A Trick, A Floating Flame

Fantasy / An ice rink / A horseshoe / 995w

“It’s kind of you to do this,” Nylah said. She smiled out over the makeshift rink, watching the children glide and curlicue around one another. “They don’t often enjoy themselves during this time of year.”

With one quarter of his mind, Bealey held the chilling spell, massaging it into activity. He was getting better at listening while casting, but it still took him a moment to respond. “Who does?”

Nylah glanced over at her friend. As a winter mage-in-training, Bealey’s magic was active this time of year, while hers lay dormant (where exactly, the teachers could never say). Bealey was frowning out at the ice he had cast, pearly and flawless, for the children of court. “You’re troubled,” she said.

Although Bealey knew that Nylah knew his thoughts, he couldn’t make himself say them outright. Nearly six months had passed since their seasons had emerged in them, yet disappointment seemed to constantly choke him, like a mouthful of sour milk. Winter mages were the most pointless of the four; that was just understood. While Nylah coaxed orchards into fruiting and dazzled hundreds at summer festivals, he had nothing to look forward to but a lifetime of sculpting ice and shifting snowdrifts for wagons to pass.

“I was just thinking that really, only the children enjoy winter at all,” he finally said. “Anyone with any sense stays by their hearth.”

“I always enjoyed winter,” Nylah said. “It’s beautiful.”

He considered pointing out that she had enjoyed winter because she grew up with wealth. For his family, winter had meant struggle, when the only thing thinner than the blankets was the food on the table.

“I suppose,” was all he said. He noticed her shivering, and passed her his cloak—which he didn’t need, as he didn’t feel the cold anymore. She slipped it on over hers, covering the small gold horseshoe pinned to her shoulder that symbolized her status as a summer mage. His own miniature was a glass rose, which seemed counterintuitive. But nothing had really turned out the way he had expected.

There were a few beats of silence as the two of them watched the dozen or so children skate across the pond, shrieking with laughter, throwing old acorns. The pond hadn’t yet frozen over naturally, but the children of court had come to Nylah, there training to be a royal mage, and requested a premature freeze. And so Bealey had found himself sitting on a stump, casting reluctantly, and wondering how his schoolmate always seemed to smell of lilacs. Maybe that was how she had convinced him to do it.

“Mage!” a boy screamed as he skated past, dangerously fast. “Queensmage! Show us a trick!” A knot of his friends bellowed their approval.

Nylah flushed.

“Aren’t they charming?” Bealey said. “I can imagine they test your patience.”

The boy flew past again, this time skidding to a halt in front of Nylah. “Baby mage! Baby mage! A trick for us! A floating flame!”

“My magic is dormant for the season, Your Highness,” Nylah said calmly.

Bealey’s concentration flickered. Your Highness? Belatedly, he realized that this floppy-haired, chap-lipped youth was the youngest prince, Fior.

“What use are you then?” the prince demanded. He pushed away immediately, scraping the blades of his skates, showering the two mages with flakes of ice.

“Why not ask me to do something? Am I not a real mage? Do they understand nothing of magic?” Bealey muttered.

The faintest of forlorn looks crossed her countenance. “Very little,” she said. Bealey suddenly wondered how many pots of flowers she had bloomed for private chambers; how many silver bowls of soup she had rewarmed; how many clusters of grapes she had sweetened. He felt a jolt of embarrassment at his self-pity.

Just then a snowball smacked into Nylah’s face. She cried out as high laughter rang out from the ice.

Anger flooded in, hot and bright. With a swipe of his hand, Bealey flung the snowball remnants away and rose to his feet. His magic certainly was not dormant, and­—why did Nylah look so horrified?

The laughter had slid into screams of fear. Bealey turned, and saw that a hole had opened up in the ice, a blemish of ink-black water. It was burbling in a way that made him gasp in horror. A child had been there.

Shuddering, Bealey offered all senses but touch to his magic and projected through the water, freezing solid every thimbleful, until he felt the warmth of the child. Then he circulated for a precious moment. He had only mastered chilling spells. His magic was alive and abundant, but felt helpless. What could he do?

Then, underneath the child, he condensed a pillar of ice, and thrust it upward. She burst through the water, flying higher than he had intended, but he seized his sight back and ran to snatch her from the air. She slammed into his chest, and he clutched her close, staggering. Nylah, there in an instant, tore off both cloaks and draped them over the little girl.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Bealey was trembling with exertion. “I was angry, I must have lost focus, I’m sorry.” He wasn’t sure if he was speaking to the little girl or to Nylah, who was stifling sobs of relief. He was too depleted even to skim the chill from the bawling child’s skin. Wordlessly, he handed the girl to Nylah before collapsing onto the cold-hardened ground. The image of the burbling water, the fault in his spell, clung to his mind.

That was real magic!” Fior skated over, looking delighted. “You near disappeared her!”

“All of you, off the ice, please,” Nylah was calling. “Please.”

They complied, Fior’s friends hooting and clapping, the other children looking scarcely perturbed. Bealey was panting. He would not recover quickly.

Nylah studied him. She didn’t smile, but she didn’t look afraid, either. Bealey could barely look her in the eye.

“That was real magic,” she said.

Writer’s Note

Ooooooof, fantasy. When I was first starting out, that’s all I wrote. Dragons and mages were my jam. But it’s been a while, I’ve developed self-awareness, and this was hard. I struggled to come up with a premise that didn’t feel completely silly, and write pseudo-medieval dialogue. And internal coherence and adventure don’t mesh well with this form (or not yet anyway, for me).

Not quite satisfied with the ending, but considering how long it took me to get this plot and backstory where I wanted them, I’ll let it be. I also wanted a more distant third person POV, but ended up focusing on Bealey. I’ll practice more.

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