Chasing the Cortilane
A glint of light caught the corner of Mena’s eye. She twisted in her saddle, scanning the evening sky over the rolling hills and solitary trees to her left. She thought she’d seen—there! A spark against the yellowing sky, like sunlight off a train carriage, though she was weeks away from any rail lines. The spark flared again, dazzling scarlet and gold, before passing behind the scraggly crown of a lagam tree.
Was it gone? She craned her neck, leaning dangerously far out of her saddle until her mare Wren whinnied in protest.
“Sorry.” She patted Wren’s neck while scanning the sky behind the lagam branches, as if another golden glitter could appear through her will alone. This land was quite empty, grassy hill after grassy hill broken only by the occasional river valley or stunted tree. A spark had few places to hide.
She should shout ahead to alert Magister Thomas. The glint might have been a cortilane, one of the elusive birds so prominent in the tales of the native grasslanders. If she and Magister Thomas found one, they would be both the first to map this new territory and the first magicians to see a cortilane in the wild. Magister Thomas might even deign to smile at that.
But if it wasn’t? She rubbed her face, breathing in the smell of horse and her own sweat. Without proof of what she’d seen, he would sneer and add to his ever-expanding list of descriptions for her. Liar would join the ranks of pigheaded, dullard, and failure.
She kicked her heels, urging Wren faster. She needed to see that glint again, to get a location to point out to Magister Thomas. If she were really lucky, the cortilane might fly—
Ahead, Magister Thomas shouted and swung his gelding around. With one elegant, well-practiced move, he drew his spyglass from his saddle bag and brought it to his eye. At his word, the lettering around the eye piece illuminated and one of the caged ravens on their pack mule cawed. So Magister Thomas had magicked the spyglass with a magnification spell, drawn from the store of magic he had placed inside the living raven’s hollow bones.
Mena followed the line of the spyglass.
Flying towards them from the lagam tree was an immense bird, larger than the largest eagle, with feathers like living flame. Gold, saffron, orange, and scarlet covered its wings and breast and head. Its tail gleamed like the tail of a comet.
She felt light. For a breathtaking moment she felt she could escape her belittling apprenticeship. She could soar above Magister Thomas and his snobbish jeers with this impossible, gorgeous bird. Awe alone kept her grounded, kept her from reaching out to it like towards a fire in winter. How dull and earthbound she must seem to it.
One golden eye seemed to fix on her. Then the bird was gone, lost in the blaze of the setting sun, and she blinked, aware once more of the world around her. Sweat trickled down her neck. Her knuckles ached from clutching her reins. She wiped her forehead, feeling the grit of too many days without a bath.
Then she noticed Magister Thomas watching her. It was never a good sign when he stared at her like that, and she sat up straight, stealing herself for the next sleight against her character.
“Stop gawking,” he snapped.
“But it was...” Gorgeous didn’t sum up the bird adequately. Neither did awesome. “Transcendent.”
“A big word from a small mind.” He smiled the frigid, scheming grin that made his magisterial students sweat. “The amount of magic we could store in that bird’s bones would be immense. And you, Miss Philemena Laudet, are going to trap it.”
She gaped at him. Put that in a cage? It had been hard enough watching him cage the other, smaller birds they had collected on this expedition, but to cage the cortilane? Every bone in her body cried out against it.
She knew better than to protest. “I’ve never trapped a bird.”
“Quite so. You’ve failed every task required of a magician’s apprentice, and only the headmaster’s insistence that I mentor our charity cases persuaded me to bring you along. Nothing I’ve tried has given me the slightest indication that you have any ability whatsoever, but an impossible task may be the shock your system needs. So hear me, Miss Laudet. This is your final test. Bring me that bird tomorrow. If it is not in my aviary tent by the time I retire, I'll send you back to the headmaster with my suspicions confirmed: you are nothing but a common, talentless girl.”
The blood rushed to her ears. She heard the roaring and was sure her face had gone pale.
Not that her distress would move him. He sat easily on his horse, his linen shirt and woolen breeches as pressed and spotless as when they’d left Port Esmeralda four weeks before. It mattered not to him if he declared her incapable of magic and shattered her family’s hopes. He was a rising star amid the school’s magicians, and her failure would allow him to concentrate on the expedition’s core mission—collecting and documenting new bird species—without the agonizing hours each day when he went through the motions of training her.
She studied his sharp face. No doubt he was certain he would catch the cortilane by breakfast two days hence. He’d never hidden his disdain for her, a tinker’s daughter who dared to be a magician. How long had he been scheming, searching for the right opportunity to see her fail, one that the headmaster would not blame him for?
He was right about one thing, though. She was pigheaded. Mena the Immovable, her brothers called her, and she was not going to let her family down by returning home a failure. If she could learn to sit a horse, she could learn to catch a bird.
“All right.” Already she knew which net she would try. “I'll bring you your cortilane.”
The next morning, Mena rose before the sun. She grabbed her bag and ducked out of her tent, but before she could leave camp, Magister Thomas set her to cleaning bird cages, tending horse tack, and washing up from his breakfast.
“Special assignments don’t excuse you from regular duties,” he intoned over his teacup.
She kept her mouth shut. Complaining would reinforce his low opinion of her.
As she scrubbed the skillet, the eeriest song drifted up from the riverbank. Soon a second joined in, creating a duet of coos and cries. Although she'd never heard a cortilane before, the interwoven melodies could only be cortilane dawn songs, described in the grasslanders' stories. She paused in her scrubbing, listening to the wailings, transfixed as much by the birds' songs as by their plumage.
When Magister Thomas finally dismissed her, she grabbed a mist net and bolted for the river. Overhead, the sky stretched like an inverted bowl, blue as a redfront’s egg. She threw her shoulders back as she walked and gulped air free of Magister Thomas.
The river ran low, a ribbon of trees and shrubs amid the dry grass. A handful of sparrows and deedee birds twittered along its bank.
“I’ve been good to you, birds,” she murmured. Watching them, joy bloomed in her chest, the same she felt when she worked with the crows and jays that comprised any magician’s aviary. It was the closest she came to the pleasure that her teachers and classmates reported when they did magic. “Help me now.”
In an ideal world, she would have several days to survey the land and decide on the right location to stretch her net. But an ideal world wouldn’t include Magister Thomas.
She paced the bank until she spotted a partially dead tinderbox tree with a large cavity in its wrinkled gray trunk and a pile of papery seeds at its base. The cavity seemed the perfect place for a cortilane to roost, and she knew of nothing else that size that roosted in trees. Even better, a short way away two lagam trees grew, their branches at the perfect height to stretch a net.
Satisfied, she kicked off her boots, grabbed a lagam branch, and hauled herself up. The bark was smooth and dry, and she focused on finding the next handhold. She had grabbed an upper branch and pulled herself up when a chill spread across her back. She froze, one leg on either side of the branch. She was being watched.
The cortilanes? She craned her neck, the branch digging into her thighs and palms as she looked about. She'd thought them far out over the hills, searching for whatever it was they ate.
If it was a cortilane, it was well concealed. Below her, a squirrel dug within the leaf litter by her discarded boots. Further out, cottontails grazed on the dry grass. Across the river, deedee birds chattered in the brush. Not one of these paid her the least attention, yet the chill radiated along her spine.
She glanced up. Smooth branches towered overhead, topped by the egg-blue sky. Something must be up there. If not a cortilane, perhaps a catamount, or a tree wolf. Where was it?
Only the broad, saucer-shaped leaves fluttered in the breeze.
She hissed in frustration. “I know you’re there! I’m armed.”
Well, she had the mist net, and her slingshot. It was the only weapon Magister Thomas allowed her, since he considered guns common. She held her breath, listening to the bird chatter and the gurgle of the river.
A moment passed. Two. The deedee birds worked their way upstream. The cottontails found a new patch of grass.
She shivered. Was she becoming paranoid?
She climbed onto the next branch. The change in altitude showed her a new bend in the river, but no cortilane or catamount. No Magister Thomas, either, come to fetch her for more busy work.
“No one’s here, Mena,” she muttered. “Finish the job.”
But no amount of climbing warmed the chill that had seized her. And when she had to choose a place to keep watch on the net, she picked a tinderbox tree, where she could place the wrinkled trunk at her back. She pulled the cheese knife from her lunch sack and tucked it into her waistband, and she set the largest branch she could find on the ground beside her.
It was her first afternoon on her own in two months. She and Magister Thomas had left the King's City with thirty other magicians, apprentices, and guides, all intent on exploring the hinterlands of the Crown's newest colony. She'd found the constant companionship tiring, and it had almost been a relief when Magister Thomas broke from the company, angry over the proposed itinerary. She'd always been comfortable with solitude, but now she wished for a reassuring body beside her.
She couldn’t just sit there, worrying. She took the branch and her slingshot and scouted the riverbank. Surely something large enough to raise her hackles could not stay hidden, but every thicket and hollow log proved deserted. When she returned, her lunch sack had been moved.
No, she thought, studying the trees. Her sack still lay beside the trunk with the waist-high knot. The view itself was what was wrong. Her mist net was gone.
She scrambled towards the river. There were the lagam trees. And there was the net, crumbled on the ground.
Dumbfounded, she snatched it up. How could it have fallen? Her father had taught her to tie a proper knot.
She turned the net in her hands, searching for some weakness in the threads or weave. Instead, she found one severed string after another, each cut clear through.
Someone had sabotaged her net.
She kicked the tree in frustration. Only Magister Thomas could have done this. She hadn’t seen another human face in four weeks. The rest of the expedition must be a two month’s ride away by now, and the grasslanders had camped for the summer outside Port Esmeralda.
How it must gall him to spend his days cheek to jowl with a tinker’s daughter. His disdain must finally have overpowered his honor.
She stuffed the rest of the net into an untidy ball under her arm. As she did, a feather fluttered to the ground. It lay in a halo of sunlight, glinting a dazzling red-gold.
An improbable thought hatched in her mind. She examined the cut strings again, probing the ends with her fingernail. It was possible, just possible, the ends had been chewed through, not severed.
She searched the trees, scanning the branches for a fiery saboteur. All was quiet, all was still. If something watched her, the leaves and the river kept it hidden. Still, she kept an eye on the sky all the way back to camp.
“You are not a secret avianist, are you, Miss Laudet?” Magister Thomas pinned her with a murderous look. They stood in the aviary tent, surrounded by stacked cages. On the table before him was a caged magpie and one of his observation logbooks. Suspended above his open palm was a black and white feather.
She shouldn’t take her eyes off him, but she couldn’t help staring at that floating feather. He made it look so easy. To him, such a spell was as natural as breathing. For her, though she focused all her might, she couldn’t feel an inkling of the magic needed to do that.
“An avianist? No, Magister.”
“Yet you come here with my best net destroyed, and you blame a bird.”
“As I said, I believe the cortilane—”
“You’re telling me it happened to gnaw those very strings?”
“It meant to. It was protecting its roost.”
Magister Thomas snorted. “This implies the bird had intent, forethought. Intelligence.”
She stayed quiet.
“You are dangerously close to avianist philosophy, Miss Laudet. Claiming that birds have intelligence, consciousness, souls. Next you'll insist it’s immoral to use them for magic. That we should revert to storing spells in amulets and crystals and other rubbish. Is that what you believe?”
“Because I will strike dead any avianist who comes near my birds.” He loosed a word towards the corner. There, in its inlaid cage, his prized raven fluttered its black feathers. Beneath them lurked his most potent spells. “Now, stop bothering me with excuses. I have work to do.”
She ducked out of the aviary and stomped around to the back, where they kept their supplies. She knew what it meant when he dismissed her like that. He had relegated her to unworthy of speech, no better than furniture.
He was wrong. She did think birds were more than feathered rocks, as he seemed to consider them, but she wasn’t an avianist. She saw nothing wrong with storing magic in birds, as long as they were treated well and released before the magic made their bones brittle. The first magician she’d known, a customer of her father, had cared for his birds like royalty, and it had been years before she learned that many magicians thought their birds no more than feathered amulets and treated them so.
It was her luck to be apprenticed to one. But she could endure anything, even a lifetime amid callous, snobbish magicians, if it meant she would work with birds.
She surveyed the supplies stacked behind the tent before grabbing a blanket, a tin of bird gum, and their largest wooden trap, built to snare hawks. Beside it were four cages left over from birds Magister Thomas had caught but that he'd found not pliable or sturdy enough to hold magic. Three cages were empty. The fourth was still occupied, the cage door evidently having fallen shut after he left it back there. How lucky for her.
She transferred the bird into the center compartment of the wooden trap. The bird wasn’t nearly as large as a cortilane and nowhere near as stunning, but it was a beautiful scarlet color with an elegant long tail. It wouldn’t fool a cortilane into thinking another bird had invaded its territory, but it should prove interesting enough to provoke an investigation. She just had to hold the cortilane’s interest long enough for it to fall into one of the trap’s outer compartments.
The shadows were growing long by the time she lugged the trap down to the river. The deedee birds were back, chortling over the bugs in a sapling. The only other movement came from the flowing river, but that didn’t fool her. The presence was here. It made a knot between her shoulder blades and made her glad for both her knife and her slingshot.
She set the trap beyond the river’s tree-line, in the scrubby yellow grass. It should be irresistible to a curious, suspicious mind.
“Come on, cortilane,” she whispered.
She crossed her fingers as she walked to her observation spot. She’d no more turned around, ready to sit with her back against the tinderbox tree, than she gasped.
Already the cortilane was on the ground beside the trap.
It was more beautiful than she remembered, as if splendor, like pain, was something her mind could not retain. It cocked its head, surveying the trap, and the sun set its beak to shining like beaten gold. Each step made its feet glint like molded copper. Every feather gleamed like a jewel.
She stood transfixed. It arched its neck to ruffle the feathers on its back, then leaned close, examining the side of the trap.
She jumped. For a moment she couldn’t place the sound.
The cortilane shook its head and leaned in again towards the side of the trap. It bit into one of the bars that made up the scarlet bird’s enclosure. With a twist of its brilliant head, the cortilane snapped the bar.
Oh, gods, it was destroying the trap.
She bolted from her observation spot. “Stop!”
The cortilane broke another bar. With a squawk, the scarlet bird shot into the sky. The cortilane followed, its vast wings pummeling the air. It gleamed like a ball of fire and gold.
Mena stumbled to a halt. She threw her left arm across her eyes, shielding them from the glare.
“Oh, no, you don’t,” she hissed. She pulled out her slingshot and fired.
The first stone went wide. She swore and fired again. She aimed to wound, not kill. She wanted to see Magister Thomas’s face when she set the cortilane on his worktable.
But it was like shooting at fire. The cortilane banked, so her second stone passed over its left wing. Her third and fourth stones soared under its breast. She simply stood after that, knowing when to admit defeat. The cortilane flew in a circle above her as if indulging in a victory lap, its feathers glinting red, orange, gold in the sunset light. Then it skimmed over the trees and disappeared in a blaze amid the branches.
Mena knelt by the broken trap. The split bars were blunt against her thumb, just as the net strings had been.
What would Magister Thomas say to this? What did she even think about it? The cortilane had freed another bird. It had not attacked her, but had soared above her in triumph. Or warning?
Was that what it had done the day before, when it flew overhead? Had it been warning her? Could it have suspected, even then, what she would do?
She rubbed her eyes. Such thinking did her no good. There was little daylight left, and she refused to return to camp with a broken trap and nothing to show for it.
From her bag she removed the tin of bird gum. It was a sticky paste that held fast any bird unlucky enough to brush against it. Magister Thomas had spelled it to release its hold only for him or her. It was a nasty way to catch a bird, one that felt underhanded and cheap. But she was running out of options.
She crossed the river, shucked her boots, tied the blanket around her waist, and shimmied up the tinderbox tree. The branches were closer together than on the lagam. The tin of bird gum tucked into her waistband pressed against her ribs as she pulled herself up. She took shallow breaths, careful of the tin, and balanced herself on the branch closest to the cortilanes’ hollow. She probed the hollow entrance with her finger, checking for loose bark, but there were only a few papery tinderbox seeds snagged in the corners. Those she removed before prying open the tin. The gum was pale yellow and smelled like horse piss. She held her breath, gritted her teeth, and smeared it over the lip of the hollow. She felt like a thief preparing to burgle a house.
Maybe it would be better if the cortilanes didn't come.
Stop that, she told herself. She wasn't going to return to her parents as just another mouth to feed. She'd made it this far, and nothing short of a casket could stop her from earning a magician's title.
A flutter of wings sounded behind her. Her heart lurched. She ducked, twisting sideways, dropping the tin. Wings beat at her head and arms and shoulders. Red and gold flashed in the corners of her eyes, and she grabbed hold of the branch, determined not to fall. Talons scrabbled against her back.
She bucked, throwing her head back, smacking the smooth curve of the cortilane’s beak. It shrieked, its talons let go, and she scrambled down the branch, away from the hollow.
Behind her, the cortilane shrieked. She twisted, fumbling for her slingshot.
She didn’t need it. The cortilane flailed, its right wing stuck to the hollow. Its cry deepened, turning to a high-pitched wail. Even as it wailed, it sank its beak into its feathers, pulling at its wing and the curve of its back.
It would pull out its own feathers to be free.
She had to capture it before it hurt itself—or its mate appeared. She untied the blanket from her waist and said a fervent prayer. She'd have one good chance to get the blanket over it.
The cortilane dodged, but her aim was good. She lunged, pinning it beneath the blanket. It thrashed, but she held on with one hand while she released its wing from the gum with her touch. Then she was scrambling, falling, sliding down the tree, the cortilane a precious bundle in her arms.
She ran over the hills back to camp, her legs pumping, the air tearing at her lungs. The sun sat at the horizon, sending her shadow racing before her. The cortilane twisted in its binding, but Magister Thomas had taught her how to hold a bird. She felt its panicked breaths under her palms. Behind her, its mate cried, long and eerie.
She burst into the aviary tent. The magpies and ravens fluttered, startled into wakefulness. She flung open the largest empty cage—metal not wood—and pushed the cortilane inside. She slammed the door closed, dumped the blanket on the floor, and had to lean on the worktable, both hands flat across its surface, gasping at the enormity of what she’d done.
She turned at Magister Thomas’s words. He stood in the open tent flap, hanging a lamp on the hook inside the door. Its light made his face seem to shine.
“Thank you, Magister.”
He didn’t look at her. He gazed at the cortilane. Of course it would be about the bird. She’d done his work for him, and he would continue his attempts to train her because he was a man of honor, but his focus would be on the cortilane. With it, he could store spells greater than any other magician’s.
She bent her will, probing the magics stored in his raven. Surely if Magister Thomas had been right and a shock would awaken the magic within her, she would now sense the presence of his spells.
Nothing. Her body buzzed from exertion, but she felt no warmth, no spark of magic.
In its cage, the cortilane stirred. It ruffled its feathers, preened its back, then sidled to the cage door and shook it. The door rattled. The cortilane tried again, rattling the door, then tried the neighboring metal bar. Its cage shook. It tried the next bar, and the next.
Mena gaped. What was this bird that knew about doors and testing for weak spots?
Magister Thomas had a response. He scooped up the blanket and flung it. It thudded against the cage bars. “Quiet, you.”
The cortilane quieted. It brooded in the center of its cage, golden eyes flicking from her to Magister Thomas.
He grinned and tucked his thumbs in his waistband. “I’m going to have a lot to do tomorrow. Get the birds covered for the night.” He walked off, whistling. The tent flap swished closed behind him.
She did as he asked. The cortilane watched her as she filled water bowls and food trays, as she covered the raven and magpie cages for the night. She didn’t apologize to the cortilane as she worked. She thought it didn’t want to hear her apologies, or her reasons.
When she was done, she lowered the lamp flame until there was just enough light to see by. The covered cages looked like the pale rigging of ships, sailing into the night. All of them, except the cortilane's. That one she had not covered. Behind the bars, the cortilane glittered. She sank onto the ground by the tent flap, drew her knees to her chest, and watched to see what the cortilane would do.
It knew she was there. Knew, and cared. After several minutes of watching her in return, it glided to the next bar it had not yet tried. When she made no move, it rattled the bar.
She ought to quiet it. Magister Thomas would be a bear in the morning if the noise kept him awake. Yet she remained where she was, arms around her knees, watching the cortilane fight for freedom. It rattled two, three, four bars, and preened the feathers on its back. One, two, three, four bars and preen.
That was odd.
She wished she had picked an observation spot closer to its cage. If she stared hard enough, she could pick out something along the cortilane's back that it maneuvered in its beak. Not feathers. Something it kept tucked amid its feathers as if in a pocket.
She crept closer.
It was thin and long and flexible. A tinderbox seed? Yes, just like she'd found massed at the base of the cortilane’s roosting tree, just as she'd found tucked into the edges of its hollow.
She sank down, astonished. The cortilane wasn't eating the seed. It was using it for some other purpose. To sharpen its beak? That seemed absurd, but what other purpose could it have?
Footsteps sounded outside the tent. She turned, startled. Magister Thomas didn’t make a habit of nighttime wanderings. She sat up as he shoved aside the tent flap.
“I felt that,” he said, cold as snow.
“Felt what?” She made to stand, but his raised palm stayed her.
“Magic.” He stressed each syllable. “You, performing spells. I don't know what game you’re playing—hiding your talent before, or hiding it now if it's finally emerged—but I will not tolerate deception from my students.”
She knew she was gaping. She couldn't have done a spell without realizing it, could she? That was impossible.
Yet if she had not done magic—She spun. The cortilane hunkered down in its cage, its eyes fixed on her. Its beak still worked the tinderbox seed.
Oh, gods. Magister Thomas would never believe her. He'd call her worse than a liar. A lunatic, maybe. She looked up at him, searching for the right words. He seemed a dozen leagues tall.
Behind him, a shape streaked into the tent. For a moment its feathers gleamed in the lamp light. Then it was on Magister Thomas. He fell with a shriek.
She bolted up. The cortilane's mate bludgeoned Magister Thomas with its wings. Its beak glistened black in the dimness. Blood streamed over his cheeks and mouth.
He bellowed and beat the cortilane with his arms, but with the cortilane savaging his jaw, he couldn’t form the words for a spell. He screeched at her, waving one arm. She knew what he wanted.
She must break the neck of his prized raven. Then she must snap the rest of its bones, releasing the spells trapped inside. Free, they might respond to whatever gasps and mangled words he could form. It was risky and dangerous. He was desperate to ask it of her.
She whipped off the cage cover. The raven startled up, crashing into the bars. It fluttered back, its chest heaving.
She opened the cage door. “It’s okay.”
Only it wasn’t. Magister Thomas screamed. The cortilane raked his chest with its talons. In its cage, the raven panicked, throwing itself against the bars. It held on with beak and claws, hanging on as if to life itself.
She snatched her hands back. This was not why she’d dreamed of being a magician.
She pivoted. Her cortilane cocked its head, the tinderbox seed in its beak.
“Go,” she said. She sprang open its cage door. “Both of you.”
It eyed her. For a long instant, she saw herself wreathed in gold in its eye. Then it bowed its head and spat out its tinderbox seed. She caught it, holding tight with one fist.
The cortilane launched itself with a shriek. Its mate followed, streaking out of the tent, the lamp flickering as they passed. Then the only noise came from Magister Thomas’s sobbing and her own ragged breathing. The air smelled of blood.
She knelt beside him, seeing a mere part of the damage the cortilane had done. The rest lay beneath a river of blood. She was no nurse. She didn’t know what to do beyond trying to stop the bleeding. She pressed the blanket to his throat. Immediately it grew black with blood. She doubled it up, pressing harder.
“Please,” she whispered to any god who would hear her. She wouldn’t let anyone die, not man, not bird.
She opened her fist. The cortilane had given her its seed for a reason. Not out of love or kindness, but simple decency, one creature to another. Magister Thomas might be an insufferable prig, but he did not deserve to die on his tent floor.
She pressed the seed to his wounded throat and watched in wonder as the blood stopped flowing.
Later, when he could feed himself and care for his daily needs, she journeyed with him back to Port Esmeralda. The people there would watch over him until the rest of the expedition returned and he could travel with them to the King's City. Outside the gates, she turned her mare Wren around. She had no pack mule now, no caged birds, simply Magister Thomas's spyglass and a dozen of his blank observation books.
Magister Thomas tilted the brim of his hat to her. The shadows hid the scars on his face and hands. “You are a fine student, Miss Laudet. I did not expect it, but I will not deny talent when I see it. Your observational skills are exceptional, and I was a fool not to acknowledge them sooner.”
She had to bite her cheek to keep from gaping. He'd been quiet throughout his convalescence. Stoic, she’d thought, but maybe it had had been more than that. Maybe she'd underestimated him. “Thank you, Magister.”
“So I have high expectations. Those cortilanes are unique. They must be studied. I expect a great deal of information from you over the next few years.”
She knew she was beaming. She couldn't help it. She would spend the next three years living alongside the cortilanes and sending back observations. If the observations warranted it, her assignment could continue indefinitely—and she had no doubt she could find observations to warrant that. It was a dream job, better than being a magician, and it was hers.
“Tell the headmaster he can expect my first report in the spring. By then I hope to know how they combine multiple spells in one seed.”
“I'm sure you will.” He shook his head, as if surprised by the admission, then rode into Port Esmeralda.
She sat for a moment, watching him go, the last magician she was likely to see for a long time. Then she guided Wren back towards the river. Mysteries waited there in the tinderbox trees, more than enough to fill a lifetime of study. Even that of a tinker’s daughter.