The day I turned sixteen was the day I pitched the idea for firecalling lessons. In the third year of studying at the Academy, I was now able to apply for additional studies in magical arts. I knew I was in for resistance, but what I got was something far more annoying.
“You don’t study the lessons I do give you,” Sonea said firmly. “Why would I give you more?”
“Because I actually want to learn the ones I’m asking for.”
My response was the truth. I’d learned the basic elements of frost magic and earthen magic. I understood enough to know that I wasn’t interested. Fire magic was my goal.
“I’m not teaching you fire magic,” Sonea concluded. “If you’re bent on learning it you’ll have to find another teacher.”
There wasn’t another teacher. I knew that well enough. I had tried talking to several of the them about flamecalling and almost all of them agreed it was a fruitless effort. It was clear that learning such a powerful form of magic was something they didn’t plan to hand down to a minor like me. I was sixteen now, Appoleon had departed nearly six months earlier, and I was digging deeper into my magical studies than I had ever cared to do before. Fire magic held my interest. If I was going to learn to use magic, it was going to be the art of the Firecaller.
Back home, Uncle Maron was busy doing what he did best. The fields were producing the best crops since he had taken over, our workers were happy, their families were cared for, and the Sepher name was resonating through the realm of Stonehaven and Bantari. I returned to the mansion that night feeling rather drained from my failure to obtain Sonea’s blessing and I was met with a pouring rainstorm about halfway back.
Surfal pressed onward and we soon arrived in the stables where our stable master quickly went to work on patting the horse dry. I thanked him and headed inside where I was welcomed with a very loud discussion echoing through the halls.
“You want me to go into that mess?” I heard Maron ask.
“It must be done. People need food and you have it to give,” a voice replied. It was a strong feminine voice, someone I was certain I had heard before, but couldn’t place. “Maron, the King demands your service.”
“Grandview hasn’t been the same since the end of the Yunai invasion,” Maron replied.
“They need supplies. Things have changed in the south, and we want to know why. If you bring food and supplies, the villagers will open up to you.”
“What about the Ladels?” Maron asked, curiously. “They own many of the farms in the southern forest.”
“Not for much longer,” the woman said with a sigh. “Their crops have been lacking and their income is falling short. They are already doing everything they can just to stay afloat. I can’t imagine they’ll even have their farm in a few years.”
“So first the Yunai took their lives, and now it’ll be the King?” Maron snapped.
“Careful, Maron,” the woman said. “You speak like that again and word might get out that you’re speaking against the throne.”
“There isn’t a family in the Southern Kingdoms that respects the King more than the Sepher line,” Maron countered. “I’m sure the King would agree, my lady. Now, if you expect me to send food and supplies to Grandview, and you expect me to personally deliver the convoy, then I also assume you will be providing me with guards and payment for my services?”
“Always the businessman,” the woman groaned. “Yes, we are paying double for your supplies and we will provide some guards and magic users for your trip.”
“Good,” Maron said. “I want a Shadowspeaker too.”
“Why in Azirin would you want a Shadowspeaker?”
“I hear the whispers in the south,” Maron replied. “If the Yunai presence still permeates the land down there, then I want a few folks on hand who are capable of dealing with it.”
“You drive a hard bargain, Maron,” the woman said. “I will gather what you need. You leave in three days.”
“Very well,” Maron replied. “Always a pleasure, Katrana.”
I heard the footsteps coming toward me and I realized I’d been standing in the main hall this entire time. I was cold and wet, but I decided the best option was to remain here and pretend I had just entered. It only took a moment for the two to appear in the hall. When Maron saw me he frowned.
“Home early, Sionis?” he asked.
“That’s right,” I said cheerily. “It’s really coming down out there.”
“Wonderful,” Katrana said, brushing past me and heading through the exit. “Do take care, gentlemen.”
When the door closed, I looked to Maron with a raised brow. “Who is that?”
“Katrana Belfest,” he replied flatly. “She works in the royal court. She’s climbing the ranks from what I hear. She may end up being a royal advisor someday.”
“What was she here about?” I asked, trying to sound casual.
“You already know,” Maron replied. “I heard the front door when you came in, and the puddle at your feet means you’ve been standing in that spot for ages.”
I sighed. “Are you going to Grandview then?”
“Not much of a choice,” Maron replied.
“Is it dangerous?”
“It’s not safe,” he admitted. “The crime down there has skyrocketed in the last year or two. There are all kinds of whispers that the land is becoming hard to till, work, so on and so forth. Some people believe the Yunai influence is still lingering there, since it’s closer to the dark doorway.”
“I don’t think you should go,” I said without thinking.
“You don’t?” Maron asked.
“No,” I said, slowly realizing that I was being emotional. “It sounds dangerous.”
“There’s always a little danger in these kinds of trips,” Maron admitted. “I wouldn’t worry about it too much.”
“Okay,” I said, coming up with another plan. “I will come with you.”
Maron was silent for a moment, clearly thinking of how to respond. “What about your studies?” he finally asked.
“I’m not worried about it,” I assured him. “You said that I’m going to need to learn how to run this manor, right? Isn’t this a great time to watch you in action?”
He looked at me for a long moment before finally giving a firm nod. “I guess you’re right.”
I felt victorious for a moment, but quickly realized that I had not really accomplished anything good. Instead of getting him to stay home, I had convinced him to bring me along with him on this dangerous journey. Sonea would be furious, but that I was okay with. If she had accepted me as a fire student I would have been far less likely to cancel my new studies. I comforted myself with a vision of her blaming herself for my decision.
“So we depart in a few days?” I asked.
“That’s right,” Maron said, slapping his hand on my shoulder. “No time to lose. Let’s talk over dinner about Grandview and what we’ll need to gather for the trip.”
I couldn’t help but think that maybe this was a good thing after all. I would get to learn a little more about manor business and if Maron was planning to take me along then it couldn’t be too dangerous in the southern forest…
I had a lot to learn.