Climbing up into the eaves and rafters that towered over the village lodge was a rite of passage. Going all the way up into the eaves—taller even than some of the trees outside- and out through the venting onto the roof was the standing dare to the younger children. But this corner of the village’s B’ashan didn’t tend to attract as many climbers, and made a perfect spot for private quiet space.
Taojhi clambered up the bamboo column with ease, and settled into her nest, where roof supports branched out like a spider’s web of architectural beauty. Legs dangling beneath her woven perch, Taojhi whittled, and watched as a squirrel danced across the bamboo. It was taking the easy route from one side to the other that bypassed dogs, cats and enthusiastic youth. Far below, a handful of children played a game.
Something prickled her toe, she brushed it against her leg to dislodge it. A few minutes later, she felt it again, on the back of her calf, and then again, the back of her arm. She slapped at the offending insect—but when she lifted her hand, nothing. Time to investigate.
Her eyes saw nothing, so she focused her senses, heightening her awareness. She shifted her senses to pick up on the life-energy around her. The bamboo had very little glimmer left- more like a residue of essence. She readily picked out the squirrel, its colours as hyper and frantic as the squirrel’s antics. But that was it. No bugs. Not even a blip rippled around her.
“Ouch,” she exclaimed, as she felt something bite her on the back of her hand, even as she assured herself there was nothing there.
“Gherant!” she yelled, honing her magic-sense to figure out exactly where her cousin was situated. He must have just arrived, or she would have known immediately that there were no bugs. She knew now that this was a pest of a different kind. She spotted his auburn head almost blending into the shadows by the woodstack.
“ When did you get here?” she asked, calling down to her cousin, as she slid her way back down. “And, more interesting by far- what did you do this time?” she asked, as her feet hit the ground.
“ You know me too well,” he laughed. But he was clearly excited to be back, and eager to tell a story about how he got ‘banished.’ “We were at the Spring feast- a lot of locals, muckey-mucks, the usual collection of snobbery. I told Tia the rarebit was actually baby bunnies. She screamed, and threw up all over the table and the guests,” he explained, hugging his cousin enthusiastically. “That was round one.”
“Poor Tia. She’s very sweet and likeable. And she’s just a kid still,” Taojhi noted, the closest she’d come to reproach.
“Oh, that wasn’t it. That just had mumsy and papa a little bit unhappy.”
“Does that mean infuriated?” she asked.
“Yeah, kinda,” Gherant grinned. “But let me finish my story,” he said, as he continued. “So, Nash and I have our thing. Nothing new there, and no love lost. He’s stuck up and full of himself, and I was bored,” he said, shrugging, as if that was enough of an explanation. “You know that illusion spell you taught me? It comes in handy, after all, he grinned. “I made him think his room was on fire. That was precious! You should have seen him throwing all of his things out the window, trying to ‘save them.’ Mother and Dad were upset, but no real harm was done. Then last week, I was practicing that actual flame spell. I did manage to light Nash’s boots on fire. The screaming after that one could be heard all the way in Treyu,” Gherant laughed, pleased with himself. Nash might be older, but Gherant made up that advantage with magical tactics.
“Why so angry?” she asked. “Oh, wait. Was Nash in the boots when they were set afire?”
Gherant blinked innocently, at the foolishness of the question. “What fun would it have been, otherwise?”
“One day, your parents are going to figure out that this, here, is not exactly a punishment,” Taojhi said, smiling.
“ I’m not sure they really want to punish me, as much as they want me safely out of the way,” Gherant laughed. “They get nice, normal and what they call peaceful. And we get to run around the mountain and have real fun. Everybody wins. But they wouldn’t let me bring my flyer,” he added- almost an afterthought, smile dimming. They never did- hoping he would lose his interest in flying. His parents generally preferred the occasional ruined shrubbery, and angry neighbor, to warring children. But they didn’t tend to let him bring his contraptions to his relatives.
“Well, then perhaps building a new one, here, will be something to do,” Taojhi added, trying to console her cousin, even though she had no strong interest in flying. “But a new bow has already been started, and a second one for you will be good practice for both of us. After that, perhaps a flyer.”
“Making a bow will be incredible!” Gherant exclaimed. “I’ve been borrowing one every time I visit.”
“There will be Shendahal blood flowing in your veins one day,” she teased, and then added, “and from a distance, a casual look would not betray that chanmyra blood.”
The two of them headed for her grandfather’s workshop, and they spent several hours cutting, shaping, and carving.
“Done!” Taojhi exclaimed, standing up to examine her handiwork. A simple long bow, with just a hint of curve at the tips- scrollwork and carved leather flowing silver along the edges. Gherant looked at Taojhi’s bow, then back at his own. The curves on his weren’t uniform. Overall the bow looked like it was fighting Gherant’s attempt to shape it, and one end twisted as though it were in pain. Even as a half-blooded Shendahal, woodcraft came to her as naturally as breathing. Her cousin was not so lucky. She was fully aware of just how fully human he was- Chanmyra, through and through, with barely a speck of magic flowing in his blood. Simple spells were one thing. But drawing on the magic in the air and weaving with it would never come readily to him.
Across from her, Gherant growled in frustration. Taojhi laughed, “It’s okay, cousin, we’ll get yours finished up before anyone starves.” Gherant smiled brightly; never letting his lack of magical talent stand in his way.
“That smile has a plan behind it,” Taojhi said, as she came around the work-table, to help Gherant work on his bow. Gherant just smiled sweetly- a smile that was going to end with anything but sweetness or innocence. But Taojhi made a note of it, saying nothing further. She let the smile be a reminder to herself, to remain on her guard.
Gherant worked on his bow, sanding down the yew wood. He looked up sharply, “Hey!”
“Cut it out!”
Gherant’s eyes narrowed, a mild glare of disbelief. “I felt that! A distinct prickle.”
“Good! You’re skill is improving,” she exclaimed, pleased.
“You’re just going to keep doing it, aren’t you?”
“Probably,” she grinned. “But look how much better you are getting. It’s becoming a challenge to slip a spell by you now.”
“Grmph!” He grumbled in response. “That’s great. I’ll die knowing I was magically attacked.”
“If death should come by magic, then you would know if was from another source.”
“I’ll feel so much better, being dead and all.”
Taojhi waved her hand slightly. A waft of coloured lights danced and floated like so many soap bubbles. She smiled, “nothing deadly here.” Then she tossed them up into the air and they wafted away. They really were spectacular to watch. Gherant followed their path as they floated out the window.
“Completely harmless. Just a diversionary amusement,” she assured. “Sleight of hand and visual tricks.”
“You could do a lot with that,” Gherant commented. “When someone is distracted, or diverted…”
“That is so,” she agreed “if one were so distracted, a very normal misdeed could become quite easy.”
“Precisely.” Gherant added. “If someone were completely distracted by an insect, or a voice talking to them… so easy to slip up behind them and—dead man.” As he said this, he slid a finger across his throat, imitating a knife cut. His fingers morbidly traced down his neck, pretend blood dripping, as he slowly crumbled over, toppling to the ground. Then he waved his fingers, and mock butterflies fluttered around his corpse. “Death by butterfly,” he said, and they both burst out laughing.
“A distraction could be created, before dropping a large stone on your head,” she considered.
“Thanks,” he said. “Good to know who my friends are.” And then Gherant took up the challenge, upping her game.
“Or an illusion that hides the long flight of stairs. One good push or a trip, and no more Nash,” he added.
Their spells and ideas became more and more insane and bizarre, until finally Gherant came up with an idea for “sticky-smelly-poop-attack,” which sent them both into hysterics.
She put down Gherant’s unfinished bow, and the two spent several hours practicing magic. Despite being half-blooded, Taojhi had inherited a full Faenyr ability for magic; it came readily and naturally to her. Gherant, like all The Chanmyr had to work hard, and practice, to learn even a little magic. Taojhi spent many hours, weeks and months, teaching and training her cousin.
The first thing she had taught him was the ability to feel when magic was being used—especially when it was being used on him. She also made him practice ‘reading colours,’ that swirled around all living things. He even learned how to tune in to the Faenyr’s auras; that was much harder, because they had greater skill at ‘muffling,” She had explained to him that if he could read colours, he would have a better chance at knowing when someone was using magic. As she explained in rule number one of reading colours: colours never lie.
Gherant became adept at reading colours and at doing basic magic. He practiced what he learned when he went back home -often on Nash and Tia. As a result, he regularly got sent back to the Shendahal, with his cousin. Taojhi knew that was his parents’ solution for not wanting to deal with their unruly wild son. His parents seemed undecided as to which aspect of Gherant was worse: flying and crashing his contraptions, or tormenting Nash and Tia.
She knew he actually doted onTia. He rarely did anything to upset scare or hurt her. She was his little sister, after all. Gherant’s face lit up whenever he told Taojhi about something he had shown Tia- showing off his skills to impress her. He would talk in vivid detail, telling Taojhi how he made her toys come to life, momentarily dancing or prancing around, or put sparkles into her hair. As his skills increased, so did the creativity with which he used them. Taojhi was glad that Gherant had ways to use magic that didn’t involve getting in trouble, but she knew that he didn’t always think things all the way through. More often than not, his cute and clever magic tricks ended badly, with him being grounded or exiled.
Taojhi picked Gherant’s bow up again, and directed his lessons, as he practiced, cast, again and again. Dancing lights, lighting a twig on fire, animating a piece of string.
“Done!” She said, this time holding Gherant’s slightly heavier bow out for examination. She added a few minor touches, sanding the notch where the string hooked onto the bow. A frayed bowstring could break when it was suddenly under pressure. She decided against adding a nock for the arrows. Both of them preferred to challenge their skills, without the additional aid.
They grinned at each other silently, before jumping up in unison, grabbing bows, strings and packs, as they dashed out the door and raced across the village toward their secret target range.
They raced the whole way up, through the apple orchard above the village, to the little meadow behind it. They had spent many days lugging hay bales and bamboo poles up- making their own private archery range. They had an assortment of hay bales, small rabbit shaped targets, birds, and a series of rings and hoops- from an arm span, down to a hand-span in size.
They set up their challenge course, dragging out their hay bales and dummy-animals into positions, numbering them in order of difficulty, and got ready for their first round. Gherant planted three arrows into the ground in front of him, and wiped his hands before checking each fletching carefully. “Remember, no magic.” He said this, despite them both knowing the agreed upon rule. The long-standing, unspoken agreement was that the first round was done magic-free.
They were evenly enough matched, in a tie, down to the smallest sized hoops. Then Taojhi’s sharper eyesight and aim, became a slight advantage, even over Gherant’s slightly greater strength.
Taojhi sighed happily as they prepped for round two. Gherant just looked at her sideways. Both of them knew she would have a decided advantage now. But even competition between them was fun, and gave both of them a chance to practice some magic at the same time. Taojhi paused for a moment, concentrating. Their ‘rabbit’ began to look a little more life-like, and then began to hope back and forth. Gherant nodded his approval at the magic, while grunting at the added challenge. After that, he made a shimmer in front of the rabbit to make it harder. A simple bit of magic, but effective. Next, Taojhi focused on the hoops and rings, and Gherant watched as they began to spin and swing slightly, as though there were a breeze.
For round three, they liked to get creative: magic to counter magic. In this round, they used magic to counter the magic they had set up on the targets. Taojhi tried to still the wind, in order to give the arrow better aim, Gherant practiced a spell he called eagle-eye, which he used to try to improve his eyesight, and another one to improve his focus.
Taojhi tried a targeting spell at the end, which had varied success. Some hit dead center, while several of the ‘failed’ arrows went wildly astray. After they had gone through several dozen arrows each, they decided to call it a tie. No one ever knew who won. It never mattered between them. Their final challenge was retrieving arrows. Several were buried in the ground right up to the feathered fletchings. Between the two of them, they recovered all but eleven of the arrows, before they resorted to a spell that lit up the remaining lost arrows. Even ‘lit up,’ the last two were a challenge to find, being buried almost completely in a clump of grass.
Satisfied with their new bows, and their improving marksmanship, they lounged back against a hay bale, catching their breath. The arrow hunt had been a high-speed affair.
“Do you hear that?” Taojhi asked, as they both laid back resting.
“The woods are full with the sound of dinner,” she grinned.
“ First kill decides how to cook it,” Gherant said as they headed into the woods. Gherant won that challenge, with a grouse that chose the wrong moment to shift its nest. Taojhi had spotted a few rabbits, but passed them over; she could read that they had babies nearby- a bad kill. But between them, they caught three rabbits- all male- and 4 more birds, another grouse, a pheasant and two ducks. All of it carried easily in their packs. The family would eat very well tonight. Not that anyone ever went hungry. But they knew if they turned up with a lot of game, that it would become cause for a mini-feast.
“ I don’t think they would mind if one or two became our lunch,” Gherant said, in a very Shendahal turn of speech. The two of them scouted around for a good open area where they could make a fire to cook up one of their prizes. The rest, they knew, they would bring back to the village, to share with her family- and whoever else showed up to enjoy the family picnic. As the hunters, though, they would get to choose the dish that was made. The two debated between a savoury rabbit stew, or stuffed and roasted meals. They argued back and forth, trying to convince each other into agreement, but no decision had been made by the time they had found a small glen that was perfect to dig a fire pit.
While they were scouting for wood, Gherant found the honeybees!
“WHOOOP!” he hollered out, ecstatic. “What have you found?” Taojhi called back out, across the clearing.
“Honey!” he yelled back. “Bring the flasks. We can fill them, as well as the small jug. We’ll have to come back again, for more.” An absolute golden treasure to bring back. They both knew his dinner choice and dessert choices were sure to be on the menu now.
With a bit of careful maneuvering- using smoke from the fire they built to lull the bees, Gherant filled every possible small container they had, while still being sure that enough honey was left for the bees. Honey dripped over the edges of everything, which they both licked off as carefully as they could.
They were just stowing the small containers into their packs, when they heard a loud rustle behind them. Gherant hissed, a small intake of breath, suddenly worried that someone else had intentions for the honey. Granted, they hadn’t taken very much. But still, he considered that perhaps someone else might be possessive or greedy. And if whoever it was, didn’t already know about this hidden treasure trove, Gherant didn’t want to give up that new secret.
It was only a moment before ‘the someone’ came clearly into view. It was a toss-up, who was the most startled, as a young bear lumbered out of the shrubs, sniffing the air and headed directly towards them.
“Maybe we should have been a little quieter?” Gherant asked, in a whisper, frozen in place.
Taojhi just looked sideways at him. “A little late to be planning strategy.”
The bear was still young. But it was clearly beyond the cute and harmless stage of its growth.
“What do we do?” Gherant asked.
“Drop the honey and leave.”
“Noway,” Gherant hissed, defiantly refusing to relinquish his prize.
Taojhi just looked sideways at him, incredulous.
“What other ideas?” Gherant asked, “Don’t you have something that will… I don’t know… something?” he asked getting worried.
“ You mean like a ‘bear go home’ spell? No,” she said. She knew his mind was racing, trying to think of some magic that he could use against the bear. They both knew his arsenal was limited, and she hoped he didn’t try anything. Especially nothing foolish, like fire- not in a forest. She was relieved when the magic showed no signs of fire or burning, as he quickly magicked up and threw some rocks at it. Not one of his better plans. And now the bear was annoyed as well as hungry.
“Run!” Taojhi cried out. And the two of them bolted down the slope at a dead run, Gherant holding tightly onto the flask that still seeped honey around the mouth.
The bear was startled by the sudden change, and took a moment to process what had just happened. So the two of them had a headstart of a couple of moments. But the bear put its nose up, sniffed the air, and knew which way its honey had fled, and took off after it.
They could hear crashing behind them, which told them how close the bear was getting.
“Drop the honey!” Taojhi yelled to Gherant as they raced down the hill.
“Noway!” he shouted back, defiant.
The two ran full out. Neither of them precisely terrified, but not wanting to find out what the bear had in mind- even as it was gaining on them.
They could clearly hear it running behind them, even the panting breath. So they knew that it was only a few strides back, and closing the distance between them.
“Drop the damned flask!” Taojhi cried out, a little more insistent now.
Gherant looked torn. But they never got the chance to find out what he would do. Distracted, he hit a root, and tripped. He went sprawling down, and rolled a few times before coming to a stop.
That was all the additional time the bear needed to catch up. It made a beeline for Gherant, who was down. But more importantly, he was the one in possession of the honey.
Gherant, still defiant, tried to wrest the honey away, in what became a comical wrestling match- one which Gherant was fated to lose. The bear sat on Gherant, grasping the soft leather flask.
The bear, brazen in its victory, ate its prize right there, perched comfortably on Gherant. He licked the flask thoroughly, until every drop of honey was removed. Gherant looked hopeful at that point. Taojhi thought maybe the bear would think the honey was all gone, and leave. She didn’t give the bear enough credit- either for intelligence or for determination.
It nuzzled the flask back and forth, and chewed at the soft leather. It didn’t take long, for the bear’s sharp teeth to put a few holes in the flask, and honey seeped out. A little bear-sound that could only be pure delight and victory, and the bear leaned back, on Gherant, as it worked on getting every last drop of honey out of the flask.
Taojhi waited nearby, squatting next to a tree, upwind. Watching. Waiting. Gherant looked at her, pleading silently ‘do something!” but she stayed back- amused and smug.
Finally, the bear finished, dropped the flask, and shuffled its way off of its quarry. Gherant, still suffering the indignity, sat up, grabbing the now empty and ruined flask, and threw it at the retreating bear, cursing at it.
The bear seemed to have the same exact understanding of the entire situation. They watched as it stopped, paw raised in mid-step, and looked back over its shoulder at Gherant.
It made its way back to Gherant with an expression that was clear to read. It sat on its haunches directly in front of Gherant and bellowed. Not a full blast attack bellow, but loud enough to be an undeniable scolding. Then the bear swiped at Gherant, just enough to knock him over, and Gherant rolled face down onto the ground. The bear sniffed Gherant, paws on his shoulders in a way that almost felt intentional.
Gherant had the very bad luck and timing to curse at the bear under his breath- bit of defiance was his own small refusal to sink into utter defeat.
The bear responded with a grunt of its own, and to make completely sure everyone understood the situation, the bear pissed all over Gherants back- completely soaking his clothes, before wandering back up the hill.
Over by the tree, Taojhi was clearly laughing hysterically to herself.
Gherant just laid there, and then looked up to be sure that the bear was truly gone this time, Gherant roused himself, brushing leaves and dirt off of himself.
“By the nine hells! Why didn’t you SHOOT the damned thing!” he yelled, but only loud enough for the two of them.
Taojhi blinked at him. “It was clear that no real harm was intended, and you brought it on yourself” she said as simply as if any child should have known. “It only wanted the honey. Obviously.” The unspoken words hung in the air. But every time she opened her mouth to speak, she burst into another round of sniggering.
She helped him gather his gear and put things back in order, before heading the rest of the way down the mountain- this time at a more leisurely pace. She made a subtle attempt to keep a distance between them; the smell of urine on him was strong and rank.
Neither of them spoke: Gherant still recovering his pride, and Taojhi knowing she would only end up laughing at him again.
Partway down, she commented, “One of the primary lessons of magic? Have a plan.”
Gherant nodded. Taojhi hoped he had learned his lesson. But she also knew her cousin, too well, to imagine this would be the end of their escapades.
“Well, there are still the small jars buried in the packs. So I still get to decide on desert, at least”
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Jedda had the purse in his hand. He was just about to turn away when a hand grabbed him by the wrist, stopping him in his tracks. The grip held him firmly, and all attempts to twist himself free- failed. The hand that grabbed him was much larger than his own. And it belonged to a very well dressed, clean and elegant man. Cold sweat beaded on the back of his neck, as he froze. He was both terrified and truly surprised. How had he gotten caught? He never got caught.
Jedda didn’t know what might happen to a boy caught stealing from a So’Har. Did they hang people for that? He really didn’t know. He had heard horror stories- but he presumed most of those were the kind of tales that always circulated through the back alleys and hidey-holes. People told stories, especially to young children and newcomers, stories to scare them, and also to serve as cautions, warnings.
“You’re very good,” The well-dressed man said, towering over him. Jedda looked up at the man through straggly red-blond hair tangled and messy. He stood frozen, like a rabbit before the hawk, not even daring to blink.
“Where are you from, boy?” the man asked. Still silent, a tiny quiver, barely a twitch, of the deep fear he felt. The man shook him by the collar, holding him firmly- but trying not to make contact with the very unwashed boy he had in his grip. “Where do you live? Speak up! Don’t press my patience.”
“Below the canals,” Jedda spit out, trying to tell enough to satisfy the man, but vague enough not to give away any of his friends, or the little hiding-hole that had been his home for several years now.
The man nodded, as though his suspicions were confirmed. He looked Jedda up and down, taking in some level of information, or weighing a decision. Jedda felt that his fate was, literally, in this man’s hands, in this very moment.
“You survive on the streets?” he asked.
Jedda nodded in reply, a bare flicker of movement.
“You don’t normally get caught, do you?”
Jedda shook his head, a tiny motion, no.
“Just a bit ‘lucky,’ at your street skills?”
“And you’re very good at moving around, and going unnoticed?”
Jedda nodded again, wondering how this strange man knew him so well. The two sides of his mind raced, chasing down the aspects of the question. Did the man know him? And, why would he, a homeless, fatherless half-breed, be of any interest to this wealthy, powerful man.
“Now. If I were of a mind, I could sit you in a hot kettle of fish,” the man noted, eyes narrowing.
Magic is inherent for Taojhi. Not so much for her cousin Gherant. So she sets out to teach him the slow way. Gherant has a quick wit and impulsive nature that tend to get the better of him - especially because he likes to play with magic. A quick magic trick is his favourite approach to problem solving. But magic isn't always the best solution to things... Taojhi understands this, but Gherant will learn his lesson the hard way. Some days, the bear pokes back. Will Gherant's limited magic and quick wit be enough to outsmart his bear?