"Right then, tea?" The dwarf wobbled his way back through his home. Maneuvering around the fallen items with short plump legs that stretch as tall as the rest of him. He had a round face to match his round frame and a trimmed auburn beard that grew thick on his jaw. "Blasted guards, think they run the place because they have ol' Kings brandishing. Ta!"
She half-listened as he rambled on about sullying his home and tarnishing his mood with their faces. Rather, she took in his home.
It had always pleased her to come here, despite the intentions of the visit. Doc's home overflowed with things. Books, parchments, quills, experiments littered every bookcase, table, chair, and desk. The shelves were polished neatly to accommodate the sacred nature of his texts. Scrolls were tucked in nooks and crannies where books could not fit. And even still, more books stood in piles on the floor here and there. A simple plant lay on top of each, its petals and leaves budding or blooming with the light that shone down from the glass ceiling.
Delicate purples and vibrant reds fed the decor of the room. Docs home contrasted, contradicted, and rebelled in every way it could against the ways of the borstal. It was filled with life and purpose and hope. Of knowledge and history and curiosity.
And, she sniffed the air, fresh bread. Smiling softly, she lifted her head to the scent and took delight in knowing Doc had not forgotten she would be coming.
Startled by the crash behind her, she jumped. Peering at Doc, she saw the remains of a potted plant shattered on the floor. She moved to help him and was painfully reminded of the teeth gnawing at her wrists that she was still bound.
"Argh!" she hissed.
"Oh! Forgive me as I have forgotten to rid you of your binds." Doc waddled behind her, his thick fingers worked the knots loose. "You know, you could remove them yourself."
"Right, as soon as I learn to bend that way, I will." She rubbed at her wrists as Doc wound the rope and placed it on his desk.
"That is not what I meant. What have I told you about magic? Do you remember?"
She thought for a moment, circling through her dozens of memories of them and their conversations until she landed on what she thought he sought. "Magic is the manipulation of energy and it is everchanging."
"Precisely. And if magic was used to create these--"
"Then magic can be used to uncreate them." Doc wiggled his finger at his nose, smiled.
When the floor was once again clean and the dirt repotted into various other plants, she settled into the chair at his desk. She busied herself with the paper scattered on it as Doc sauntered into the kitchen.
"I baked these fresh, just for you!" he called out. "Thought you might like something to warm your belly after, what was it? Ah, fourteen days in isolation." He said, reappearing with a tray full of bread rolls and a cup of water.
"Thank you." Smiling, she plucked a roll from the plate and accepted the water he offered her.
As she at, Doc sifted through the scrolls he kept tucked away in a chest until he found the one he wanted. A small, off-white paper, bounded with a red ribbon. She recognized it as hers instantly and knew her judgment was about to begin.
"Right, shall we get this ugly business out of the way?" Doc pushed those glass frames up his face and plucked a quill from his desk. "Why were you sentenced to isolation?"
She knew the right answer, the one Doc and the guards needed to hear. She also knew it was the wrong answer if she wanted to return to her cell. Swallowing the bit of bread in her mouth, she decided on her answer. "For acts of crime against Kings Men."
"Using my blessing in an attempt to help another escape custody." Doc eyed her. "In my attempt to escape custody." She bit back the bitterness that poisoned her tongue.
"Are you prepared to answer to your crimes and swear your fealty to the King, to take your place among the Broken as a slave to your Lord?"
This time, she did not question her answer. Grinning, she said, "Never."
"Then, Maleah, I hereby sentence you back to your cell and claim your time in isolation complete." Rolling the scroll up, he tossed it away.
"Finished already?" she mused.
"As if any answer from you would change my mind. I am happy to see, though, that this last round has not made your head lax or your tongue tame."
"As if I'd ever allow that."
"Now, friend to friend. Why must you cause trouble when all is finally calm?"
She considered it, considered him. He was her only friend, the only kind one to ever live inside the borstal. If she could trust anyone with the truth, it would be Doc. "Because they will never change. So why must I?"
"I do love your courage and I admire your resistance. But landing yourself in isolation over some small quip made by a mindless patsy will not gain your freedom any sooner than the death of the King."
Maleah eyed him curiously. His compliments were normal and did not phase her. His blatant comment of the King's death, however, spooked her. Doc never so much as raised his voice when speaking of the King, nor had he so explicitly made his views so clear.
Grabbing another piece of bread, she tore off a bite and popped it into her mouth. Speaking through its lump, she said, "I cannot imagine what I must look like to you. Though my hatred grows stronger, my bones tire and my sleep is restless. The days blur together like the sun and moon behind a blanket of clouds. This last time was worse than the last as the food was scarce and water unbearable."
"You have lasted here longer than anyone else I have met. One winter, maybe half a cycle is the average I have seen. But you, you have been here for four winters. There is only one other I have met who has lasted half as long as you. It takes a strong mind and an even stronger heart to not take the oath."
She looked down at her bread, tore off another piece. "Your faith in me is extraordinary. Your silence, more so. Not once have you attempted to break me. Nor have you threatened to speak my secrets aloud. It is because of you I remain of no use to them."
Silence fell between them. An unspoken trust bound in friendship. Without saying a word, Doc stood from his leather chair and crossed to one of his bookcases. His hands skimmed the spines as he read their titles with a tilted head. When he found what he was looking for, he brought it back to her and laid it in her hands.
"What is this?"
"It is a history book. The origins of magic and how Naturalists like yourself came to be." He left again to his books, leaving her to run through its pages. "A Naturalist possesses the same magic and talents as the nymphs. Yet, they are not nymphs themselves. Only nymphs and their seasonal counterparts, the faeries, can command the winds, seas, earth, and fires. To not be born into their lineage or of faery descent and possess the ability to work with the elements is remarkable in its own right."
Tears welled behind her eyes as she looked at him, taking her by surprise. "You think I am remarkable?" she muttered softly.
Turning his head, their eyes met. "My darling, you are the most remarkable of them all."
Wiping her face and nose, she mustered a laugh. "You are a clever one, my friend. You have persuaded me."
False shock flashed through his eyes. "By whatever do you mean?" He grinned, then and stepped back as she took her place in the center of the room. Under the domed skylight, she evened her breath, dried her cheeks.
Focus befell her. Breathing steadily, tuning into the energy that buzzed around her. She sensed it in Doc's anticipation, in the hum of plants, and in the books as if they, too, were holding their eager breaths. She let it sway her, let it all wash over her until it became one with her heartbeat. The subtle shifts of air pricked her skin. Calm at first, she rested her arms by her sides, let her fingers dance.
The air collected around her. Swirling in soft circles as it gathered underneath her legs and swept through her uncombed hair. Casting quick looks around the room, she chose her companions. Books slid from the shelves; scrolls lifted into the empty air; ink bottles floated from the waste bin. All at once, the room came to life.
When she looked at Doc, she found only pure joy in his plump face.
"Fantastic!" he cried. With the grace of a bird, she let her hands guide everything back to their place, resetting the room aright without so much as a sound. She relaxed her body into the feeling of elation. Her skin prickled with delight; her heart raced with ease.
"Brilliant as always my dear. I will never grow tired of watching you."
She laughed, basking in the moment if for just a moment longer. Why couldn't every day be as joyous as this? she wondered. To feel as alive as she did then and always? Wasn't that a human's right? Why was it not hers?
Had she not done as she was told? Hidden her gifts from the world of spying eyes and eavesdropping ears? Hadn't she served enough time to diminish any teasing thought of her value? Her face turned to sorrow as she pondered her eternity in the borstal.
Doc's face fell, too, in mirror of hers. "What is it, Maleah?"
"You chose to keep me a secret from the King's Men? Why?"
"I suppose it is because I enjoy your company." He was lying. She held his gaze and waited for him to speak his truth. "You are different. Your mind is curious and determined. Your heart remains rebellious and independent. You have never been ill-willed towards me or wished harm to your captures. For a young woman, such as yourself, to maintain her identity in a sea of enslaved men is unheard of. There is only one other who has managed to do so, a particular halfling comes to mind when I think about it. But that does not matter now. What matters is few have the courage to live in these walls which fester with hatred and fear.
"There is also the manner of your gifts. Though you manage to practice what you can without raising eyes to yourself, it is evident that you are on your way to mastering them. The way air spills around you is wondrous."
His kind words melted her worries. But doubt still lingered. "I am but a Naturalist who had time to develop control before she was detained. Air, simple as it is, is my gift."
"Nonsense! You have been blessed fantastically. A Naturalist such as yourself should take years of special training amongst the nymphs and faeries to be able to do what you can. But for you, it comes naturally. The gods would be beyond ecstatic to learn of your abilities."
Maleah sneered at his last comment, her lips curling with resentment. "Gods? What Gods? The ones who abandoned us. Who left us with a King as ruthless as none before him. He who is hideous and cruel and rips apart families and homes. Dear nothing, Doc. To be blessed is not as fantastic as it once might have been. To be blessed is to be born with a horrible fate."
She'd never seen him angry. His cheeks burned a bright red, offsetting the auburn around his face. His eyes changed from warm gold to a hard black. The soft tones that glided from his mouth became sharp as needles. His demeanor seemed to grow volumes as he spoke.
"Do not blame the gods for what you do not yet understand!"
Shocked and slightly terrified, Maleah leaned away from the desk, eyes wide and mouth tight. He must've seen her fear because he settled back quickly and coughed away the change.
"It was not always like this," he continued almost sounding like the Doc she knew. "The Gods were the first Blessed. Chosen each for their unique curiosities and passions by the one that created all that we have today. The Creator bestowed upon them each a gift and charged them with the duty to watch over the world they had created."
"You have told me this story before, Doc. I imagine it has not changed. The Creator had not intended for the gods to begin gifting all creatures with their own types of magic. Magic, the Creator believed, belonged to the Fae creatures. Not in the hands of humans or halflings."
Doc sighed. "I suppose you have heard this before."
"I have. It is the reason our King imprisons us. In his eyes, we are abominations." She stopped, considered her next words carefully, and decided against civility. "What then does that make of him? He is not one of the original seven. He is no god. Yet he claims a godly title. If the gods had not abandoned us..." she trailed off. A wave of sadness filled her heart.
Looking down, Doc, poked at the glass on his face. "No one ever claimed the gods were fault-less. Much the opposite, their absence created the world we have today."
In all their time together, she'd never heard him speak in equal parts passion and grief. She wondered what pain from his past crept into his mind.
Her hands shook as she began to speak. "A tongue can be tamed as can a wandering mind. I am sorry if I have upset you."
He soften, his voice curling into the Doc she knew best. "You owe me no apologies, Maleah." He let their eyes hold for a moment before he began to move again. For a moment, he disappeared back into the kitchen. She had almost thought he was in the pursuit of food. But was proven wrong almost as quickly as she assumed.
Her breath caught. The flower stood triumphantly in full bloom. Crossing to it, Maleah let her fingers brush the soft pink petals. Spackled with blue and white, the flower was perfectly elegant.
"Oh, it is beautiful. However, did you manage it?"
"I stumbled upon a patch of untouched flowers in my travels outside the borstal not too long ago. After smuggling them inside and extensive studying - and a bit of my own magic - I believe I have made the perfect cross between a lily and a majesty."
"What do you plan to call it?"
"I thought I'd bestow that honor to you. After all, it was the thing you and your parents enjoyed doing together."
A strong urge to hug him washed through her. But instead of acting on it, she continued to marvel at the flower and mull over all the names she could call it.
Daffy. Gale. Fern. None sufficed.
She thought of her parents. Both passionate people who had never faulted the other for their time spent engrossed in their passions. Her mother had a way with flora as her father did with wildlife. When her father was away on a hunt, she'd lay with her mother and gaze up at the stars and wonder where father was. Mother would tell her stories about the people in the sky and remind her that her father would be looking at the same stars that night. It was her father, though, who taught her to read them.
The spackle of color on pink reminded her of the stars, how they stood out against the darkness of the sky.
"My father once taught me the names of the constellations," she said. "He would say that the stars would guide him home when home was where he needed to be. I'd like to name it Stargazer?"
Doc nodded, smiled. "A perfect name."
The knock shook through the room. Doc scattered himself, frantically shoving away paper and plants and replacing his book on naturalists to its place on his shelves. He called out at the second knock, buying them another moment.
Maleah took the rope from the chair Doc had laid it on and held it out for him. Woe clouded his eyes as he obliged. Wrapping her wrists loosely behind her. Then with the knife he had hidden beneath a chair cushion, he severed Stargazer from its pot.
"What have you done?" she gasped.
"Take it. It is yours."
"But you have killed it."
"You cannot kill a magic, Maleah. Only rebirth it."
Stunned, Maleah watched him; but he winked and said nothing more. She pressed her fingers tightly around the flower until she felt it bend and fold in her fist. With his hand on the knob, Doc opened the door with the same curtness she expected from the guards. He pushed her into their bodies and slammed the door effectively in their faces.
"Aedon," she greeted. "Miss me?"
The large guard from before stared down at her. His eyes filled with disgust as his lips curled into a scowl.
About the Creator
From crafting second-world fantasies to scheming crime novels to novice poetry; magic, mystery, music. I've dreamed of it all.
Now all I want to do is write it.
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