Copyright © 2016 Emily Martha Sorensen
Cover art by StunningBookCovers.com.
“Your parents said you were sick,” Jontan said to me, holding out a shabby bouquet through the doorway. His fingers clutched around the stems so tightly that they were bending. “I brought you some flowers.”
I stared at him dispiritedly from my bed. I had been hiding in my room for two weeks, not staying here because I was still sick, although that was what I had told everybody. I’d had a fever for three weeks, so that had been a convenient excuse. But no. I didn’t want to see people because I was terrified they’d notice that I’d started growing magic.
“Thanks, Jontan,” I said, trying to sound glad to see him. He was a friend, after all. “You can leave them on my dresser.”
He tiptoed into my room, laid the wilting flowers across the top of the piece of furniture, and then leapt back to the doorway as if burned.
I barely kept from rolling my eyes. “You’ve been in here before,” I told him.
“It’s not proper without a chaperone now,” he insisted.
Honestly. Jontan took the rules of propriety seriously, it seemed. We were both twelve years old, we’d just barely taken the oath of childhood, and it wasn’t even like he was courting me. If he started acting all formal now, it was going to drive me crazy.
“Are you going to look at the flowers?” he asked anxiously.
With a sigh of annoyance, because after all I was supposed to be sick, I angled myself out of bed and shuffled over to the dresser. The row of wilted flowers stared up at me.
There were filias in it. Yech. They were such an ugly color, all purple-blue, and they meant “loyalty to the Rulership,” so using them was like showing off. Jontan loved the flowers, though, so he had probably included them just because he thought they were pretty. The rest were inna blossoms, which I’d forgotten the meaning of, and torron stalks, which meant “get well soon.”
Jontan hovered in the doorway, as if waiting for me to say something.
“Uh, thanks,” I said. “I hope I get well soon, too.”
He kept on hovering.
Oh no! What if he’d noticed some magic I’d used accidentally? Jontan was a stickler for the rules, and landowner use of magic was more than just a rule: it was a law. If I got caught, I could be killed.
“Ohhh, I have a headache,” I moaned, saying the first thing that came to mind. “I have to be alone now. Can you leave me?”
“Oh! Oh, sorry!” Jontan jumped back. “Can I . . . can I come back later?”
“Sure,” I said. Of course he could come back later. Why was he even asking? His family’s land was right next to ours. We saw each other all the time.
Jontan looked a mixture of scared and relieved, and hurriedly waved goodbye and scuttled down the hallway. I heard his feet pound on the way down the stairs.
I shuffled back to bed and put the sheet over my head. I didn’t want to get out of bed. I didn’t want to see anyone else today. A spark of magic lurched out of my elbow and made the pillow underneath my head more thin and lumpy.
Argh! I spun around to try to get comfortable again. Horrible magic! It was ruining everything!
The slight scent of innas, torron stalks, and filias drifted through the air. Something tingled in my nose, and I sneezed.
Suddenly the odor was overpowering. The fresh smell of the torron stalks was like a whole field during harvest, the perfume of the filias dug underneath it with pugnacious grandeur, and the inna scent was now so spicy that it made my eyes burn. There was something else as well, something like ash or burning . . .
I gasped and flung the blanket off my head. I hadn’t set something on fire, had I?!
No. My bedroom looked the same as it ever had. But the bouquet now had a flower I hadn’t noticed before. Something grey, and blobby.
Oh, gross, I thought with disgust. A groverweed. Jontan didn’t watch what he was picking, and picked a groverweed.
I got up out of bed and picked up the whole bouquet to throw it out the window. Maybe the wind could carry the appallingly strong odor away. As soon as my fingers touched the stalks, the flowers shrank.
Argh! I screamed silently.
Wait . . . why were the other flowers smaller, but the groverweed bigger?
I stared at the bouquet for a moment, confused. As my thoughts raced, magic surged from my hand again, and the odor of the other flowers shrank to nothing. The blobby grey flower’s persistent ash scent remained the same.
Slowly, I separated the one ugly grey flower from the rest. Had it grown because I’d accidentally used magic on it? Did groverweed grow whenever you threw magic at it?
Nervously, because I’d never tried using magic on purpose before, I tried pushing magic into the groverweed. It unfurled a leaf, and then put forth a petal. The tingling in my arms ceased.
I concentrated harder, and shoved even more into it. Within just a few minutes, the stalk held a long, straggly clump of roots, black petals ringing a head of seeds, and two more buds growing. For the first time in weeks, I felt satisfyingly hollow and empty.
I drew a breath in wonder. All these weeks of misery, all this time of feeling sick, and all I’d needed to do was . . . that?
I spun around and thumped my hand into my pillow. I tried to make it soft and fluffy, and nothing happened. Not even the wrong thing. It just lay there inertly.
I danced around the room in excitement. I was free! I was free!
My bedroom door opened, and Mother came in.
“Did you accept Jontan’s invitation?” she asked.
I froze from dancing around the room, and quickly spun the bouquet around to cover the groverweed.
“Wh-what invitation?” I stammered, nervous that she had seen it.
“The inna,” Mother said. “That means he likes you. He said he was going to ask you to the social event that’s happening at the Brushflower land next week. Did he?”
I froze. I stared down at the bouquet. I knew I was old enough to be courted now, but . . .
This was an invitation?
“I . . . I . . . I’m feeling much better now,” I stumbled. “Excuse me!”
I shoved on my shoes, raced out of the room, and pounded down the stairs, carrying the flowers tightly in my hand.
“Raneh!” Mother shouted behind me. “You’re twelve years old! You have to wear your hair up in public!”
I paid her no heed. I flung open the front door and thundered down the dirt road that connected our families’ lands.
“Jontan!” I shouted. “Jontan, wait!”
He paused, and I caught up to him.
“I didn’t realize what you were asking me,” I said, panting. “Yes! Yes, I’ll go with you!”
Jontan’s eyes widened. “Really?”
“Yeah! Yeah, of course I will!”
We stood there, beaming at each other, both of us embarrassed.
“Thanks for the flowers,” I added awkwardly. “They were really great.”
He ducked his head, and I felt a surge of giddiness. I was going to go to my first social event with a suitor! And I didn’t have to worry about magic! And I was safe!
As soon as I got back home, I was going to plant some groverweed in my garden. It was now my favorite flower in the whole Rulership.
As the daughter of a landowner, Raneh lives in a world of clearly defined roles and rules. She’s supposed to get married, gain status, become a landowner herself, and definitely not have magic. Seeing as it’s forbidden and all.
Too bad she has it anyway.
On top of that, a suitable courtship does not seem to be forthcoming, her younger brother is a social embarrassment, her younger sister is better at everything than she is, and . . .
And the Ruler’s coming to visit.
You can get it on Shakespir here.
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