed, saying, “I’m sorry, my dear, but I must go. There is much to be done in preparation. Besides, you two lovers must have time alone.” With a wink, he left.

“Lovers?” Ziana sputtered. “What did you tell him?”

James smiled. “Nothing. He’s an emotions reader, remember? Besides, would it be so awful if we were a couple?” He touched her on the arm and led her to a stone bench near a bubbling waterfall.

Ziana smiled. “You’re right, I suppose. But first and most importantly, did Parker appoint you to take over as headmaster?”

James frowned. “Is it that important to you that you must know my status before we could date?”

Ziana thought for a moment before answering. She liked James, found him both attractive and intellectually stimulating, but could she love him? Marry him? Live with him forever and bear his children? “I…I don’t know. It’s important, yes. I want my husband to be powerful within the community. To be able to travel between worlds and be influential in both. But I also want to be in love.”

James brought her hand to his chest. “Feel the beating of my heart,” he said. “It pounds a love song for you. But no pressure. I will build this filtration system and then I will ask again.”

After all the guests were gone and the workers put to rest, Ziana slid into bed. She considered the challenge that she had given James. It was demanding, but honest. She knew that Parker could do these things, but he had shown no interest in her. Among the remaining staff, there was no one but James who Ziana considered worthy. Maybe that made her arrogant, but she wanted future children to have the best chances for being born with tremendous talent, and that meant James.

Time passed with no word from James. Children were conceived and born. Marriages performed. Houses built and the academy expanded to include a more modern science lab that competed with the nonmagical ones at universities and research centers around the world. And in all that time, Ziana waited and watched.

Parker retired. James took over. The filtration project long completed, lead no longer polluted the reservoir. No longer were children born without skills and the magical world was sound.

Ziana still dreamed of love, but time had not been kind to her. Despite creating the best physical trainers possible, her body had unaccountably shifted. She was no longer slim and trim, but matronly. Her hair would have been gray if not for the hairdressers she created from advertisements. Thanks to designers she found in magazines, her clothes were modern and stylish. But her life was empty.

All was well except that James had found love when a new teacher moved in a few years ago. Ziana wasn’t worried, for Sharone, a lithesome dark haired beauty from Nevada, was severely lacking in talent. But Sharone had lured him in. They married and had a gifted child. A son, who was expected to be the most powerful creator in the history of the magical world.

This was the son who should have been Ziana’s if only she had not been so diffident. So determined that James show his worth. She had thrown away her only chance for love. She had only an empty house to look forward to, to spending her days creating whoever she needed, whenever she needed them, to teaching at the academy, and to looking dreamily whenever James passed by.